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GCA Scholarships Recipients: The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies


2017 Janet Walker

Janet Walker is a PhD candidate in the Joint Doctoral Program in Ecology at the University of California, Davis, and San Diego State University. Her research will focus on the role of burrowing crabs and how they structure California salt marsh plant communities. Crabs can burrow into soils surrounding marsh vegetation and thereby alleviate submergence and hypoxic stress for plants. The impacts of crabs may shape the distribution and abundance of plant species, which may be especially pronounced at lower latitudes where temperaturerelated stress is already high. Identifying factors that mitigate this environmental stress (e.g., the activities of burrowing crabs) will contribute to conservation strategies and acknowledge the resilience of these ecosystems in the face of climate change.

2017 Samantha Apgar

Samantha Apgar is a PhD candidate in Dr. Chris Elphick’s laboratory at the University of Connecticut. She is studying the extinction risk of specialist tidal marsh birds in coastal Connecticut. As sea levels rise, ground nesting tidal marsh birds will be more vulnerable to nest failure due to increased flooding. She will evaluate how different aspects of the nesting ecology of the seaside sparrow, willet, and clapper rail make each species more or less likely to fledge chicks over time. Specifically, she will study how the nest sites, nest structures, egg qualities, and chick and adult behaviors in response to flooding vary among species. She wants to better understand how specialist species in tidal marshes will fare as large-scale change occurs.

2017 Elisabeth B. Powell

Elisabeth B. Powell is a master’s student in the Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science Department (BEES) at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She studies gas flux in salt marshes to reveal the potential for climate change mitigation from vegetate coastal habitats. Her master’s thesis will examine the effect of open marsh water management practices (OMWM) on the carbon balance of tidal marshes in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. OMWM is a mosquito control technique that is widely used along the Atlantic Coast. She will examine the gas flux from the open water systems as well as intact marsh and dead plant areas to determine if the carbon balance has been altered by this management practice

2017 Nate Stott

Nate Stott is a master’s student at Bowling Green University in Ohio. His project is titled “Use of Reconnected Lake Erie Wetlands by Fishes: Comparing Native Pike and Invasive Common Carp Spawning Migrations.” His research aims to estimate northern pike (Esox lucius) populations in various Lake Erie coastal wetlands and determine if a more active management strategy is needed to ensure their success. By quantifying fish movement into coastal wetlands, a more robust management strategy may be needed to allow native northern pike into coastal wetlands while denying access to invasive common carp. Carp are known to degrade Laurentian Great Lakes coastal wetland habitats.

2016 Stephen K. Formel

Stephen K. Formel is a PhD candidate in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department of Tulane University. He will investigate the effects of endophytes on plant growth in smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) in Louisiana. Endophytes are fungi and bacteria that live inside plants without causing disease. Many endophytes have been found to enhance plant growth and help the plant resist stress. However, endophytes are not incorporated into salt marsh management strategies, in part because they are not well-studied in salt marsh plants. By inoculating smooth cordgrass with combinations of endophytes, he will identify the endophytes with potential for improving plant fitness in conservation and restoration.

2016 Molly Albecker

Molly Albecker is a PhD candidate at East Carolina University. She studies mechanisms of adaptation to elevated salinity levels in coastal amphibians. It is widely believed that saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwater wetlands will reduce coastal biodiversity, yet she has found thriving populations of green tree frog (Hyla cinerea) in wetlands with salinity levels typically lethal to amphibians. This finding suggests that some species may be able to adapt to the new environmental conditions. She will characterize physiological endpoints in adult tree frogs across coastal and inland populations following exposure to saltwater. Her study will reveal the physiological mechanisms of saltwater tolerance in frogs and describe how responses differ among populations.

2016 Dani Weissman

Dani Weissman is a master’s student in Dr. Kate Tully's Agroecology Lab in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture at the University of Maryland, College Park and a Graduate Research Assistant at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) in Annapolis, MD. Her research is to quantify the increase of phosphate levels in the wetlands of the Choptank River Watershed of the Chesapeake Bay due to saltwater intrusion and upstream phosphorus inputs from agricultural applications. She employs a data synthesis approach with field and laboratory studies in order to develop a better picture of water quality trends in this human-altered system and to identify the biogeochemical mechanisms of nutrient release. The overall goal of her research is to provide information to policy-makers for the revision of best management practices.

2016 Bethany L. Williams

Bethany L. Williams is a master’s student in Biological Sciences at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. She will study the effects of ecological interactions on salt marsh geomorphology. Salt marsh resilience in the face of accelerated sea-level rise relies on landward migration and vertical accretion. Vertical accretion requires aboveground sedimentation, facilitated by salt marsh plants. Her research targets the combined effects of two crustacean species, Atlantic marsh fiddler crab (Uca pugnax) and marsh crab (Sesarma reticulatum) on plant production. This research will provide understanding of the ability of salt marshes to maintain elevation with sea-level rise.

2015 Xuan Chen

Xuan Chen, a Ph.D. candidate at Louisiana State University, Department of Entomology, is researching floating marshes, a globally rare and unique type of wetland that serves important ecological functions such as protecting the coastline from wave action but that also suffer many types of disturbances, including multiple plant invasions.  His study is the first of its kind in the state and will use ants as bio indicators to study how successive invasive woody plants affect the floating marsh ecosystem. As an ant specialist, he encourages conservation biologists to add insects to their environmental monitoring and has even discovered a new ant species to the United States.  

Funded by the 2014 Annual Meeting hosted by Zone IX, New Orleans, (LA)

2015 Mary Jane Carmichael

Mary Jane Carmichael, a Ph.D. student at Wake Forest University, will research the role of standing dead vegetation in the atmospheric flux or flow rate of methane gas from wetlands in an expanded study. A previous pilot study indicated that dead woody vegetation exposed to excessive over wash by salt water mixed with high organic input from agricultural sources may be an important unrecognized source of methane which is potent greenhouse gas. She will conduct her research at a wetland being restored in Tyrrell County, NC.  The study will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the pathways of methane flow from freshwater coastal wetlands, aiding in management decisions for greenhouse gas emissions.



Scholarship Opportunities Abound

The GCA offers 28 merit-based scholarships and fellowships, awarding more than $330,000 to 86 scholars in 2017.

For example, The Garden Club of America Board of Associates Pollinator Fellowship annually funds one or more graduate students at $4,000 for study and research that advances the knowledge of pollinator science and increases the number of scientists in the field. Read more about the four 2017 recipients, doctoral students Michelle L. Fearon, ecology and evolutionary biology, University of Michigan; Kelsey E. Fisher, entomology, Iowa State University; Jonathan Giacomini, zoology, North Carolina State University; and Rachael E. Bonoan, Tufts University.

GCA Scholarships are available in medicinal and tropical botany, native bird habitat, conservation and ecological restoration, desert studies, landscape architecture, urban forestry, garden history and design, coastal wetlands, and pollinator research.