2020 Poster Award Winners

2020 MSA Best Poster Awards

Kasey Kiesewetter

Kasey Kiesewetter is currently a PhD candidate in Dr. Michelle Afkhami’s laboratory at the University of Miami. She became interested in ecology as an undergraduate working with Dr. Jean Burns at Case Western Reserve University studying the effects of climate on ant-mediated seed dispersal of plants. After graduating with a B.S. in Biology, Kasey joined the Afkhami lab with the goal of exploring microbial ecology and its role in conservation biology. She has been
conducting research in the Pine Rocklands, a highly imperiled, fragmented habitat in South
Florida. Because of the critical role fungi play in ecosystem functioning and the increasing
urbanization-driven fragmentation of natural landscapes, Kasey has become especially
interested in understanding how fungal communities in this ecosystem respond to habitat fragmentation (e.g.the consequences of increased natural-urban interfaces at habitat edges).

Megan Keller

Megan Louise Keller completed her master’s degree in 2020 at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She researched the growth limitations at white spruce treeline in Northwestern Alaska. Conventional hypotheses argue that growth and cell division is directly limited by cold air temperatures; however, Keller and the Dr. Patrick Sullivan lab found that, at this site, cold soil temperatures could be indirectly limiting growth through decreased nutrient availability, potentially manifested by decreased microbial turnover or ectomycorrhizal nutrient acquisition efficiency. Keller is now pursuing a PhD at the University of New Mexico under Dr. Lee Taylor. She is researching temporal and spatial niche partitioning of soil fungi in an Alaskan boreal forest using RNA sequencing. Keller balances her academic career with an avid enthusiasm for off-the-grid homesteading and backcountry skiing.

Valeria Flores Almaraz

Valeria Flores is a Graduate student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. As a child, she grew up seeing the remnant forest of Mexico City’s peripheral areas in her daily way home and this is how her meaningful relationship with fungi begun while she enjoyed the perks of being part of a mushroom lover community. For her Bachelor’s thesis, she tested the viability, infectivity, and effectiveness of vegetative inocula of the ectomycorrhizal fungi Laccaria trichodermophora, using population genetics, genomics and biotechnological approaches to increase the survival rate of pine nursery seedlings. For her master’s project under the mentorship of Dr. Camille Truong, she aims to combine metatranscriptomics and isolation of endophytic fungi in pure cultures to characterize the fungal communities of sacred fir (Abies religiosa) leaves and to search for expressed genes that could be implicated in the host resistance to air pollution. Her interests in mycology include diversity to functional genomics in plant-fungal interactions and plant microbiome. In the future, she seeks to acquire a deeper understanding of those interactions at the molecular level.

Caroline Burks

Caroline Burks is a second year graduate student at the University of Georgia. Her current research focuses on identifying azole-resistant isolates of the human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus from retail plant products. She received her bachelor’s degree in bioenvironmental sciences from Texas A&M University in 2019. While at Texas A&M she received an undergraduate fellowship to study the growth mechanisms of Aspergillus nidulans and Colletotrichum graminicola, a plant pathogen. After graduating magna cum laude with honors, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in plant pathology at the University of Georgia. Caroline currently studies under Dr. Marin Brewer. She plans to graduate in the summer of 2021, after which she will return to Texas and pursue a career in a microbiological lab setting.