Student Success

U of L biology students receive honours at Canadian Society of Zoologists meeting

A group of five University of Lethbridge students, working under the tutelage of Dr. Cam Goater of the Department of Biological Sciences, distinguished themselves at the recent Canadian Society of Zoologists meeting in Calgary.

Led by award winners Stephanie Reimer and Bradley Van Paridon, the group presented papers in a variety of sections and garnered significant attention for the research work being done at the U of L.

“I am extremely proud of the remarkable successes of our students at this conference,” says Goater, a foremost expert in the study of parasitism. “These competitions for Best Student Paper are getting more and more competitive, so to have two different students win two different competitions was a real thrill for our group.”

Left to right are Natalia Phillips, Brad van Paridon, Dr. Cam Goater, Melissa Beck, Stephanie Reimer and Zach Dempsey.

Reimer, who defended her Master of Science in April 2015, won the prestigious Cas C. Lindsey Prize for the best student presentation within the fields of behaviour, ecology and evolution. She is a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Post-Graduate Fellowship winner as well, and competed against master’s and PhD students from across the country for the Lindsey Prize.

Reimer’s presentation, Ecological Epidemiology of an Emerging Virus in Tiger Salamanders in Southern Alberta, discusses how emerging infectious diseases are a leading cause of global declines in amphibian populations.

“The emergence of Amybstoma tigrinum virus (ATV) in tiger salamander populations in southern Alberta has led to concerns regarding the population status of this prairie icon,” says Reimer. “Results from a longitudinal survey of a larval salamander population in Livingston Lake, Alberta showed that ATV transmission is strongly seasonal, increasing in prevalence from 0 to 100 per cent between early July and the timing of metamorphosis in mid-August. Despite consistency between years in the seasonal pattern of transmission, variability in annual ATV-induced mortality was extremely high. Our early results suggest that ecological factors that influence host quality act in addition, or synergistically, to ATV exposure to contribute to the magnitude of ATV-induced outbreaks within larval salamander populations.”

Van Paridon, who is in the midst of his PhD, won the Murray Fallis Award for the top student presentation in the fields of parasitology and immunology.

“He uses modern molecular tools to understand how invasive parasites enter host populations, how they spread, and the consequences they have on their new hosts,” says Goater. “The parasite he is studying is best known for its bizarre ability to turn one of its hosts (ants) into zombies that cling tightly onto vegetation at night.”

Van Paridon splits his time between the U of L and University of Calgary and recently won a fellowship from the National Center for Veterinary Parasitology in the United States. His paper was titled, Invasion Pathway, Life-cycle, and Host Utilization of Emerging Liver Fluke, Dicrocoelium dendriticum, in Wildlife and Cattle in Cypress Hills, Alberta.

“The lancet liver fluke emerged in Cypress Hills Park (CHP) in the 1990s. Results from annual host surveys show that 60 to 90 per cent of sympatric elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer and beef cattle are infected, with individual hosts often harbouring more than 1000 gravid worms,” says Van Paridon. “At this site of emergence, the life-cycle involves at least three species of Formicid ant as second intermediate host and one species of terrestrial snail (Oreohelix) as first host. Using two molecular markers, mtDNA gene sequences and microsatellites, we genotyped samples of adult worms from hosts in CHP, two other invasion sites in North America, and sites in Europe. Our results are consistent with invasion of CHP from multiple sources, likely via trans-border movement of domestic stock. An understanding of invasion pathway, life-cycle and host utilization patterns provide important tools for mitigating future spread of liver fluke to comparable sites in North America.”

Three of Goater’s other graduate students presented papers at the conference as well. Master of Science students Zach Dempsey and Natalia Phillips each presented, as did PhD student Melissa Beck.

“Melissa was selected to compete for the William S. Hoar Award for overall Best Student Oral Presentation,” says Goater. “Students have to submit separate proposals to compete for what is considered the most prestigious award of the annual meeting and she was one of six students selected to present, which is a real honour. She did not win, but it was a thrill to see her compete against students from the biggest and best-known labs in the country.”

The annual meeting once again highlighted the outstanding, national-level research work being done by University of Lethbridge graduate students.