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Accomplished student researcher wins prestigious grant

April 28, 2015

Alice Besterman thought she would be an anthropologist, but she was wrong. Her curiosity simply took a different turn.

Early in her studies at VCU, she transitioned to pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Science and quickly became immersed in ecological research. She participated as a student in the Panama Avian Field Ecology class in 2011, and from that experience became deeply interested in field ecology and avian research. Under the guidance of Dr. Lesley Bulluck, she conducted an Independent Study, the goal of which was to examine how caterpillar prey resources might affect Prothonotary Warbler reproductive success. Simultaneously, Besterman developed an interest in wetland ecosystems (thanks in part to taking Wetland Ecology) and pursued opportunities in wetlands research, including interning as a hydrologic technician for the U.S. Geological Survey.

After graduating from VCU, she enrolled at the University of Virginia, and is currently a first-year Ph.D. student, working in Dr. Michael Pace’s lab, seeking ways to integrate her interests in birds, wetlands, and ecosystem processes. Following up on previous graduate students’ work, she currently is interested in addressing the effects to mudflat ecosystems caused by an invasive seaweed, Gracilaria vermiculophylla. This invader proliferates on tidal flats throughout the barrier island/lagoon system along the eastern shore of Virginia. Previous work has found that this macroalga is associated with increased numbers of benthic invertebrates, as well as higher concentrations of pathogenic strains of Vibrio bacteria. Vibrio can become concentrated in the meat of filter-feeding molluscs, and so can pose a health risk to shellfish consumers. For her dissertation she is interested in investigating how the changes to the spatial dynamics of benthic invertebrates caused by this alga may lead to upward cascading effects for shorebird feeding, possibly resulting in changes to Vibrio abundance and distribution.

Recently, Besterman was awarded a fellowship from The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (often abbreviated NSF GRFP). This program awards students early in their graduate careers with stipend and educational funds. Submissions must include a research proposal and also a personal statement describing the applicant’s interest in science, background, and future goals. Around 2,000 awards are given out each year across all fields of science. The fellowship provides $34,000 per year of stipend money given directly to the fellow, and $12,000 per year of educational costs for three years. Fellows also qualify to apply for NSF grants that foster professional development and research opportunities, such as internships with federal agencies and international collaborations.

VCU Life Sciences, the VCU Center for Environmental Studies and the VCU Rice Rivers Center all congratulate Ms. Besterman on her accomplishments and look forward to seeing the results of her ongoing research.

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