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Biology

Meet our Graduate Students

The Department of Biology at Tennessee Tech has a diverse graduate program comprised of both M.S. (Biology) and Ph.D. (Environmental Sciences) students. Our students are represented by the Biology Graduate Student Society (BGSS), an active organization within the department that facilitates and encourages both academic and social opportunities for graduate students. 

While working with advisors and mentors, our graduate students have opportunities to participate in hands-on activities to learn what they need to conduct research and gain knowledge before entering into the workfield and starting careers in their desired field.

Learn more about all of our students below:

Ph.D. Students 

 

Abigail Blake-Bradshaw

Abigail Blake-Bradshaw

Advisor: Dr. Brad Cohen.
I am studying wintering waterfowl ecology and movements in West Tennessee. Specifically, I am interested in how human disturbance and hunting pressure impact mallard movements and use of sanctuaries.

  • B.S. Wartburg College
  • M.S. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 

Peter Blum

Peter Blum

Advisor: Dr. Justin Murdock.
My dissertation focuses on how stream insects, that develop in sediments contaminated with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), can transfer PCBs as winged adults to terrestrial consumers, including gray bats (Myotis grisescens), at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma, TN. I am investigating emergent adult insect biomass and PCB export from streams and reservoirs, assessing PCB risk to wildlife, and how stoichiometry influences the transfer of PCBs.

  • B.S. Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Appalachian State University
  • M.S. Biology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

 

Robert Brown

Robert Brown

Advisor: Dr. Justin Murdock.
My dissertation research focuses on connections between rivers and their floodplains in response to ecosystem restoration strategies. I am interested in nutrient subsidies that cross ecosystem boundaries to influence spatial patterns of complete nitrogen removal (N2 production) and greenhouse gas emissions (N2O production). My work will help evaluate management practices aimed at reducing nutrient pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the Mississippi River Valley.

  • B.S. Sustainable Development and Environmental Biology, Appalachian State University
  • M.S. Biology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

 

Shrijana Duwadi

Shrijana Duwadi

Advisor: Dr. Justin Murdock.
My research focuses on the role of plant species and mycorrhizae in nutrient retention in restored wetland habitats. I am also interested in how greenhouse gas production changes in response to seasonal soil microbial aspects and organic matter dynamics in a restored wetland. 

  • B.S. Agriculture, Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science, Nepal
  • M.S. Forestry, Auburn University

 

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Brooke A. Grubb

Advisor: Dr. Carla Hurt

My research takes an interdisciplinary approach using both landscape ecology and genomics work to understand species dispersal, persistence, and ecological needs. My dissertation work involves creating a species status assessment for the Hardin Crayfish (Faxonius wright) and will provide information on their taxonomic validity, habitat needs, life history, and current and future conditions that will be used to make an ESA listing decision. In addition, I am exploring environmental conditions that facilitate their dispersal in a landscape genomics framework.

  • B.S. Biology: Wildlife Conservation, Southeast Missouri State University
  • M.S. Biology, Austin Peay State University

 

Tanya Kahn

Tanya Khan

Advisor: Dr. Hayden Mattingly.
My research focuses on a Tennessee endemic species, the Brawleys Fork Crayfish (Cambarus williami). Specifically, I am interested in seasonal habitat utilization and influences on community structure of C. williami and its crayfish associates.

  • B.S. Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, West Liberty University
  • M.S. Biology, West Liberty University

 

Nicholas Masto

Nicholas Masto

Advisor: Dr. Brad Cohen.
I am studying the spatial ecology of mallards wintering in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley using state-of-the-art GPS tracking technology. Our research will inform state and federal agencies of optimal habitat management and sustainable harvest strategies in western Tennessee and in the Upper Mississippi River/Great Lakes region of the Mississippi Flyway.

  • B.S. and M.S. Wildlife Biology and Management, Clemson University


 

Richard Pirkle

Richard Pirkle

Advisor: Dr. Dan Combs.
Canada geese in the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee have been intensively banded over the past two decades. My research involves the analysis of this long-term dataset for patterns related to Canada goose physiology and social biology including topics related to Canada goose dispersal, reproduction, and molt site fidelity. I am also interested in the impact of targeted hunting mortality due to banding.

