Nikki Traub, graduate student, teaching, and research assistant in the Department of Biological Sciences at SHSU was honored at a Texas Academy of Science conference in March 2016. At the conference, Traub won an Honorable Mention for her presentation of her research in the Graduate Student Competition. Under the direction of Dr. Autumn Smith-Herron, and in collaboration with the US Geological Survey (USGS), Traub is conducting research on parasite assemblages and communities in two species of Arctic-nesting waterfowl: black brant and greater white-fronted geese.

GreaterWhitefrontedGoose Black Brant Goose, credit: Nick Dean

Specifically, Traub is looking at the helminth (parasite) community structure in each of these geese species and then making comparisons between them. In particular, Traub wants to see if both geese species have the same kinds of parasites, if there are more parasites in adults vs. juveniles, and most interestingly—if the parasite communities differ between host locations. To accomplish this, Traub collected geese in three different locations in Alaska. One location was on the southwestern slope (Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta) and the other two were on the Northern slope (Point Lonely and the Colville River Delta).

Traub’s USGS collaborators introduced the idea of climate change affecting the abundance, distribution, and overall structure of the geese population—this, in turn, could affect their parasites. Accordingly, collecting samples from two Arctic sites and one subarctic site will allow the research team to make some comparisons about the parasites found at each location and possibly correlate any differences with climate change, especially by using past literature to see if the parasite communities have shifted.

While at the Texas Academy of Science conference, Traub also entered a Student Research Award Competition, which she was pleasantly surprised to win first place in the Master’s level category. The $2,000 award Traub received will be used to fund a secondary project, in which she would study the scolex (head) region of a tapeworm, comparing it to the tapeworms she discovered in previously collected samples.

TISI Team

When Traub decided to come to Sam Houston State University for her master’s degree in biology, she never thought she would find a mentor quite like Dr. Smith-Herron. According to Traub, Dr. Smith-Herron has instilled a level of self-confidence in her that she never would have achieved on her own, mostly because Dr. Smith-Herron continuously pushes Traub past her limits to succeed. Under Dr. Smith-Herron’s tutelage, Traub has worked on several different projects through the Texas Invasive Species Institute (TISI), the main being her master’s thesis project. Traub has been awarded several travel grants through SHSU and TISI to present her research. Without this funding, Traub would not have been able to attend and present at multiple conferences each year that she has also been a student. Presenting at conferences is not only a requirement of the graduate program, but also a privilege. Traub finds the ability to experience different places and make connections with others from her field of research invaluable.

When asked to give a personal statement about her experiences, Traub said: “I am very grateful to SHSU, TISI, and Dr. Autumn Smith-Herron for allowing me to create my own research projects, collaborate with others and present multiple times throughout my master’s career. Dr. Autumn Smith-Herron, TISI, and SHSU have made getting a master’s degree an enjoyable and memorable experience. I am indebted to Dr. Smith-Herron for all the guidance, encouragement, and love I have received; I would not be where I am without her.”