News & Updates

2020 Archive

2020-12-04 - Hotchkiss Lab & Friends at AGU 2020!

We are excited to share our science virtually! Please contact us if you would like to learn about any of our presentations but aren't able to attend AGU this year.

2020-11-02 - Hotchkiss and collaborators receive seed grant funding to study mining-impacted streams

Hotchkiss and collaborators recently secured seed grant funding to support new [1] and continued [2] research on the impacts of surface coal mining on the water quality and ecology of regional streams. Collaborators (all at Virginia Tech) are Dr. Erin Hotchkiss (Biological Sciences), Dr. Sally Entrekin (Entomology), Dr. Daniel McLaughlin (Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation), and Dr. Stephen Schoenholtz (Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation).

  1. 2020-2021. “Salty carbon: Testing the consequences of freshwater salinization on stream food web dynamics and ecosystem metabolism.” 2020 Interdisciplinary Seed Grant, Global Change Center, Virginia Tech. Awarded to: E.R. Hotchkiss, S.A. Entrekin, S.H. Schoenholtz, & D.L. McLaughlin.

  2. 2020-2021. “Major ions and trace elements in headwater streams influenced by surface coal mining: long-term effects on aquatic life and implications for downstream water quality.” Powell River Project. Awarded to: D.L. McLaughlin, S.H. Schoenholtz, S.A. Entrekin, & E.R. Hotchkiss.

We are excited to connect these projects with past work on mining-impacted streams and our future vision for collaborative research testing the ecological consequences of freshwater salinization!

2020-10-20 - Carla López Lloreda is the 2020 William R. Walker Graduate Research Fellow

MSc student Carla López Lloreda was awarded the 2020 William R. Walker Graduate Research Fellowship from the Virginia Water Resources Research Center!

The fellowship supports one graduate student each year whose research is in a different field from their undergraduate degree and/or who has returned to gradate school after time in the workforce. Carla worked as a research technician in El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico for several years before starting her MSc studies at Virginia Tech this fall. Her thesis research will test how changing hydrology and anthropogenic disturbances control greenhouse gas emissions from wetlands in Maryland and Puerto Rico.

Congratulations, Carla!

2020-10-12 - Fall 2020 virtual lab photo

We are still operating almost entirely remotely due to covid-19, but finding ways to connect virtually and build collaborations within the lab group. I (Erin) took our "Fall 2020 Virtual Lab Photo" as part of this week's Science-A-Thon, "a five-day social media celebration of science, engineering, technology, and math – widely known as STEM! The goal of Science-A-Thon is to increase visibility of science and the important role it plays in the world." We're looking forward to being on the other side of all of this. In the meantime, I'm thankful for everyone's commitment, enthusiasm, creativity, and kindness!

2020-09-02 - Hotchkiss co-PI on new freshwater salinization syndrome "Growing Convergence Research" NSF grant

A multi-university collaboration was recently approved for funding by NSF: "Common Pool Resource Theory as a Scalable Framework for Catalyzing Stakeholder-Driven Solutions to the Freshwater Salinization Syndrome". The project team includes S.B. Grant (PI, Virginia Tech), T.A. Birkland (PI, North Carolina State University), S. Kaushal (PI, University of Maryland College Park), & J. Gomez-Velez (PI, Vanderbilt); Virginia Tech co-PIs are M. Edwards, E.R. Hotchkiss, T. Schenk, & M.A. Rippy.

Update (2020-12-11): Virginia Tech press release for our NSF GCR project

From the award abstract: "Through convergence research, education and outreach [our team] will identify mechanisms that promote collaboration between stakeholders to effectively manage the salt budget of [a] regionally important drinking water supply. ... At its core, inland freshwater salinization is a common pool resource (CPR) problem, because inland freshwaters are available to all actors and restricting access would be prohibitively expensive. ... This project hypothesizes that Ostrom's social-ecological-systems framework can be used to diagnose, and resolve, the challenges and barriers that limit, or outright prevent, bottom-up management of inland freshwater salt budgets. Through semi-structured interviews with local water and wastewater managers and other stakeholders, multi-stakeholder deliberations featuring shared learning and exploration, biophysical and social science field and modeling studies, and longitudinal studies of stakeholders' evolving understanding of the problem, [we] will test the hypothesis that Ostrom's framework can 'propel knowledge into action' and catalyze bottom-up solutions to threats to ecosystem sustainability and human water security."