  • B.S. Applied Biology from the Georgia Institute for Technology 
  • M.S. Biology from the University of Louisville

 

Christopher Waters

Christopher Waters

Advisor: Dr. Shawn Krosnick.
My dissertation research is part of the recovery efforts for the federally endangered mustard species Physaria globosa (Short’s bladderpod). I am investigating the reproduction dynamics, reproduction ecology, and life history of P. globosa populations in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. A primary objective of my research is the metabarcoding of pollinator eDNA deposited on flowers to efficiently index and monitor pollinator communities across the range of P. globosa.

  • B.S. Biology, Tennessee Tech University
  • M.S. Integrative Biology, Kennesaw State University

 

Sara Watkins

Sara Watkins

Advisor: Dr. Brad Cohen.
Broadly, I study the ecology of eastern wild turkeys. Specifically, I am interested in kin selection, social network analyses, and nest parasitism. My project collaborates with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, The Hunting Public, Turkeys for Tomorrow, NWTF-KY, and will detail wild turkey reproductive ecology, including gobbling chronology, to aid in conservation planning for turkeys in the Green River basin. 

  • BS - Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science, University of Florida
  • MS - Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia

Office: Pennebaker 410
Email: sawatkins42@tntech.edukyturkeys@gmail.com

 

Spencer Womble

Spencer Womble

Advisor: Dr. Justin Murdock.
I am researching how wetland hydrology affects nutrient retention in restored floodplain wetlands in west Tennessee and Kentucky. I am also interested in assessing how North American beavers (Castor canadensis) influence ecosystem function within floodplain wetlands.

  • B.S. Environmental Studies, University of Tennessee - Knoxville
  • M.S. Biology, Tennessee Tech University

 

 

M.S. Students

 

Brittany Bajo

Brittany Bajo

Advisor: Dr. Amanda Rosenberger.
My current research project aims to delineate suitable and unsuitable habitat for dense freshwater mussel aggregations, longitudinally, and continuously, based on the unique hydrogeological features of the Duck River watershed.

  • B.S. Aquatic Biology, Grand Valley State University. 

 

Connor Ballard

Connor Ballard

Advisor: Dr. Mark Rogers. I am researching how hatchery raised trout and wild trout contribute to Tennessee tailwater trout fisheries. Specifically, I am looking at the Norris and Fort Patrick Henry tailwaters in order to evaluate hatchery trout stocking success. 

  • B.S. Biological Sciences, Montana State University

 

 

Joshua Cary

Joshua Cary

Advisor: Dr. Amanda Rosenberger.
Josh is researching the habitat associations of Blotchside Logperch (Percina burtoni) in Tennessee and using that information to assess the viability of their potential reintroduction into Abrams Creek.

  • B.S. Environmental and Natural Resources, Clemson University

 

Joelle Ciriacy

Joelle Ciriacy

Advisor: Dr. Kit Wheeler
My thesis work involves quantifying the effects of River Chub (Nocomis micropogon) nests on fish and invertebrate communities. River Chubs build nests which many other fish species use as spawning sites, earning themselves the anecdotally-supported title of "keystone species." We, however, will use quantitative measures to determine if the native River Chub is in fact a keystone species in southeastern streams, hopefully informing management priorities in the region and providing a model for future studies of aquatic keystones.

  • B.S. Biological Science, Ecology/Environmental Science Emphasis, Lee University 

 

Trevor Crawford

Trevor Crawford

Advisor: Dr. Justin Murdock 
I am researching how toxins produced by harmful algal blooms affect nutrient uptake and carbon acquisition in natural algal assemblages in Tennessee reservoirs. This will be done using isotope labelling with carbon-13 and nitrogen-15 to track the uptake of nutrients and carbon into algal cells exposed to microcystin, a common algal toxin in Tennessee. I am interested in tracking biochemical changes in exposed algal cells using fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy to develop new, cheaper methods of diagnosing toxic harmful algal blooms in waterways across the southeastern U.S.

