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Undergraduate Research Expo

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Undergraduate Research Expo 2021 Presentations


Anna Klewicki & Mackenzi Mills

A Guide to Using Software Programs to Conduct Asystematic Review of Literature

Anna Klewicki, Mackenzi Mills, Maggie Smith, Hannah Obershaw, Rachael Green, and Ashley Dayer


Abstract: Systematic reviews organize and summarize literature on a certain topic.. The research methods we used to organize and review journal articles for our collaborative literature analyses, which contains a large amount of journal articles, are outlined in our poster so that they may be replicated. They provide a way to successfully organize, code, and sort articles to develop useful data and conclusions. We used two softwares to download, organize, and code journal articles. Our specific study focused on four major conservation journals between the years of 2007 - 2010 and 2017 - 2020. We first used Zotero to download articles of interest to access throughout our study. We then imported the articles we downloaded in Covidence, where we can then decided if they were included or excluded in our analysis. We then tagged articles based on a coding scheme related to our research questions.

Maggie Smith

Revisiting Trends in Conservation Research on Private Lands Over the Past 20 Years

Maggie Smith, Anna Klewicki, Mackenzi Mills, Rachel Green, and Ashley Dayer


Abstract: More than half of the land in the US is privately owned, yet findings from Hilty and Merelender’s 2003 paper suggest that most conservation research is done on public land. This study aims to reassess the proportion of conservation research done on private lands since the 2003 Hilty and Merelender paper. We imported and reviewed all the articles from Conservation Biology, Biological Conservation, Conservation Science and Practice, and Conservation Letters published between 2007 and 2010 and between 2017 and 2020. We only included articles where researchers conducted biological science on terrestrial sites with field-based research methods. We then coded articles based on the land ownership of the study sites. Our preliminary results indicate an encouraging increase in the proportion of conservation research done on private lands; however, our analysis is preliminary and we have many more studies to review.

Annabelle Muriano & Michelle You

Examining Trends of Field Based Social and Biological Science

Annabelle Muriano, Michelle You, Anna Klewicki, Mackenzi Mills, Maggie Smith, Rachael Green, Ashley Dayer


Abstract: Conservation social science research has been shown to improve conservation efforts, including research on or for conservation, but has continued to be under-practiced and underutilized. We examined trends in conservation literature conducted with field-based data collection to assess the proportion of social science completed in fieldwork. We reviewed articles from Conservation Biology, Biological Conservation, Conservation Science and Practice, and Conservation Letters published from 2007-2010 and 2017-2020, and only articles that contained in-person field research were included. We analyzed the type of science conducted (social, biological, or both) and the land ownership where the research took place (public, private, or unknown). Our preliminary data shows that significantly more biological science work is done in the field than social science and also shows that the majority of social science field studies take place on private land.

Sierra Moore 

Effects of Clearing Linear Features through Forest Patches in WV and VA

Sierra Moore and Scott Klopfer  


Abstract: Recent pipeline construction through predominantly forested mountain areas presents many concerns for environmentalists. Impacts from construction are often measured in total area of forest removal, but this may not capture the extent of change to the landscape. Other effects, such as increased fragmentation and edge go unmeasured. We examined changes to the forest landscape resulting from the Mountain Valley Pipeline; a recently constructed corridor that runs through West Virginia and Virginia. We identified affected forest patches using the 2016 National Land Cover Dataset and analyzed both pre- and post-construction patch characteristics. The total area of forest removed was 1,182.57 ha, (0.03%). The total core forest decreased by 5,781.33 ha (2.7%). The number of forest patches increased from 242 to 667, with an average of 2.9 new patches per original patch. The edge density increased 5.4% between pre and post pipeline (0.0059 m/ha to 0.0062 m/ha). Area/Perimeter ratio increased between pre and post construction (0.049 to 0.2524). Our results demonstrate that area, alone, is insufficient to determine the total impacts of linear construction on forest in the study area, particularly since the loss of core forest and increasing edge have well-documented impacts to ecological processes.

Ty Stephenson

Autoclaving as a Viable Sterilization Technique for PIT Tags and Comparative Analysis of Read Range Between Tag Size

Ty Stephenson and Kevin Hamed


Abstract: For the safest protocols, PIT tags should be sterilized before implantation into an animal, but many current methods of sterilization are cumbersome and expensive. Autoclaves are used in many fields for sterilization because of their reliability and effectiveness, but the method has not been tested on PIT tags. We conducted a simple experiment to test PIT tags functionality after undergoing autoclave sterilization. Comparisons of read range between different sized tags and between different receiver models were also analyzed. There was no effect of autoclaving on detectability or read range of PIT tags. Significant differences in read range were detected between 12mm tags and all other tag sizes, and between 9mm and 8mm tag sizes.