2020-08-24 - Welcome Carla and Katherine!

We welcome two new graduate students to our research group: Katherine X. Pérez Rivera & Carla López Lloreda! This is certainly not a "normal" time to start graduate school, but I am excited to begin our collaborations in freshwater science. Welcome to Virginia Tech - we're thrilled to have you with us!

Katherine X. Pérez Rivera

Katherine is a new Ph.D. student who recently completed her M.Sc. in Natural Resources at the University of New Hampshire: "Limited uptake of labile carbon in forested headwater streams". She is interested dissolved organic matter and nutrient cycling in freshwater ecosystems and how these processes are influenced by surrounding landscapes. Katherine was recently awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to form new research collaborations with scientists in the Czech Republic.

Carla López Lloreda

Carla is a new M.Sc. student who joins us after working as a Senior Research Technician in Puerto Rico for several years. She is interested in how freshwater ecosystems process and transport solutes, especially in the context of climatic disturbances like droughts and hurricanes. Carla was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in recognition of her past accomplishments and vision for future research and outreach.

2020-07-25 - Greetings from the New River, VA

While most of our fieldwork is still on hold and we continue to work remotely due to covid-19, we have been taking time to stay active and enjoy nearby outdoor opportunities. Here are few photos from recent floats on the New River near Blacksburg, VA. I'm very thankful for wide rivers that can be safely shared by many people! So far most of my time on the New has been recreational (not for research), but I often catch myself wondering about primary/secondary production and nutrient cycling along different sections of the river!

2020-06-30 - #SummerofScienceSFS

We were sorry to miss the annual Society for Freshwater Science Meeting this year, but thrilled to support and participate in the virtual "Summer of Science" events planned by the Society for Freshwater Science this month. In addition to enjoying keynotes talks and poster presentations, Kristen Bretz attended a virtual endowment celebration to honor her and other students' awards (& logged a "virtual fun run" near her study stream!), Stephen Plont was a panelist in an student-mentor session for undergraduate students, and Erin Hotchkiss helped moderate a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion session. We hope to see everyone in person in summer 2021!

2020-06-10 - A Vision for the Future

As I reflect on current events and grieve for the Black lives lost to racism, I am also (uncharacteristically) optimistic. It feels like we are at a tipping point in history that will lead to a more just and equitable future. This transition may not be easy, but it should be a priority. Systemic racism has fueled a long history of violence against and murder of Black people; continues to create health and economic disparities; and is at the core of environmental and criminal justice issues that disproportionately affect Black and other minoritized communities. We must rebuild all systems that limit opportunities and lifespans, and that includes academia. I’m thankful for Biological Sciences’ and Virginia Tech’s diversity and inclusion efforts, but members of our community still experience daily microaggressions, harassment, and discrimination. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to learn from our colleagues through #BlackAFinSTEM and #BlackintheIvory. To those in our community who can personally relate to these experiences: I hear you and I am here for you. I want higher education and science to be open to anyone and supportive of everyone. This research group operates under a shared commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I am excited to see other groups articulating their values and supporting them with actions. We have the opportunity to reinvent academia in ways that work for everyone; let’s build a better future together.

- Dr. Erin Hotchkiss, Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech

2020-06-03 - Congratulations to #VT2020 graduates!

Jonathon (Jack) Monroe

Alexis (AJ) Jackson

Jacob (Jake) Riney

While we weren't able to celebrate in person this year, we want to congratulate the members of our group who are now college graduates: Jonathon (Jack) Monroe, Alexis (AJ) Jackson, and Jacob (Jake) Riney all graduated from Virginia Tech this spring. We are thankful they chose us for their undergraduate research lab, sad to see them go, and excited for what comes next! Jack recently started a new job as a research assistant at the Mayo Clinic's vaccine lab in Minnesota. AJ and Jake are taking a year or so off before applying to graduate school (hire them!). Congratulations again! We miss you already.

