A poster presentation of research conducted by Shannon Beston ’14 over the course of the past two years was recognized as the best undergraduate student poster during this year’s Finger Lakes Research Conference, hosted by The Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith.
Beston was awarded $100 following judging of all undergraduate and graduate student posters at the conference. Her presentation, “A Two Year Study on Black Spot Disease Prevalence, Abundance, and Population Dynamics in the Seneca Lake Watershed,” relates to research Beston conducted as part of an Honors project she completed with FLI research scientist Susan Cushman ’98.
This year’s research conference highlighted land use, invasive species and nutrient management within the region. The poster session was an opportunity for attendees to learn about research and projects (active or proposed) pertaining to the Finger Lakes environment. Students, citizen scientists, researchers and community leaders were invited to present.
Beston noted the poster presentation helped her prepare for the oral defense of her thesis. “There were a lot of different questions I had to respond to,” she says, adding the conference itself featured a good mix of academics, people from municipalities and from agribusiness as panelists.
Her poster depicted how she and Cushman used length, weight, and abundance of infection sites on the fish body to determine how populations of fish infected with black spot disease changed between 2012 and 2013. “Five of the 18 major tributaries found in the Seneca Lake watershed: Reeder Creek, Mill Creek, Rock Stream, Big Stream, and Kashong Creek have been displaying an elevated abundance of infection,” Beston says.
“Shannon did an excellent job designing, conducting and analyzing this study,” says Cushman. “She is a very hardworking, independent and dedicated student. We both learned a lot from these data, and not many have studied the effects of this parasite on these fish species. We plan to present this project at the upcoming New York chapter of the American Fisheries Society meeting to get some feedback from other fishery professionals.”
What is unique about the population of fish studied by Cushman and Beston, and the five tributaries in which they collected data, is what Beston refers to as the “explosion” of black spot disease in just two years. “The prevalence severely increased – it was really by an amazing amount,” she says.
Cushman and Beston first began researching the parasitic infection in the summer of 2012, when working on a summer research project. Upon discovering mysterious black dots on fish they examined, Beston conducted a literature review that helped them identify them as black spot disease.
“In looking at the literature, there was little to no discussion about the presence of black spot disease in the region,” says Beston. “I’ve since talked to only one researcher who has seen it here in the past.”
For her Honors thesis, “The Ecological Effects of Black Spot Disease in the Seneca Lake Watershed,” Beston focused on parasites, such as those that create black spot disease, as possible biotic indicators of ecosystem health. She looked at how the parasitic infection was affecting the health of the host fish and the mechanism of infection, including how it attaches and where the infection occurs most often on the body. She also looked at the impact of a combination of poor water quality and the parasite. She concluded that more detailed studies are necessary to determine how the parasitic infection progresses and how strong a relationship exists between the water quality and the parasite.
Beston is currently applying to graduate schools with the hope of beginning a Ph.D. program. She plans to continue to study fish, but is “Most excited about programs with a component in parasitology,” she says.
The photo above features FLI research scientist Susan Cushman ’98 and Shannon Beston ’14.