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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

MAPS Student Wins Best Undergraduate Presentation at Society for Freshwater Scientists Conference

Abagael Pruitt presenting at
the Great Plains Limnology Conference
     Abagael Pruitt was always interested in studying water. However, after taking Biology 661: Ecology of Rivers and Lakes her sophomore year with Dr. Jim Thorpe, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas (KU) and Senior Scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey, she knew she really wanted to study water ecology. With this in mind, Abagael visited with Dr. Amy Burgin, the KU Aquatic Research Team Lead for the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS); an Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies; and an Associate Scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey, and decided to join the Burgin Lab. Abagael said she started a project with the lab team last August "to get a feel for lake-work, as I had previously only worked on streams." She added that she really enjoyed working on the lake project and "wanted to continue to do this type of research.”
     In October and November of 2018, Abagael presented her research findings during poster sessions at the 2018 Great Plains Limnology Conference and then at the 2018 Governor's Water Conference. The title of her poster was Spatial Variation of Organic Phosphorus Degrading Extracellular Enzymes in Milford Lake. This research led to the KU Environmental Studies Program awarding her the Ruben Zadiagan Scholarship to continue her research on Milford Lake. In conjunction with this scholarship, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Kansas Department of Health & Environment (KDHE) and collaborations with Emma Overstreet, Kynser Wahwahsuck, Dr. Burgin, and other members of the Burgin/Loecke lab, Abagael was able to continue her research. This additional research opportunity resulted in a presentation during the Environmental Studies Colloquium last May that she titled Spatial Variation in Water and Sediment Phosphorus chemistry in Milford Lake. Shortly after the colloquium, she developed another poster supported by the MAPS project that she co-authored with Janaye Hanschu, Emma Overstreet,  Dr. Terrance Loecke, Dr. Lydia Zeglin, Samantha Thomas, and Dr. Burgin titled Variation in Stream Chemistry Across the Kansas Precipitation Gradient. She presented this poster at the annual Society for Freshwater Scientists Conference, and she won the  Best Undergraduate Presentation award.
Abagael out in the field
On the left - Abagael pulling up the Eckman dredge, which is filled with sediment
On the right - Abagael taking sediment core for phosphatase activity
     Abagael explained her research projects as follows: “We wanted to understand how phosphorus is cycling in the lake, and how that relates to the harmful algal blooms that occur there almost every year. We asked: How do phosphorus and phosphatase activity vary spatially in Milford Lake? Are there differences between top and bottom waters? Are there differences between peak bloom (August) and post-bloom (October)? To answer, we took sediment and water samples from 30 sites around the lake, including sites from each of the three USGS-determined zones. We analyzed the water samples for Soluble Reactive Phosphorus concentrations, and the sediment samples were used to determine phosphate activity which would show how much phosphorus is being released back into the water column due to extracellular enzymes. We hypothesized that zone C would have the highest SRP concentrations, as well as the largest amount of extracellular enzyme activity in August, as that is where the harmful algal blooms generally occur. We found that Zone C did have the highest SRP concentrations in both surface and bottom waters in August. In October, Zone C still had the highest concentrations, but all zones were relatively similar with lower concentrations of SRP than in August. Phosphatase activity was much higher in August, with the highest amount of activity in zone A. We think this is because zone A is a lot deeper than zone C, resulting in greater sedimentation in that area. The shallow water in zone C allows for more mixing, causing less phosphatase activity. October phosphatase activity was significantly lower than in August, with all three zones similar in activity levels. In the future, we plan to look at the available forms of phosphorus in the sediment to better understand the differences in phosphatase activity across the lake."
     As for the MAPS research that won her the Best Undergraduate Presentation Award at the Society for Freshwater Scientists Conference, Abagael described it as follows: "We wanted to understand how stream chemistry changes across Kansas. So, we looked at changes in stream chemistry due to changes in land-use, precipitation, and stream order. This was only the first year of the project and there was a drought last summer, so the results are still preliminary. However, we found that stream order was the most consistent factor for explaining variation in stream chemistry across the state."
     A native of Ottawa Kansas, Abagael is a senior in the KU Honors Program working towards a B.S. in Environmental Studies with a minor in Economics. In addition to working in Dr. Burgin’s lab, Abagael is a trombone section rank leader in the Marching Jayhawks (band) and a member of the KU Men's Basketball Band. She also visits with incoming students to introduce and promote the KU Honors Program as an Honors Ambassador. And last year, she volunteered with Dr. Peggy Schultz’s MAPS outreach Kansas Ecology for Elementary Students (KEES) initiative and taught ecology and environmental science to 3rd-graders. She plans to volunteer for the KEES program again this fall. As for Abagael’s future plans, she said, “I have one more year of working in Dr. Amy Burgin's lab at KU. After that, I plan to go to graduate school to continue doing research, and one day, I'd like to work in academia.”

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for undergraduate student research is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The grant's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.