2021 MSA Research Awards

2021 MSA Research Awards

Robert W. Lichtwardt Student Research Award

Shelby Meador
Shelby is an undergraduate student in Dr. Matt Kasson’s lab at West Virginia University. She is in the process of earning a BS in Biology with an emphasis on Cellular and Molecular Biology. Her primary interests include invertebrate zoology, ecology, and genetics. Currently, Shelby is working on a project that centers around the relationship between fungivorous millipedes and the fungi they consume. This research will ultimately employ DNA sequencing to capture and describe the biodiversity of the fungi in their diets. After she graduates in 2024, Shelby plans to continue her education and attend graduate school.

John Rippon Graduate Research Award

Spenser Babb-Biernacki
Born in the largely mushroom-less desert of Phoenix, Arizona, Spenser Babb-Biernacki nevertheless became interested in mycology during her undergraduate study at Arizona State University. A conservation biology student, Spenser’s honors thesis focused on the causal agent of the modern mass amphibian extinction: the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Although initially focused on its conservation implications, Spenser quickly became fascinated by Bd itself, and fungi in general. Her work with Bd led Spenser to an interest in animal-fungus interactions, which she now studies as a PhD student at Louisiana State University. Spenser now works with the fungal pathogen Pneumocystis, an obligate symbiont of mammal lungs which can cause life-threatening pneumonia. Under the tutelage of her advisors Drs. Vinson Doyle and Jacob Esselstyn, she studies the systematics and speciation of these fungi in wild mammals to better understand how fungal pathogens adapt to host diversification. Spenser believes species discovery is the most important challenge facing mycologists today, particularly in animal-associated fungi, which have historically received little attention.

Clark T. Rogerson Research Award

Eduardo Pérez-Pazos
Eduardo Pérez-Pazos was born and raised in Mexico City, where he lived his entire life before moving into the Twin Cities for studying his Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior program at the University of Minnesota (Peter Kennedy´s Lab). He did his Undergraduate and Master’s studies at UNAM, where he also worked as a teacher of several Fungal Biology and Ecology courses. Now, Eduardo is studying the ectomycorrhizal fungal genus Rhizopogon and its degree of host specificity. He aims to discover if host specificity can be broken apart when the right ecological context is present. This means, when does this genus is able to associate with non-Pinoid host trees and how strong are these interactions. One of the most interesting aspects of his research is that these Anomalous Symbioses (ASym) are rare in nature, so he is developing seminatural bioassays to test the endurance of these associations when they are exposed to the fungal community that inhabits forest soils. Besides doing experiments, Eduardo enjoys cooking, dancing (salsa), drawing, mushroom hunting, and growing cacti back at home in Mexico City.

Alexander H. & Helen V. Smith Award

Gary Olds
As a Biology Master’s student with the Denver Botanic Gardens, Gary works with fungi, particularly methodology in genetics. His research focuses on applying a modified metabarcoding approach for the sequencing of macrofungal specimens. This project revolves around sequencing the ITS2 region of DNA from natural history collections in the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi, but will act as a model for other projects and apply to improving understanding of fungal diversity and conservation. Gary is passionate about environmental sustainability, biodiversity conservation research, and environmental education. He has experience in both plant and fungi biodiversity research, global environmental change research, zookeeping and animal conservation, and science teaching.

Salomon Bartnicki-Garcia Research Award

Caroline Burks
Caroline is a master’s student in Dr. Marin Brewer’s lab in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Georgia. She received her Bachelor of Science in Bioenvironmental Sciences in May of 2019 from Texas A&M University. Her undergraduate research focused on discovering the mechanisms behind endocytic growth of filamentous fungi. Her first research experiences inspired her interest in her current work; investigating the population genetics of azole-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus on commercial plant products. After her expected graduation in December 2021, she expects to continue her work in antifungal resistance in Austin, Texas. 

