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Plant and Wildlife Science Graduate Research Conclave

Plant and Wildlife Science graduate students present their research to faculty, peers, and the community.

The annual event allows students in the Plant and Wildlife Sciences (PWS) master's and doctoral programs to practice sharing their work through either poster or oral presentation. The PWS graduate department hosts the event to help students gain experience and confidence in presenting as they prepare to defend their theses.

Poster presentation participants gather for photo in the Wilkinson Center Garden Court.

This year's topics ranged from protecting potato crops from fungal infection to identifying a previously unobserved species of Utah wildflower. The students were passionate about how their innovative research could be used to improve agriculture, conservation efforts, and our understanding of the natural world.

A panel of judges determined awards for both poster and oral presentations with the attendees voting on a people's choice award.

Poster Presentations

First Place

Erik Kemp
Environmental Science
“Identification and Role of Secondary Metabolites from Antagonistic Bacteria Streptomyces as a Biocontrol for Potato Fungi Silver scurf ( Helminthosporium solani) and Pythium leak ( Pythium ultimum)”

Eric Kemp points to an image on his poster, showing the effects of fungi on potatoes.

Kemp ranked first in the poster presentation session. He investigated the utilization of the bacteria Streptomyces to combat fungal disease in potatoes. His team hopes the research will help potato farmers increase their yield and provide consumers with a better and more affordable product. Kemp drew much of the crowd to his booth not only with his charismatic presentation and compelling poster, but with his detailed research and results that have real-world value in potato farming.

Second Place (tie)

Danielle Finlayson

Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation
“Golden Eagle ( Aquila chrysaetos) Use of Water Features in the West Desert of Utah.”
Danielle Finlayson stands in front of her poster highlighting several images of golden eagles.

Finlayson and her team found that, contrary to popular belief, Golden Eagles do use water features in their habitat for hydration and don’t just acquire water from consuming their prey. The team utilized motion sensing cameras at 145 sites to observe the eagles throughout the year. This research may help conservationists better preserve eagle habitats.

Heather Shipp
Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation
“Monitoring Castilleja parvula var. parvula, a Rare Endemic Plant Species, and Alpine Habitat Use by Ungulates in the Tushar Mountains, Fishlake National Forest, Utah.”

Heather Ship presents on the effects of grazing on the Indian-paintbrush population.

Shipp assessed the size and fitness of a rare plant in Fishlake National Forest, Castelleja parvula, more commonly known as Tushar Indian-paintbrush. The plant is a flowering herb native to the alpine regions of Utah. The research team monitored the grazing habits of local ungulates (hoofed mammals including deer, elk, and goats) and how they affected the Indian-paintbrush population.

Third Place

Daniel Sallee, “Effects of Interspecific Competition on Selection of Birth-Sites by Mule Deer”

Best First Year

Brian Brown, “Leveraging Bry Data to Model Fire-Induced Changes to ‘Status Flow’ in Western U.S. Rivers”

People’s Choice

Austin Hopkins, “Remote Sensing Approaches for Maximizing Productivity”

Honorable Mentions

KC Rawlinson, “Resolving the Phylogeny if Limephilidae ( Insecta: Trichoptera) Using High-throughput Targeted Enrichment Data and Bioinformatics”

Madeleine Malmfeldt, “Creating an Early Detection Network for Aquatic Cyanobacteria”

Charles Redd Award

Jason Stettler, “Speak to Me Beardtongue: Discovering a ‘New’ Beardtongue Species in Northern Utah and Southern Idaho”

Oral Presentation Awards


PWS graduate students at the oral presentation session of the conclave

First Place

Tom Bates

Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation
“Effects of Cattle Disturbance on Population Densities and Reproduce Effort of Wright’s Fishhook Cactus ( Sclerocactus wrightiae L. Benson)”

In first place, Tom Bates presented his study of the effects of cattle populations on Wright’s Fishhook Cactus, an endangered species. This research, conducted in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management and Capitol Reef National Park, hoped to improve conservation efforts for the cactus. Due to the impact of cattle traffic and its popularity with collectors, the cactus is currently struggling to survive in its natural habitat.
Second place was taken by a three-way tie:

Second Place (tie)

Shae Taylor

Enviromental Science
“Biocontrol Potential of Streptomyces Isolates on Fungal Pathogens ( Helminthosporium solani, Pythium spp.) of Potatoes ( Solanum tuberosum)”

Taylor studied the potentially positive effects of the bacteria strain Streptomyces on potatoes. Laboratory tests revealed that Streptomyces mitigated the effects of fungal pathogens, protecting the potato crop from such fungal threats. The next step is to see how these results carry over to practical application in soil and storage.

Ryan Howell
Wildlife & Wildlands Conservation
“Using Drones to Measure Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat: A Comparison of Flight Parameters to Determine Optional Data Acquisition Strategies"

Howell and his team used data collected by drones to create a digital model of the Greater Sage-Grouse habitat near Strawberry Reservoir, Wasatch County, Utah. Drones were flown at several heights, making single and double passes over the area. The goal was to determine which survey was most effective and efficient to observe height and distribution of vegetation.

Mitch Thacker
WildLife & Wildlands Conservation
“Use of Flash Flaming Technology to Improve Seed Handling and Delivery of Winterflat Seeds”

Thacker and his team tested flash flaming and polymer coating processes to create a more deliverable Winterflat seed. Previously, Winterflat, a valuable protein-rich rangeland plant, could not be distributed using broadcast seeding methods. The flash flame treated seeds can now be used to reclaim degraded rangelands.

Third Place

Erin Jones, “Identifying Pollutant Sources and Cultivating Aquatic Stewardship with Large-Scale Participatory Science”

Best First Year

Alyssa Brown, “Identifying Obstacles to Autonomous Mowers in the United States Landscape”

People’s Choice

Sydney Lamb, “Maternal Effects on Birthweight, Growth, and Survival of Mule Deer Fawns”

Honorable Mention

Sara Sayedi, “Expert Assessment of Organic Carbon Stocks and Vulnerability in Subsea Permafrost”

Most Improved

Hector Ortiz , “Rock ‘N’ Agave: Temperature and Soil Moisture in Rock Piles Influence Nocturnal CO 2 Exchanges of Agave Americana and Agave murpheyi

Charles Redd Award

Justin Taylor, “Rodent Deterrent Seed Coating Technologies for Restoration Seeding”

The event was sponsored by BYU’s Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, which provides grants and resources for researchers studying subjects pertaining to Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, or Wyoming. Funding opportunities for a variety of fields of study can be found on their website. The research presented at the conclave have many direct implications for agriculture and conservation practices in the Mountain West.