DEENR undergrad Ryan Koch awarded first place in science poster presentation

Ryan Koch award winnerRyan Koch, a senior undergrad in Dr. Michael Sukhdeo's lab presented his poster titled "Parasite communities along a river continuum in the New Jersey Pinelands" in the Ecology, Evolution & Environmental Science poster presentation in the Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium at William Paterson University, to place first place in the competition.

In his junior year, Ryan became interested in aquatic insects, and began assisting a graduate student in Dr. Michael Sukhdeo's parasitology lab sorting through macroinvertebrate samples and identified and dissected insects for parasites. He began to appreciate the extreme diversity of parasites, and it motivated Ryan to begin a project of his own. He began his George H. Cook thesis in the summer of 2014 and conducted his field work for the research presented on the poster in the N.J. Pinelands.

Ryan KochParasites are tiny but abundant consumers in aquatic ecosystems. Ryan's undergraduate thesis involved looking at patterns in parasite distribution and diversity and the relationship to their hosts. His research was conducted in Wharton State Forest in the New Jersey Pinelands over the summer of 2014. He selected several sampling sites along two rivers, the Mullica and Batsto. At every site, he collected fish and macroinvertebrates, the host organisms, and dissected them for parasites in the lab. All parasites, fish and macroinvertebrates were identified to the lowest taxonomic rank. Parasites recovered included nematodes, trematodes, cestodes, and acanthocephalans. Ryan Koch at sampling site

The project was designed to test the hypothesis that parasite diversity is influenced by host diversity. Ryan calculated the Shannon diversity index and species richness of parasites at every site and compared this data to that of fish and macroinvertebrates. He found that parasite diversity is highly related to macroinvertebrate diversity. However, fish diversity was relatively constant throughout sites, implying that the vertebrate hosts are not major players in determining parasite diversity. Ryan also tested abiotic factors such as water temperature, pH, and flow rate along all sites, but found no significant correlations to any biotic data.

Ryan will present his work in June at the American Society of Parasitologists in Omaha, Nebraska with the Sukhdeo lab. He will continue his education by going to graduate school at Oklahoma State University this fall.

April 2015