Emory Simmons Research Award

Rebecca Harkness
Rebecca Harkness graduated from James Madison University in 2018 with a BS in Biology and a concentration in Microbiology. She discovered her interest in plant-microbe interactions through environmental microbiology and microbial ecology coursework during her time as an undergraduate and decided to pursue a graduate degree. Now Rebecca is working toward a PhD in plant pathology studying Caliciopsis canker disease in Michigan White Pines. Rebecca’s current research on this pathogen has 3 foci: the first is to describe the potentially novel species of Calciopsis found in Michigan forests, the second is to determine when infectivity of this pathogen is at its peak and what practices land managers can use to mitigate it, and the third is to compare the pathogenicity on multiple hosts of Michigan’s Caliciopsis species with other species from around the country. The hope is that this research can help protect Michigan’s forests from Caliciopsis as an emerging endemic pathogen and prevent the widespread damage that is seen causing in other regions of the US. Rebecca is passionate about forest health as well as making science a more welcoming place for all people. When she’s not working she likes to hike, watch horror movies, and spend time with friends and family.

Forest Fungal Ecology Award

M. Fabiola (Fabi) Pulido-Chavez
Fabi was born in Michoacan, Mexico, and immigrated to the Central Valley of California in 1992. In 2015, she received her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from California State University, Fresno. In 2018, she received her Master’s degree in Forest Ecology from the University of Washington, where she worked to understand the effect of high-severity wildfire on the ectomycorrhizal and saprobic fungal communities of Ponderosa pine. Currently, she is a Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Sydney I. Glassman’s Lab at the University of California-Riverside. Her research focuses on understanding the effects of wildfire on the soil microbial communities (bacteria and fungi) in chaparral ecosystems to determine microbial secondary succession and post-fire functional alterations.

Forest Fungal Ecology Award

Elena Karlsen-Ayala
Elena Karlsen-Ayala is a third year Phd candidate at the University of Florida department of Plant Pathology. She is co-advised by Dr. Matthew E. Smith and Dr. Romina Gazis. She is currently stationed at UF’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, FL, near the south Florida pine rocklands. Elena’s research focuses on ectomycorrhizal fungal ecology of south Florida pine in the critically endangered pine rockland habitat. This habitat is endemic to south Florida and faces many disturbances such as fire, hurricanes, flooding, invasive pests and pathogens, and habitat fragmentation. Her dissertation research is the first look at this below ground mutualism in this ecosystem and her work aims to inform conservation and restoration initiatives.

Forest Fungal Ecology Award

Anne Polyakov
Anne Polyakov is a second-year PhD student in Dr. Andrew

Berdahl’s lab at the University of Washington with the Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management Program. She studies how nutrient availability shapes mycorrhizal fungal community composition, network structure, and plant-fungal trading patterns near salmon streams within forest ecosystems, systems that receive large annual pulses of marine-derived nutrients. These salmon streams also allow the opportunity to explore the unique effect of salmon-derived nutrients on fungal processes, fungal taxa associated with salmon carcasses, and the potential for re-distribution of salmon-derived nutrients through fungal networks.

Forest Fungal Ecology Awards

Jessie Marlenee
Jessie Marlenee is a PhD candidate in Dr. Lee Taylor’s lab at the University of New Mexico. She received her BS in Biology at Western Colorado University. Her interests in forest and fungal ecology were sparked by an undergraduate field mycology course and by field work examining forest responses to altered fire regimes. Following graduation, she spent a summer working for Dr. Jennifer Rudgers at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory investigating climate disruption of plant-fungal symbioses. Her dissertation focuses on understanding the impact of drought and tree mortality on plant-fungal interactions in Piñon-Juniper Woodlands. She is particularly interested in how fungi influence resilience in forests. In her free time, Jessie enjoys mountain biking, hiking, and snowboarding.

Postdoctoral Forest Fungal Ecology Award

Emily Putnam
Emily Putnam is a postdoctoral researcher in Ben Wolfe’s laboratory at Tufts University. Her graduate work focused on fitness determinants of commensals in the gut microbiome in the laboratory of Andrew Goodman at Yale University. She is now studying microbial communities in food systems, including the fungal and bacterial communities that form in maple sap as a part of maple syrup production.

Postdoctoral Forest Fungal Ecology Award​

Brian Lovett
Biography currently unavailable