 

Jack Fetters

Jack Fetters

Advisor: Dr. Amanda Rosenberger.
I am researching freshwater mussels on Tennessee's Wolf River to determine their status and abundance.  This data will be given to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to better inform management recommendations. I am also conducting a water quality assessment on the Duck and Cumberland rivers to inform the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) on how to improve their water quality at the Cumberland River Aquatic Center (C-RAC) - a facility where freshwater mussels are raised. 

  • A.S. Hocking College
  • B.S. Eastern Kentucky University

 

Cassandra Fink

Cassandra Fink

Advisor: Dr. Shawn Krosnick

I am researching a species complex containing Lilium formosanum (Formosa Lily), Lilium philippinense (Benguet lily), and Lilium longiflorum (Easter lily). Taxa in this complex appear to be rapidly naturalizing across the Southeast and exhibit characters that could make them potentially invasive. However, it is unclear which species are present in the United States and whether they are hybridizing with one another as they spread. My study focuses on reproductive and floral phenology, pollination mechanisms, seed dispersal, and genetic relationships among this group in the United States. 

  • B.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Science, Tennessee Technological University

 

Kendell Hamm

Kendell Janell Hamm

Advisor: Dr. Hayden Mattingly.
My thesis work involves composing Species Status Assessments for two crayfish species that are endemic to Tennessee, the Brawleys Fork Crayfish (Cambarus williami) and the Pristine Crayfish (Cambarus pristinus). The SSAs will provide information pertaining to each species’ habitat needs, life history, current conditions, and potential future conditions in an effort to help support future ESA decision making. I will also be conducting a life history study for the Pristine Crayfish as little is known about the species’ reproductive cycle or habitat needs related to different life stages.

  • B.S. Urban Environmental Studies, Birmingham-Southern College 

 

Emily Hatcher

Emily Hatcher

Advisor: Dr. John Gunderson.
I am studying gene expression of Legionella-like bacteria isolated from human-constructed water systems. By using RNA-sequencing, I aim to determine effector proteins used for intracellular trafficking and intranuclear growth during different points of infection. 

  • B.S. Biology, Tennessee Technological University

 

Cory Higway

Cory Highway

Advisor: Dr. Brad Cohen.
I am studying the ecology of wintering mallards in western Tennessee. Specifically, I am interested in the resource selection of wintering mallards and the rate of depletion of flooded unharvested corn fields in western Tennessee. 

  • B.S. Natural Resources Management, Grand Valley State University

 

Parker Hildreth

Parker Hildreth

Advisor: Dr. Carla Hurt.
My thesis research aims to identify at risk hidden diversity within Faxonius durelli (Saddle Crayfish) and Faxonius forceps (Surgeon Crayfish) residing in the Cumberland and Tennessee river drainages. Other projects in progress include, species delimitation of the Faxonius placidus (Bigclaw Crayfish) species complex using genomic/mitochondrial derived data sets and determining if a newly discovered population of the federally endangered Faxonius shoupi (Nashville Crayfish) is a disjunct population or an anthropogenic introduction.

  • A.S. General Studies, Motlow State 
  • B.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Science, Tennessee Technological University

 

Haley Holiman

Haley Holiman

Advisor: Dr. Brad Cohen

My research focuses on the occupancy of secretive marsh birds in West Tennessee. Specifically, I am interested in evaluating the effects of different wetland management practices on marsh bird populations. I will also be developing new research methods for using autonomous recording units in order to better detect them.

  • B.S. Wildlife Sciences, Mississippi State University 

 

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Abbey Holsoppe

Advisor: Dr. Kit Wheeler

 

Ryan Hudson

Ryan Hudson

Advisor: Dr. Kit Wheeler.
I am studying a migration of five Catostomid fish species that occurs in Brasstown Creek, NC. My objectives are to determine the amount of nutrients that these fish transport and evaluate the potential ecosystem response they elicit. 

