A rise in external research investments has seen the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation totaled nearly $9 million in annual externally sponsored research expenditures over the 2022-2023 academic year. This success has helped expand the department's strong and diverse research portfolio, which has broad impacts on both Virginia and the world.

The department has received grants from prestigious organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration, all of which are serving to elevate the reputation and impact of faculty at the university and beyond.

“As a land-grant university with a global reach, our aim is to have our faculty and students at the forefront of collaborations on challenges facing both the commonwealth and the world,” said Joel Snodgrass, professor and head of the department. “We have a call to bring our expertise to the challenges of biodiversity conservation, while also forging collaborations that will return benefits to the state of Virginia.”

Collaborations with other departments, colleges, centers, and institutes have been a critical part of building the department’s research portfolio. Partnered research with the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, the Center for Coastal Studies, the Global Change Center, the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-Borne Pathogens, and the Invasive Species Working Group has been a key driver of grant funding, and the Conservation Management Institute has playing an important role in strengthening collaborations between Virginia Tech and local, state, and federal agencies.

Along the way, external fellowships have enhanced the graduate student experience in the department. Jonathan Low, Hailey Conrad, and Thomas Bustamante were recognized with awards by the NSF, while Mikayla Call and Mariana Castaneda-Guzman each received Virginia Sea Grant Graduate Fellowships.

The impacts of the department’s commitment to conservation research and some recent high-profile grant awards can be found throughout this newsmagazine

These stories and others to come reflect the department’s enduring commitment to pursuing research that explores the conservation of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems at a global scale while also serving the citizens and protecting the natural spaces of Virginia.

Meet the next generation of wildlife conservationists

Kaitlyn Theberge

Researchers on a boat surrounded by water, land to the left in the distant horizon.
Kaitlyn Theberge (at left) with research collaborators Tonje Sordalen, Kim Halvorsen, and CNRE Assistant Professor Holly Kindsvater (left-to-right). Photo courtesy of Kaitlyn Theberge.

For graduate student Kaitlyn Theberge, understanding the impacts that fisheries management decisions have on lobsters starts with a deep dive into statistical modeling.

“For my master’s thesis, I ran a series of models to simulate how two lobster species – the American lobster and the European lobster – respond to different fisheries management decisions,” said Theberge. "I compared how two types of protections for egg-bearing females affect factors that may be important for reproductive success in each species.”

To further her research, Theberge was awarded  the 2023 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, awarded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant Office.

“This research comes at an interesting time for both species,” said Theberge, who shared her research at the International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology and Management in Fremantle, Australia this year. “My hope is that research results can help decision makers consider some of the impacts of management choices to inform future discussions.”

Truman Collins

A student standing in a small forest clearing holding a machete resting the tip on the top of their shoe.
Truman Collins received a CNRE research fellowship to travel to Belize. Photo courtesy of Truman Collins.

Undergraduate student Truman Collins has been using camera trap data to understand the distribution of margays, an arboreal wildcat that lives in Central and South America.

I’m looking through data from Professor Marcella Kelly’s camera trapping project in Belize, which focuses on the abundance and distribution of cat species in Central America,” Collins explained. “My project is looking at the distribution of margays to try and determine patch occupancy, densities, and preferred habitat types.”

Collins received an undergraduate research fellowship from CNRE to travel to Belize and experience the tropical forest environment first-hand.

“Due to the elusive nature of these cats, there has been very limited research done on them, and their population needs a reassessment that considers the loss of habitat in their home ranges,” said Collins. “This fellowship has allowed me to pursue research that I am truly passionate about.”