Environmental science student receives undergraduate research fellowship

Brittany Beebe received the EPA Greater Research Opportunity for her research at the University of Nevada, Reno

9/27/2013 | By: Annie Conway  |

RENO, Nev. - University of Nevada, Reno undergraduate student Brittany Beebe received a competitive fellowship award based on her work with invasive species at the University's Aquatic Ecosystem Analysis Lab.

Beebe, a 24-year-old environmental science major, received the Environmental Protection Agency Greater Research Opportunity for Undergraduate Research Fellowship for her research on the invasive Asian clams in Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay.

"It is really interesting how invasive species can change an ecosystem," Beebe said. "Everything is so interconnected and we are not sure how the clams will change the ecology of the lake."

Beebe said the University has been working with other universities and agencies, to learn how the invasive clams will affect the lake. Large rubber mats, called benthic barriers, have been placed in the bay to manage the population of the clams. The research team collected 500 samples of invertebrates before the Benthic Barriers were put in place and 500 samples when the barriers were put down.

After the barriers are brought up, they will sample the whole area. Along with looking at the clams, Beebe also examines other invertebrates such as bugs on the lake bottom, and native clams to see how the barriers are affecting the ecosystem.

"You want to manage the population but we don't want to destroy our other native invertebrates," Beebe said.

Prior to the placement of the Benthic Barriers, researchers tried dredging the lake bottom, but it was disturbing the ecosystem. Beebe's work aims to maintain the clarity of Lake Tahoe while controlling the non-native clams.

Beebe learned about the fellowship through Sudeep Chandra, the aquatics lab director and associate professor of limnology and conservation ecology at the University. It was a lengthy application process for the fellowship, which included providing a one-page personal statement, references and a description of how her research experience ties into water pollution. 

"When I got the call that I got the award, I was kind of in shock," Beebe said. "I wanted to get it but I knew it was a national program and that it would be very competitive."

"Brittany is an excellent student that exemplifies the go get'em attitude of some of our undergraduate students at the University," Chandra said.  "Invasive species, nutrients and climate change are altering the nearshore and bottom of Lake Tahoe. There have been few studies to guide management on how to resolve these issues at the lake. Brittany's work will help us open the door to understanding the changes to the lake bottom." 

The EPA fellowship is a two-year program that will provide Beebe with an EPA summer internship and allow her to attend a scientific conference where she will present her research at the end of the second year. The award of $50,000 will pay for her tuition, a stipend and her travel expenses for her internship and the conference. 

Beebe transferred from Wisconsin where she was studying architecture. She wanted a more dynamic work environment, which she has found through her work in environmental science. 

"I didn't want to be inside in an office all day," Beebe said. "This allows me to work outside to collect information on what is harming the lake but analyze information in the laboratory to determine how the biology of the bottom of the lake is changing."

Beebe began working in the University lab within the Department of Natural Resources in May 2012. Her work as a paid intern has allowed her to get hands-on experience in the environmental science field.

"I have gained so much experience with all the equipment and with ecology," Beebe said. "I have learned so much in this year."

Beebe wants to use her award and the knowledge from what she has learned to give back to the University. 

"I want to help bring more research to the lab and spread the word about the University," she said. "I feel like I owe the lab a lot and I want to be able to help get more funding and research." 

Find out more about the Aquatic Ecosystem Analysis Lab and other degrees and opportunities offered through the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources.


For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

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