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GCA Scholarships Recipients


2023 Samantha Rosa

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies
School: Master’s student, Plant Biology and Conservation, Northwestern University and Chicago Botanic Garden

Migrating Mangroves: Exploring the Role of Pollinators and Floral Ecology in Mangrove Range Expansion

Focusing on mangrove range expansions into salt marsh ecosystems, Rosa will investigate pollinators’ biotic pull that contributes to a plant’s adaptation to climate change via migration. A comparative study of black mangrove reproductive ecology will be conducted along a latitudinal gradient on the east coast of Florida, from the species’ equatorial range core to its actively shifting range margin. Rosa’s studies will shed light on the global implications of mangrove migration and the importance of understanding the role of pollination when designing land management systems and refining conservation efforts.


2023 Aaron Bland

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies
School: PhD candidate in Marine and Environmental Sciences, University of South Alabama

Limits to Oyster Development on Breakwater Structures

Built to protect habitat and provide substrate for oysters, many breakwaters fail to develop into oyster reefs. Bland’s studies will focus on the many ecological factors that might limit oyster settlement and survival, including larval supply, water quality, predation, and tidal elevation. Bland will test the importance of these ecological factors by monitoring bare and pre-seeded settlement tiles at various elevations at two restoration sites. Bland aims to identify factors limiting oyster development on breakwater structures to inform future project design and siting for more effective oyster restoration.


2023 Meredith Theus

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies
School: PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University

Effects of Plant Communities and Seasonality on Wetland Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Theus will investigate the linkage among wetland plant biodiversity, seasonality, and greenhouse gas emissions to inform restoration and conservation efforts. Research will focus on wetlands as sources of greenhouse gas Theus will look closely at plants’ influence on greenhouse gasses through the effects of traits on the environment.


2023 Clare Escamilla

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies
School: PhD candidate in Plant and Environmental Science, Clemson University

Guiding Successful Implementation of Floating Wetlands in Brackish Ponds

Escamilla will study how excessive nutrients entering stormwater ponds through runoff events lead to algal blooms and other water-quality concerns that impact senior coastal wetlands and estuaries. Knowing that many coastal ponds can be tidally influenced and brackish, Escamilla’s research will determine how floating wetlands can be used in brackish systems to improve water quality and provide additional ecosystem services.


2022 Shannon Louise Walker

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Connecting Internal Wetlands and Foredune Plant Communities along a Climatic Gradient

Interested in how global change affects coastal plant communities, plant-trait expression, and ecosystem processes, Walker will examine the relationships between species and trait composition in threatened interdunal wetland and foredune plant communities and sediment accretion and erosion along Lake Michigan. Walker aims to understand connected community characteristics and processes, which may inform landscapelevel management of the highly dynamic and threatened coastal habitats.

2022 Taylor Courtney Michael

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Evaluating the Ability of Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands to Buffer Waterfowl-Derived Nutrient Inputs

Michael will investigate how waterfowl both supply and remove nutrients, namely nitrogen and phosphorus, from coastal wetlands along Lake Erie. Michael will experimentally test how quickly these nutrients are removed or immobilized in coastal wetland sediments. Michael’s research will help inform management decisions on how to prioritize both waterfowl habitat and nutrient-retention services.

2022 Jessica Courson

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies

Methane Consumption by Bacteria Living inside Insect Burrows

Courson’s research will focus on microbial methane consumption in wetlands, the largest natural source of methane emissions. Courson’s project will explore how insect bioirrigation influences the oxygen availability in sediments as well as the rate of methane removal. Courson seeks to learn if methane removal due to insect activity may be an overlooked sink of the greenhouse gas.

2021 Brandon Quintana

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies
School: Master’s Student, Biological Science, California State University, Fullerton

Effects of Eelgrass Density on Filter Feeder Biomass and Condition Index in a Multi-habitat Living Shoreline

Quintana is studying how biomass and condition index of filter feeders are responding to different factors such as sedimentation, as well as eelgrass and filter feeder density, in a living shoreline setting. The goal of his research is to use the results of the study to inform restoration management and better protect coastal communities while increasing habitat and biodiversity.


2021 Brittany Paige Wilburn

The Garden Club of America Award in Coastal Wetlands Studies
School: PhD candidate in Environmental Science, Drexel University

Biochar Stability and Carbon Sequestration Capacity Across a Salinity and Plant Community Gradient in New Jersey Tidal Marshes

Wilburn’s research focuses on the biogeochemistry of coastal wetland restoration projects. Specifically, she examines the effectiveness of adding biochar, a soil amendment made from organic materials, to salt marsh sediments to increase plant vigor and long-term carbon burial. Biochar has been effective in agricultural systems, but little is known about its effects in coastal wetland sediments. Wilburn intends to elucidate the changes in biogeochemistry of salt marsh soils after additions of biochar, to improve future wetland restoration projects.


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.

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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 2023, over $405,000 were awarded to 86 scholars. Follow GCA Scholarships on Instagram for the latest news about pollinators, coastal wetlands, native bird habitats, and much more. Connect to a larger world of horticulture and conservation through Garden Club of America scholars. Browse the scholarship offerings.

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