Avatars commissioned from

2020-06-02 - Alexis Jackson and Jack Monroe highlighted in VT news article

Alexis (AJ) Jackson and Jonathon (Jack) Monroe were featured in a recent Virginia Tech news article: Recipients selected for inaugural Undergraduate Research Excellence Award

AJ was one of three recipients of the first-ever, university-wide Undergraduate Research Excellence Award. "Finalists for the award were identified based on their completion of the Undergraduate Research Excellence Program (UREP), and recipients were selected based on their ability to communicate their research effectively to a broad audience as well as their creative use of visuals and technology to enhance their message." Jack was one of four students who received a special mention as a runner-up for the award. Congratulations, AJ and Jack!

2020-05-20 - Kristen Bretz receives SFS Endowment Award

Kristen Bretz is one of this year's recipients of the Society for Freshwater Science (SFS) Endowment Award! This competitive award is given annually to top-ranked research proposals submitted by graduate student members of SFS. Kristen's proposal was titled: "Biogeochemical consequences of headwater network connectivity". While we won't be able to celebrate the 2020 awardees at an in-person SFS conference this summer, we want to congratulate Kirsten on this accomplishment. Well done!

Kristen Bretz capturing CO2/CH4 fluxes at one of her sampling sites at Coweeta Hydrologic Lab in North Carolina.

2020-04-24 - Undergraduate researchers share their science virtually

How does stream intermittency alter microbial metabolism?

How variable are CO2 and CH4 emissions from riparian wetlands?

How does metabolism differ in two adjacent streams?

Congratulations to graduating seniors Jonathon Monroe, Alexis Jackson, and Jake Riney for developing videos to share their science through the 2020 Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship Conference! This has not been an easy final semester, but you continue to make our lab a better place through your contributions to community and new knowledge. Thank you! We are proud of you and will miss you.

2020-03-27 - Undergraduate researchers receive honors from the Society for Freshwater Science

While the ASLO-SFS summer meeting has been cancelled due to coronavirus, we want to congratulate two undergraduate researchers in our group for being selected for the following honors from the Society for Freshwater Science (SFS) in 2020:

Alexis "AJ" Jackson is a 2020 SFS Undergraduate Instars Fellow. AJ is a graduating senior in Biological Sciences conducting research on greenhouse gas dynamics in riparian wetlands.

Jonathon "Jack" Monroe was awarded a 2020 SFS undergraduate travel grant. Jack is a graduating senior in Biological Sciences conducting research on microbial metabolism and functional diversity in intermittent streams.

Congratulations, Jack and AJ!

Kristen Bretz (PhD student and co-mentor to Jack and AJ), Jack Monroe, and AJ Jackson in Coweeta, NC during summer 2019.

2020-03-16 - The New Normal

While we won't be meeting in person due to covid-19 health concerns, we're continuing our weekly lab paper and data discussions through virtual video calls. It's definitely not the same as seeing everyone in person, but I'm thankful we have the technology to stay connected right now. We are acknowledging current challenges, revising our expectations and research plans, and communicating often. Stay safe, everyone!

2020-03-07 - Hotchkiss co-PI on new NSF-funded workshop

UPDATE (2020-03-27): Due to the cancellation of ASLO-SFS and the uncertainty about travel during summer 2020, we are postponing this workshop. We will likely host our workshop as part of the Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting in 2022.

Our workshop, "Revisiting the Freshwater Imperative", was approved for funding by the National Science Foundation! Participants in the workshop will collaborate to identify key challenges for freshwater ecosystems, synthesize existing understanding to characterize emerging knowledge gaps, and consider the role of cutting edge analytical approaches and emerging methods in informing a near-term research agenda. For more information about our workshop and how to apply:

Members of the steering committee:
Catherine O’Reilly (chairperson and PI), Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment, Illinois State University
Steven Sadro, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis
Erin Hotchkiss, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Kathy Cottingham, Dartmouth Professor in the Arts & Sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College
Michael Vanni, Professor, Department of Biology, Miami University

2020-03-04 - Photos from the field: Jefferson National Forest, VA

Kristen Bretz is interested in the biogeochemical consequences of stream intermittency. Her local field sites in Jefferson National Forest offer an incredible diversity of stream reaches, many of which go completely dry in summer and autumn. We spent a morning conducting conservative tracer releases to map water residence time and flow paths from headwater reaches, to subsurface flows, and back to the surface again. It was a great day to get outside and a good reminder of how important it is to stay connected to the sites where our data come from!

