SENR Honors Spotlight: Robert Denney

Major: Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife, Honors
Specialization: Forest Ecosystem Science and Management
Graduation: May 2016

robert denney 2When I began college, I had no idea what research was, but I was sure I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be able to apply what I would learn in my classes to a real-world problem, and SENR Honors has definitely given me the opportunity to do this.

In the SENR Honors Program, you are asked to perform an undergraduate research thesis project, and this can be intimidating to think about at first. SENR faculty and staff guided me through the process, however, and I was able to establish a faculty advisor, Dr. Hix, in my sophomore year. With Dr. Hix, I was able to create my Honors study plan tailored to my interest in forest ecology. At one of our meetings, Dr. Hix and I were looking at a map of the distribution of eastern hemlock in the U.S., and from there I got an idea.

robert denneyI noticed that a small “pocket” of hemlocks existed in Alabama, and these hemlocks have yet to be infected by the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), an invasive insect that is inducing widespread hemlock mortality throughout North America. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this information, but at least it was a start. In the fall of my junior year, I took Dr. Hix’s Woody Plant Identification and Forest Ecosystems classes, and these classes formed the basis of what my thesis is now becoming.

Though still in its infancy, my thesis has the objectives of 1) describing the current composition and structure of this disjunct hemlock ecosystem type in Alabama, and 2) modeling potential HWA infestation over the area. It is my hope that land managers can use my research in predicting the future spread of HWA in Alabama and see the effects this insect may have on forest composition and structure. I am currently in the SENR Honors Colloquium class developing my thesis proposal, am applying for grants, and getting ready to conduct my research later this year. SENR has taught me how crucial it is to be a steward of the Earth, and I am excited to see where this project and the path that SENR has set for me takes me in the future!

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