Master’s Student Earns NSF Award to Pursue Mosquito Research in Conservation Biology

MELBOURNE, FLA.—Nicolette Zahner, who is working on a master’s degree in conservation biology and ecology at Florida Institute of Technology, has earned a 2012 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program Fellowship for her study of mosquito production and food webs in mitigated vs. natural wetlands. A mitigated wetland is one created by humans or restored in a previous wetland location. The NSF will provide $126,000 a year per fellowship and can fund her for a total of three years. Most of the funding goes toward tuition and research costs; $30,000 of it is a stipend.

Zahner’s study, which she will conduct in the wetland areas and small lakes of Brevard County, will be of interest to landscape and population ecologists as well as wildlife and human disease researchers. The potential for disease-carrying mosquitoes, which breed in marshes, to increase their populations has implications for the spread of dengue fever, malaria, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, West Nile Virus and possible new diseases.

Zahner will work closely with J. Day of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory and with Brevard Mosquito Control to optimize mosquito control while minimizing pesticide impacts. She will also be involved in work led by her academic adviser, Mark Bush, Florida Tech biology professor, in his NSF-funded research on frog call identification.

Zahner, who earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary sciences from Florida Tech in 2011, is from the St. Louis, Mo., area where she earned an associate degree from St. Louis Community College in 2009.

She previously conducted research in Richard Aronson’s Paleoecology Research Lab, where she provided support in climate and coral reef studies. In 2011 she gained field work experience in the Peruvian Andes and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has volunteered at the Nature Conservancy in Melbourne where she has created oyster mats and conducted oyster recruitment surveys.

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