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New faculty member selected for national ecology undergraduate research partnership

Dr. Allison Parker

Dr. Allison Parker is an Assistant Professor in the Environmental Science Program interested in learning how to reduce the risks from diseases carried by mosquitoes.

 

 

Samuel Chapman

Samuel Chapman was one of five NKU undergraduates working with Dr. Parker during 2020. He is seen collecting egg rafts from containers filled with different volumes of water to determine where the mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus are most likely to lay their eggs.

 

One of Biological Sciences’ newest faculty members made a fast impact on teaching and undergraduate research with a novel project involving mosquitoes.

Dr. Alllison Parker, assistant professor in the Environmental Sciences Program, had her project selected to be part of the EREN-NEON program funded by the National Science Foundation. Only four projects were selected in the most recent round of funding.

EREN is the Ecological Research as Education Network, and NEON is the National Ecological Observatory Network. The mission is “to create a model for collaborative ecological research that generates high-quality, publishable data involving undergraduate students and faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs).”

Dr. Parker’s project was designed flexibly to explore the role of human land use and other environmental factors that affect native and invasive mosquito species distributions and the diseases they can transmit. Participating students can collect data on campus or from their homes by monitoring containers of water for mosquito eggs and larvae.

“They get to design the experiment. That makes it flexible, so it works for everyone,” said Dr. Parker. Because the network is so large, students are able to compare their data from a small sample with the larger database.  “There are 20 eco-climates in the database, and we expect to see species differences based on land use.”

The project attracted strong early interest with 65 faculty participating in a training Webinar last summer. Students from NKU’s Ecology Lab courses will also be collecting data for the project.

In addition to the EREN-NEON project, Dr. Parker also mentored five NKU undergraduates on a local project to look at egg-laying preferences in the mosquito that carries the West Nile virus. “It’s easy to identify, because they lay egg rafts that float.”

Samuel Chapman, Stephanie Calme, Ashton Quiogue, Nixin Hemmingway, Annalysse Klaber compared different volumes of water, and the preliminary analysis indicates that mosquitoes can discriminate between small and large volumes of water. “The mosquito life cycle is more complicated than most people realize, so we need to look at the whole life cycle.”

The goal is to understand how to reduce the mosquito population to reduce the amount of disease. “It’s a great way to interest students in public health fields,” said Dr. Parker.

The work has high significance as evidenced by Annalysee Klaber’s First Place award in the undergraduate student poster competition in the Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology section at the Entomological Society of America's Annual Conference in November 2020.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has limited some aspects of the project, which involves using social science techniques to explore people’s attitudes, behaviors and knowledge about mosquitoes. “We can’t knock on doors right now, but we want to look at who controls mosquito populations and how they control them to do some education and outreach.”

West Nile virus causes tremors, fatigue, memory problems, muscle weakness and headaches. Since it arrived in North America in 1999, it has become the most common insect-borne infection on the continent.