2020-03-03 - Stephen Plont and co-authors link carbon and nitrogen cycling in new Freshwater Science article

PhD student Stephen Plont led a collaboration where we investigated coupled organic carbon and nitrogen cycling in streams across the United States using data from 72 headwater streams draining different land uses (agricultural, urban, & natively vegetated reference sites). We found that the distance organic carbon travels before being respired (i.e., the organic carbon spiraling length) was shorter in agricultural and urban streams relative to reference streams. Furthermore, the distance traveled by organic carbon and nitrate before removal from the stream by respiration (S-oc) or denitrification (Sw-den) were similar in magnitude, but S-oc was shorter than Sw–den in most streams. Human activities alter the cycling and fate of organic carbon and nutrients in freshwater ecosystems.

Plont, O’Donnell, Gallagher, & Hotchkiss. 2020. Linking carbon and nitrogen spiraling in streams. Freshwater Science 39:126-136.

2020-03-01 - Secondary Production Working Group in Florida

Erin Hotchkiss recently spent a few days at the University of Florida to continue collaborations with her "Secondary Production" working group. The working group, one of two recently hosted by the NSF-Funded Stream Resiliency Research Coordination Network (members of both groups in photo above), is compiling data to assess the relationships between invertebrate biological and functional diversity, resource availability, biomass, and secondary production in streams and rivers. The rest of the above photos are from a group field trip to Manatee Springs State Park, including two of many manatee sightings in the spring outflow!

2020-02-12 - Hotchkiss featured in ESWN Spotlight

Erin was recently featured in the "Member Spotlights" of the Earth Science Women's Network (ESWN). ESWN is a community of women in the earth sciences that excels in "making science more inclusive". Erin joined ESWN as a graduate student in 2009, and credits ESWN-related networking and learning opportunities with much of her growth as a scientist, mentor, and educator. If you value diversity and the advancement of women in science, consider joining (membership is free) and engaging with virtual and/or in-person ESWN activities!

2020-02-01 - Biological Sciences Research Day

Students in the lab presented their results and research ideas at the 2020 Biological Sciences Research Day at Virginia Tech. The (now 17 year) tradition of a day celebrating graduate research in our department is a great opportunity to learn about the breadth of topics that motivate research in labs from Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior; Microbiology and Immunology; and Molecular, Cellular, Developmental, and Computational Biology! Presentations from the Hotchkiss Lab were:

Bretz, K.A.*, J.M. Monroe**, & E.R. Hotchkiss. Stream pCO2 and microbial metabolic potential in two forested mountain streams. Poster.

Plont, S.*, C. Miller**, J. Riney**, & E.R. Hotchkiss. How do stream confluences influence carbon cycling in freshwater networks? Poster.

* graduate researcher

** undergraduate researcher

2020-01-29 - O'Donnell and Hotchkiss co-author article in Water Resources Research

2020-01-20 - Photos from the field: #DelmarvaDisco sampling!

The Virginia Tech representatives for our collaborative NSF project, "Hydrologic connectivity and carbon fluxes in wetland-dominated catchments", spent a few days on the eastern shore of Maryland sampling our synoptic wetland sites, finalizing locations for sensor installations at core measurement sites, and getting to know the soils along wetland-upland transects! Team Hokies includes Katie Wardinski (graduate researcher), Tommy Cianciolo (research assistant), James Maze (research assistant), Erin Hotchkiss (co-PI), Durelle Scott (co-PI), and Daniel McLaughlin (PI).

2020-01-03 - Alexis Jackson receives GCC Undergraduate Research Grant

Alexis "AJ" Jackson, an undergraduate researcher in our lab, was awarded a research grant from Virginia Tech's Global Change Center (GCC)! AJ is a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in Biological Sciences. The GCC award will fund AJ's proposed research quantifying the consequences of warming for wetland carbon cycling. Congratulations, AJ!

Also: See GCC News Update.