Super Showcase

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Super Showcase

Biology’s Melanie Firkins is one more than 165 student researchers who will be showing off their work this week at the 14th annual UND Graduate Scholarly Forum

When Melanie Firkins was growing up in West Des Moines, Iowa, she knew she wanted to someday work with animals.

“I went through a phase where I wanted to be a veterinarian, but later I realized I was more interested in animal ecology,” she said.

Fast-forward a few years and Firkins finds herself doing just that as a graduate student at the University of North Dakota, pursuing her master’s degree in biology. She was also one of dozens of students who took part in the 14th annual UND Graduate Scholarly Forum March 10-11 in the UND Memorial Union.

Firkins showed off her research on amphibian diseases and the role of parasitic worms, or helminths, play in those diseases in North Dakota. She spent last summer collecting amphibians at 171 locations across North Dakota. Her work is supported by a grant from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and is the first statewide survey for amphibian disease and helminths found in North Dakota.

“It is important to survey helminths because very little is known about the diversity, distribution and host associations of helminths in North Dakota amphibians,” said Firkins, who did her undergraduate studies in animal ecology and minored in anthropology at Iowa State University in Ames.

Firkins added that amphibian extinctions and population declines have occurred worldwide from factors associated with infectious diseases such as ranavirus and chytrid fungus. She hopes to determine the prevalence and geographic distribution of ranavirus, chytrid fungus and helminths in North Dakota amphibians.

Firkins faculty member mentors are Robert Newman, Vasyl Tkach and Jefferson Vaughan, all of the UND Biology Department.

“I feel very lucky to be part of a graduate program where I have access to top faculty and researchers,” Firkins said.

Firkins said that she enjoys studying how species interact with each other and the environment. Ideally, she would love to pursue a career in research on amphibian diseases and parasite ecology.

Firkins plans to graduate from UND with her master’s this fall.

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