Nick Pacheco 

First observation of a Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) in North America utilizing the Mostela System

Nicholas Pacheco, Jesse Owen, Austin Holloway, and Kevin Hamed


Abstract: The Mostela system is a new tool designed to detect weasels via non-invasive camera trapping. Designed by Dutch researchers, the system has been successfully used for multiple studies in Europe, but not North America. The least weasel (Mustela nivalis) has not been detected in Montgomery County in more than 30 years. The species is highly elusive, and it is significantly less common in North America than in Europe and Russia. Furthermore, five of the original eleven detections in Montgomery County are cat kills, which are also the most common type of records throughout the state. The purpose of our project was to determine the efficacy of Mostela boxes to detect least weasels in Montgomery County. Using Mostela boxes, we recorded a live least weasel in Montgomery County for the first time in over 30 years. In addition to least weasels, we also detected long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata) along with numerous other small mammals. Little is known about least weasels in North America, particularly in the Southern Appalachians, the southern extent of their North American range. We feel the Mostela system will be an effective tool to monitor these elusive carnivores.

Lauren Morris

Increasing User Engagement and Experience with Sharkpulse

Lauren Morris and Franscesco Ferretti


Abstract: Citizen science uses non-professional volunteers to generate scientific knowledge and is increasingly used in research initiatives. SharkPulse, a crowdsourcing initiative that mines shark sightings from images shared on social networks and submitted through mobile and web apps, utilizes this approach to gather data to monitor global shark populations.
Through this ongoing project, I aim to increase user engagement with sharkPulse through developing accessible tools and outreach.I have developed an interactive taxonomic shark identification guide in R shinyApp for sharkPulse users to identify sharks from images with increasing efficiency and precision. The guide is based on shark dichotomous identification keys that I am better tailoring to online usage to improve user experience. Another component is the interactive taxonomic tree. It allows experienced users to move through the guide with ease and optimizes the guide for various experience levels. Additionally, I am publicly promoting sharkPulse to boost engagement. I am growing our social media presence by creating and sharing content such as shark sightings, educational graphics, and marine conservation news. I manage our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts to gain a following and further expand public awareness of sharkPulse's initiative. I create species specific posters to unify communities towards a location-specific ecological issue. I adapt these posters to different species and locations, streamlining conservation efforts and promoting sharkPulse. These posters also help gather community support for field expeditions in their area, a crucial aspect of research. With the Virginia Tech Computer Science department, the sharkPulse team is developing a shark validation competition to grow our dataset of shark sightings and increase the number of sharkPulse users. To maximize competition participation, I have organized aquaria specific collaborations that feature sharkPulse in promotional events.

Victorjose Catalan

Reviewing Taxa: Scoping Research Trends of the Effects of Climate Change on Infectious Disease

Victorjose Catalan, Paige Van de Vuurst, Luis E. Escobar 


Abstract: Scoping reviews serve as a popular and effective method to identify trend or gaps in research, with can then guide future studies. An example of a study area in which scoping may be necessary is the topic of anthropogenic climate change. It is well known that the unprecedented warming of the globe in recent decades has had and will continue to have great impacts on human and animal health. Scoping studies are noticeably lacking in detailing the history of this research in regard to its effects of disease and disease transmission.
The goal of this review is to provide a description of research conducted in 2018 based on the taxa of interest for each study. Articles were collected from the Web of Science (ClarivateTM) literary reservoir utilizing a key word search. After which articles were screened to determine which resulting texts fit within the criteria of our scoping study. Metadata was extracted from each publication and reviewed to identify significant trends through statistical analysis, utilizing R statistical software.
Data was displayed based on the number of reports sharing taxa of interest and organized by each taxa to determines which group made a majority of the research on the effect of climate change on disease and disease transmission. We also determined what proportion of research included multiple groups affected by the same disease, vector, or pathogen of interest. These results outline potential speciesism bias in peer reviewed material of the effects of climate change of disease and highlighting the importance the expanding the field to address multiple taxa for their significance and the potential challenges they may face if left unstudied.

Alice Stitzer

Analysis of Jaguar Home Ranges Via a Novel Application of Spatially Explicit Capture-Recapture

Alice Stitzer and Marcella Kelly


Abstract: Telemetry can be an expensive and invasive method used by biologists to infer movement and space-use of wildlife species. Understanding these dynamics is critical for making conservation and management decisions, like determining the size of wildlife reserves or designing wildlife movement corridors. These questions are especially important for large, elusive carnivores, like jaguars (Panthera onca), which move long distances and require extensive habitats. Using non-invasive camera traps coupled with statistical analysis to estimate home ranges is cheaper than telemetry and may support more robust population level inferences. Although telemetry provides many more observations per individual, often relatively few individual animals in a population are telemetered. Camera traps collect data on a much broader cross-section of the population and analyzing these data using spatially explicit capture-recapture (SECR) models may offer unique insight into large carnivores’ space-use at a population level. SECR models are typically used to analyze wildlife population dynamics, but because they explicitly incorporate animal movements, we adapted the models to estimate home ranges. We examined camera trap data from a 9-year period (2010-2018) and estimated the home range sizes of 73 individual jaguars, 27 females and 46 males, in northwestern Belize. We found the average home range area to be 287.9 km2 for females and 937.4 km2 for males. We also examined turnover and shifts in recurring individuals’ locations over time. These results demonstrate a novel application of SECR models that may enable researchers to derive additional information about space-use not previously available from camera trap data.