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GCA Scholarships Recipients


2020 Jessica Balerna

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Understanding Relationships between Depressional Wetland Ecohydrological Condition and Water Management Decisions in Tampa, Florida

Jessica Balerna is a PhD candidate in the Integrative Biology Department at the University of South Florida. She is conducting interdisciplinary research to address key issues in freshwater health and management. For her dissertation, she will study the feedback between management decision-making and wetland ecohydrological function in depressional basin wetlands under the assumption that human perceptions and behaviors both are influenced by and influence wetland conditions. Specifically, she will survey residents and conduct wetland soil and water sampling to identify variability and potential trade-offs between the biophysical and cultural ecosystem services that these wetlands provide.

2020 Matthew Sturchio

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Exploring Patterns of Thermal Acclimation of Leaf Respiration in a Marsh- Mangrove Ecotone

Matthew Sturchio is a master’s student in the Department of
Biology at the University of North Florida. His research addresses how patterns of thermal acclimation in
leaf respiration affect CO2 fluxes in coastal wetland ecosystems. Sturchio’s study sites are located at the marsh-mangrove ecotone of northeast Florida. This location provides a unique opportunity to examine temperature controls of carbon cycling processes along the tropical-subtropical transition zone of a coastal ecosystem. The focus of his thesis work is to improve the quantitative and predictive understanding of coastal carbon cycling responses to temperature, as well as potential feedback on climate warming.

2020 Nora Hamovit

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies
Project location:

The Importance of Microbial Community Structure in Determining Methane Flux Variability of Restored and Natural Freshwater Wetlands

Nora Hamovit is a second-year
 Ph.D. candidate at the University
of Maryland. Her research focuses 
on wetland microbial ecology 
and understanding the role the environment plays in shaping microbial community structure and function especially in impacted 
and restored wetlands. She
 primarily studies wetland methane biogeochemistry and is interested in examining how important wetland functions scale across landscapes.

2019 Mary Schoell

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Mary Schoell is a master’s student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her thesis explores how salt marshes migrate inland to higher elevations as a response to sea-level rise and storm events. Her focus is on the coastal forests along Long Island Sound in Connecticut. Due to their resilient nature, forested uplands can slow the process of marsh migration. Using dendrochronology and  ood frequency data, Schoell aims to reconstruct the time line of tree stress and death in marsh-bordering forests to understand when and how sea level rise and storm disturbances facilitate marsh migration.

Funded by New Jersey Committee of The Garden Club of America, Zone IV

2019 Ann Holmes

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Ann Holmes is a PhD candidate in ecology at the University of California, Davis. Her research in wetlands uses a noninvasive method called environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling. eDNA is trace genetic material left by  sh and aquatic organisms in water. eDNA sampling is a promising new method for surveying biodiversity and detecting endangered or invasive species. She will sample Suisun Marsh, the largest wetland in the San Francisco Estuary, using eDNA and compare results with traditional sampling. The goal of this project is to develop eDNA as a reliable and effective survey method that can inform wetland conservation and management.

2019 David De La Mater III

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

David De La Mater is a PhD student in The University Program in Ecology at Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment. He will be conducting manipulative-warming and nutrient-addition experiments in the marshes of coastal North Carolina to address how rising temperatures and eutrophication (excessive richness of nutrients in water) interact to affect herbivory and traits of cordgrass in salt marshes.

2019 Sam Bickley

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Sam Bickley, a PhD candidate at Auburn University, will be assessing the impacts of urbanization on coastal streams and fringing salt marsh along the northern Gulf of Mexico. Coastal streams draining developed watersheds experience increased frequency and magnitude of salinity change due to increased freshwater runoff, but the impact on ecosystem structure and function of this altered salinity regime is poorly understood. Bickley’s research will examine how ecosystem metabolism, biogeochemical cycling, and resident  sh communities in coastal streams and fringing salt marshes respond to this under researched yet widespread disturbance.

2018 Johnny Quispe

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Johnny Quispe is a doctoral student in the Ecology and Evolution Graduate Program at Rutgers University. He is investigating the survival of tidal marshes under two sea-level rise (SLR) scenarios by installing small weirs along the Raritan River in New Jersey. His research seeks to understand the e ects of SLR on marshes dominated by common reed (Phragmites australis) and smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterni ora), as well as how these two wetland species help marshes keep pace with SLR.  The goal of Quispe’s research is to assist in the development of policy recommendations for local and regional planners to ensure the conservation of tidal marshes, and help coastal communities reduce  ooding and other damage from future storms through the use of natural defenses.

2018 Katherin Culatta

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Katherine Culatta is a master’s student in plant biology North Carolina State University. Her project is titled “Taxonomy, Population Genetics, and Status Assessment of Cape Fear Spatterdock (Nuphar sagittifolia).” Her research will inform conservation decisions regarding this aquatic plant endemic to the southeastern Atlantic coastal plains. A combined morphological and genetic approach will be used to determine the plant’s taxonomic limits and describe its genetic diversity.

2018 Serina Wittyngham

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Serina Wittyngham is a PhD candidate in biological sciences at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William & Mary. Her research goal is to understand how the chemistry of salt marsh plants can combat herbivory and, in turn, protect shorelines. Herbivory of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterni ora) can create patches of denuded marsh. In some patches, plants are re-growing but are not consumed.  is study will examine if changes in plant chemistry are responsible for protecting new plants from further consumption, thus increasing the resiliency of the salt marsh.


Scholarship Opportunities Abound

The Garden Club of America offers 29 merit-based scholarships and fellowships in 12 areas related to conservation, ecology, horticulture, and pollinator research. In 2020, $306,000 was awarded to 64 scholars.Follow GCA Scholarships on Twitter for the latest news about pollinators, coastal wetlands, native bird habitats, and much more. Connect to a larger world of horticulture and conservation through the Garden Club of America scholars. Learn more about the GCA Scholarships. Learn more about the GCA Scholarships.