VHCC, UVa-Wise Students Collaborate on Green Salamander Research

Students from VHCC and UVa-Wise have been involved in the research that requires testing Green Salamanders for pathogens.
Students from VHCC and UVa-Wise have been involved in a unique research project that requires testing Green Salamanders for pathogens. The results were recently published in Herpetological Review.

A collaborative research project conducted by students at Virginia Highlands Community College and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise has resulted in a better understanding of Green Salamander populations and a September article in Herpetological Review.

The research began more than a decade ago and was aimed at determining the prevalence of harmful pathogens in Green Salamanders found in Dickenson, Scott, Washington and Wise counties. Biology students participating in the research were responsible for capturing and swabbing Green Salamanders for these pathogens, then recording and interpreting the results. They ultimately determined that Green Salamanders were infected with pathogens.

“There are really two great benefits to this research,” said Dr. Kevin Hamed, professor of biology at VHCC, who led the project. “We’ve made some important discoveries about the pathogens that might impact Green Salamander populations so we can take steps to better protect them. We’ve also given our students a unique opportunity to be involved in field research and publish their findings.”

The article is entitled “First Report of Ranavirus and Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in Green Salamanders (Aneides aeneus) from Virginia, USA.” Herpetological Review is a peer-reviewed quarterly published by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.

Hamed began the project with a Virginia Community College System Paul Lee Professional Development grant in 2005. Subsequent funding was provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries through a State Wildlife Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University Of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Students from UVa-Wise, working under the direction of Assistant Professor of Biology Wally Smith also joined the study, and additional funding was provided by the UVa-Wise Fellowship in the Natural Sciences endowment.

“We were thrilled to be able to partner with Dr. Hamed and students on this project,” Dr. Smith said. “The Green Salamander is one of the most unique yet understudied salamander species in our part of Virginia, and this research puts us one step closer to developing the knowledge that will be necessary to effectively conserve this species in our region and beyond. We also are incredibly thankful to the local citizens who aided us by providing their own sightings of this species and helping us expand our knowledge of where Green Salamanders live across southwest Virginia. We hope to expand upon this citizen science aspect in the next phase of our research to better involve local residents in determining where this species lives in our region.”

The second phase of the research will take a closer look at Green Salamander habitats and factors that impact survival. Additional funding is currently being pursued, Hamed said.


Biology Students Trained to Use GPS/GNSS Technology


Biology students at Virginia Highlands Community College recently received hands-on training using geospatial technology to gather scientific data at TVA’s South Holston Weir Dam.

The training session was scheduled as part of Expanding Geospatial Technician Education Through Virginia’s Community Colleges (GeoTEd), an initiative coordinated by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium. GeoTEd’s goal is to introduce students and faculty to geospatial technology and enhance the use of the technology in the workforce.

Project partners include the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), Virginia Western Community College, Thomas Nelson Community College, Southwest Virginia Community College, and the Virginia Geospatial Extension Program in the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech. The National Science Foundation provided funding for the project through its Advanced Technological Education program.

VHCC students participating in the salamander research project, which is led by Professor Kevin Hamed, met at the weir dam to learn how to use hand-held devices equipped with external antennas. The devices use both global positioning system (GPS) and global navigation satellite system (GNSS) technology to track salamanders that were tagged with transponders during an earlier phase of their research.

The technology will allow students to record the exact location of salamanders, log their favorite nesting sites, and document seasonal data. The ongoing research is providing valuable clues about nesting and migration habits that can help TVA make land-management decisions. Students were trained to use the GPS/GNSS devices by David Webb of Virginia Western Community College, Cherie Aukland of Thomas Nelson Community College, and Sandy Stephenson of Southwest Virginia Community College.

VHCC previously used GPS/GNSS technology to map campus trees and create a campus navigation app.

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Coastal Critters the Focus of Spring Break Study

photo2If your idea of a perfect Spring Break at the beach includes sun, sand, boat-tailed grackle and Yabby shrimp, you’re probably one of 14 students and three faculty members taking part in VHCC’s 2014 Coastal Ecology Course.

Jessica Cox described the experience nicely.

“I came on this trip expecting to learn about the marine environment, however it has become much more than that,” she said. “It has opened my eyes to how many different opportunities you have in life and the many different paths you can take. Seeing the dolphins following us on the boat and playing was amazing. Also catching frogs to identify them was out of this world. This has truly been the opportunity and trip of a lifetime.”

While others are taking a well-deserved break from class, this group of ambitious science enthusiasts is spending the week at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory for a week filled with hands-on exploration. They’re combing the beaches and woods, searching for sea creatures, coastal bird species, and plants that can’t be observed in the woods and mountains close to home.

“Just within the past few days I have learned and experienced more on this trip about different factors that shape an environment than I have ever learned in any classroom,” said student Austin Compton. “I will take what I learn on this trip everywhere I go. I am so glad I had the opportunity to be with critters over spring break!”

Coastal Ecology is offered at VHCC every other year and has been led for many years by Assistant Professor of Biology Kevin Hamed and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Sandy Davis. Dr. Hara Charlier, vice president of Instruction and Student Services, is also participating this year.

If you’d like to learn more, check out this cool video including more quotes and photos from participating student.


Plant Life of Virginia Students Travel to Botanical Gardens

plantlifeStudents enrolled in the new Plant Life of Virginia course, BIO-215 taught by Associate Professor Kevin Hamed, visited the University of North Carolina-Asheville Botanical Gardens on Friday.

The gardens house over 650 species of plants and the majority are native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Students were able to practice their identification skills and see many plants that would normally require visiting numerous sites throughout the area.

Students also had the opportunity to visit Carolina Natives Nursery where the owner, Bill Jones, provided a tour. Bill stressed the value of a community college education and suggested that students take as many classes outside of biology and horticulture as possible. He highly recommended accounting and business courses. His business is the largest producer of native, captive grown azaleas in the Southern Appalachians.

To learn more about the course and when it will be offered again, contact khamed@vhcc.edu or (276) 739-2431.

Assistant Professor Kevin Hamed’s Research is Published

The rare Wellers Salamander is among the species included in the study.
The rare Wellers Salamander is among the species included in the study.

If you’re interested in amphibian diseases – the Ranavirus in Plethdontid Salamanders within the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, to be exact – you’ll certainly want to pick up the latest copy of Herpetological Review and read the compelling article by VHCC Assistant Professor Kevin Hamed.

Kevin’s research was partially funded through a grant with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and is the first to officially document ranavirus in salamanders from the Mount Rogers area. According to the article, that’s important because “disease emergence could have devastating impacts on community structure and ecosystem function.” Wow!

The article may be a little too technical  for most of us, but it’s exciting to note that Kevin’s ongoing research has examined at least 15 species of plethodontid salamanders living on Whitetop Mountain and has contributed to scientific discovery in the exciting world of amphibians. Congratulations to Kevin and his entire research team.