  • B.S. The Ohio State University 

 

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Valerie Jones

Advisor: Dr. Hayden Mattingly.
I am studying the habitat use of the federally endangered bluemask darter on the Collins River, with implications for reintroduction in the Calfkiller River.

  • B.S. Biology, Missouri State University

 

Claire Mason

Claire Mason

Advisor: Dr. Brian Carver
For my research, I will be studying the behavior, movement, and possible spatial distribution patterns of the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) in Middle Tennessee. Specifically, I am wanting to investigate how these patterns differ in rural vs. urban environments.

  • A.S. General Studies, Motlow State Community College
  • B.S. Biology, Austin Peay State University. 

 

Brittany McGuire

Brittany McGuire

Advisor: Dr. Shawn Krosnick.
My thesis research will assess how biology students understand experimental design both at the high school level and in introductory university courses. The primary objective of my work is to determine how to better prepare students for futures in scientific fields. My research interests are in science education, communication, and informal education.

  • B.S. Biology, Tennessee Tech University

 

Haley Oakley

Haley Oakley 

Advisor: Dr. Joshua Hall
I am researching how resource availability affects the seasonal changes in reproductive effort of Eastern Fence Lizards (Sceloporus undulatus). This will help us learn how habitat quality affects the amount of energy put into offspring. 

  • B.S. Biology, Tennessee Technological University

 

Holly Palk

Holly Palk

Advisor: Dr. Carla Hurt

My work focuses on the sequencing, assembly, and annotation of novel, whole genomes. I am interested in loci under selection and local adaptation of a population. Currently, I am working on producing a reference whole genome for Hardin crayfish (Faxonius wrighti) that will be used on a Species Status Assessment and future efforts for conservation and population genomics.  

  • B.S. Biology, Tennessee Technological University 

 

Emily Powell

Emily Powell

Advisor: Dr. Shawn Krosnick.
I am researching the life history and roles of floral displays in the federally endangered Physaria globosa (Short's Bladderpod). A greater understanding of lifecycle, pollinator visitation rates, and pollen limitations will aid in recovery efforts throughout its range. 

  • B.A. Field Ecology, Ohio University

 

Abigail Riggs

Abigail Riggs

Advisor: Dr. Bradley Cohen
My current research examines the eastern wild turkey populations throughout Tennessee and Kentucky. More specifically, the factors impacting harvest rates of male wild turkey populations across these states. We intend to provide state agency personnel with an improved harvest model to aid in successful population management strategies.  

  • B.S. Zoology, The Ohio State University

 

Mark Rine

Mark Rine

Advisor: Dr. Kit Wheeler
Office: Pennebaker 409
Email: marine42@tntech.edu

My thesis research will examine variation in stream fish communities in response to temporal occurrences of flow intermittency. To study the effects of flow intermittency on stream fish, I will sample three sub-watersheds with disparate flow regimes and, using multivariate analyses, identify what predictor variables may explain the observed variation of the fish assemblages.

  • B.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Science, Tennessee Technological University

 

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Anchita Sanan

Advisor: Dr. Carla Hurt

 

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Mary Scott

Advisor: Dr. Chris Brown.
My thesis work involves creating a taxonomic identification key and completing a behavioral study of an unidentified species of wolf spider discovered in Arizona. 

  • B.S. Chemistry, East Tennessee State University

 

Julia Thulander

Julia Thulander

My thesis will be focused on Streamside salamanders (Ambystoma barbouri) and the effects of heat stress on early development. I will be incubating field collected eggs in the lab at varied temperatures to monitor growth rates, developmental defects, body mass and snout-to-vent length. I am hopeful that this information will aid in the conservation efforts for the species and potentially lead to successful assurance colonies.

  • B.S. Biology, Dickinson College

 

Adam Walker

Adam Walker

Advisors: Dr. Kit Wheeler and Dr. Carla Hurt.
I am a part of the cooperative project working on updating the status of the Striated Darter (Etheostoma striatulum) here in Tennessee. My research is investigating the distribution of E. striatulum with eDNA techniques and understanding the genetic health of the species through population genetics methods.

  • B.S. Grand Valley State University

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