Lake Erie Center

Former members of the GLGL

KatyDr. Katy Klymus (Post-doctoral Researcher 2014-2016)
Now: Research Biologist, USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center
CV 2015

Research Interests:
Evolutionary biology, animal behavior, phylogenetics, population/conservation genetics, environmental DNA

As a postdoctoral research fellow at the GLGL, I will be working with Dr. Carol Stepien’s lab in the development of a DNA based assay for detection of invasive aquatic invertebrate species in the Great Lakes. We will use next-generation sequencing technology to test water samples (environmental DNA or eDNA samples) for the DNA of over 50 different invertebrate species. My previous postdoctoral work with Dr. Craig Paukert (University of Missouri) and Duane Chapman (CERC-USGS) involved using quantitative PCR to assess how informative eDNA sampling could be in monitoring efforts for invasive bigheaded carps in the Chicago Area Waterway System. My postdoctoral experience has led to my interest in the use of eDNA sampling for biodiversity monitoring and conservation applications. Prior to this work, I was mainly involved in theory driven research of how biodiversity arises. For my Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, I worked in Dr. Carl Gerhardt’s lab and examined speciation within a cryptic species complex, the canyon treefrog, using phylogenetic, population genetic, and behavioral assays. My research has led to a better understanding of species delimitation in this system, provides supporting evidence for a new species designation, and emphasizes the importance of using multiple lines of evidence in species delimitation. Besides research I also enjoy teaching and community based science outreach. I have coordinated and directed several science outreach programs including local Bioblitz events (citizen science based biodiversity surveys) and K-12 science education outreach programs. In the future I hope to find a position that allows me to pursue my interests in conservation research, teaching, and science outreach.

CeciliaDr. Cecilia Hennessy (Post-doctoral Researcher 2015-2016)
CV 2015

Research Interests:
Invasive species detection and management, conservation genetics, community ecology, animal communities in anthropogenic habitats

The Great Lakes ecosystems continue to be plagued by invasive species, and potentially invasive species will likely be added to the system by new shipping routes and sources of shipments. Detection, the first step in managing invasive species, can be difficult in the early stages of invasion, as the number of individuals at that time will be extremely small. Dr. Cecilia Hennessy, working as a postdoctoral research scientist in the lab of Dr. Carol Stepien, is improving early detection methods, using environmental DNA (eDNA) to construct an assay of known invasive and potentially invasive species, as well as native fishes that we expect to be present. This assay could then be used as a rapid test by managers to determine the presence and relative abundance of problematic species. Before joining the Lake Erie Center, Dr. Hennessy was a postdoctoral research scientist at Purdue University, analyzing data from multiple primary investigators on an interdisciplinary forestry and community ecology study. She also taught for a year in the Biology Department at Indiana University as a visiting lecturer. She earned her PhD under the tutelage of Dr. Olin “Gene” Rhodes at Purdue University, studying the effects of anthropogenic and natural barriers on terrestrial animal populations and gene flow. Prior to that, she earned her Masters from Ohio State University, using genetics to study social relationships of coyotes in the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Area.

AmandaDr. Amanda Haponski (Post-doctoral Researcher 2013-2014, Ph.D. June 2013, Ph.D. student in GLGL 2008-2013) 
Now: Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology and Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
CV 2015

Research Interests:
Phylogeography, population genetics, systematics, ecology and natural history of marine and freshwater fishes

I received my master’s degree from the University of Toledo in December of 2007 and decided to continue on for my Ph.D. in Carol Stepien’s lab that I recently completed in June 2013.  My research has utilized a combination of genetic markers and traditional morphological characters. My master’s thesis focused on the Greenside Darter (Etheostoma blennioides Rafinesque 1819) and determined the taxonomic status of its subspecies.  I also conducted a study with a local high school teacher Mr. Tim Bollin, which examined the genetic variation of the Rainbow Darter Etheostoma caeruleum.  My Ph.D. entitled “Evolutionary, biogeographic, and population genetic patterns of walleye and other Sander: Relationships across continents, corridors, and spawning sites” focused on walleye (Sander vitreus), an important commercial fishery species. My dissertation research uniquely addressed relationships of walleye to other members of the genus Sander, the taxonomic status of the extinct blue pike, and contemporary vs. historic genetic patterns.  I also participated in the National Science Foundation's GK-12 program from 2008-2010 and was paired again with Mr. Tim Bollin from the Toledo Early College High School.  He and I co-instructed a Science Research course focused on water quality of the Toledo Area.  In this course students developed and carried out independent research projects and presented their results at local science fairs. I also was featured in the Siscowette, a publication focusing on female scientists in the Great Lakes.

ShaneShane T. Yerga-Woolwine (DNA Research Technician 2012-2014)
Now: Accountant
CV 2013

I received my B.A. in Biology from Adrian College. After graduating, I worked at a research laboratory in Eugene, Oregon, and then I served as senior Lab Manager in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Medical University of Ohio (now the University of Toledo Medical Center). I joined the GLGL team in 2012 as a DNA Research Assistant.

Dr. Lindsey R. Pierce (Ph.D. August 2013, Ph.D. student in GLGL 2008-13)
Now: Postdoctoral Researcher on malaria at Cleveland Clinic with Dr. David Serre
CV 2013

Research Interests: 
Aquaculture genetics, fish conservation genetics/genomics, epidemiology, nutrigenomics, virology. 

I received my master’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in July of 2008. While presenting my thesis results at an annual American Fisheries Society meeting, I became interested in the research conducted in Dr. Carol Stepien’s Great Lakes Genetics/Genomics Laboratory. I began my Ph.D. with Dr. Stepien in 2008 studying a fin-fish pathogen that emerged in the Laurentian Great Lakes in 2003. My Ph.D. dissertation “The Evolution and Detection of the Fish Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia virus (VHSv)” was completed in August of 2013, which focused on the evolutionary patterns and detection of the four VHSv strains. I worked with Dr. Stepien on the evolution portion of the project, where we found that VHSv follows a quasispecies model of evolution (i.e., new viral variants radiate outward in a star-like pattern from an ancestral sequence). To develop a new rapid, accurate, and sensitive diagnostic to detect and quantify the virus, we partnered with Dr. James Willey of the University of Toledo’s Medical Campus who holds the patent for the original “StaRT-PCR” assay. Results from our evolution and detection studies were published as three separate manuscripts, with a fourth currently in preparation. During my time as a Ph.D. student, I presented our research at several national and international meetings, where I won two best paper and best presentation awards. Other awards include the International Association of Great Lakes Research Scholarship and the best Women in STEMM award. I also participated in the National Science Foundation's Gk-12 program where I assisted Mrs. Kathleen Singler from Ottawa Hills and Mrs. Paulette Cole from Toledo Early College High School to assist students in developing and carrying out independent research projects for science fair. Additionally, I mentored students in creating a fun hands-on game that demonstrated the co-evolutionary dynamics between pathogens and their hosts. 

Timothy Sullivan, M.S. (2010-2013)
Now: Ph.D. Student University of Lousiana at Lafayette with Dr. Joel Neigel 

Research Interests:
My research interests include phylogeography, population and landscape genetics, fisheries and aquatic ecology and conservation.

I received my B.A. in Biology from the College of Wooster in May 2010, where I completed my undergraduate thesis studying the impacts of predatory stress on the evolution of body size and coloration in tropical stream fishes of Tobago. Upon graduation, I sought a position in Dr. Stepien’s laboratory in order to further my understanding of fisheries and population genetics. My thesis research project focused on the use of fine-scale nuclear microsatellite variation to understand the spatial patterns of yellow perch stock structure in the Huron-Erie corridor as well as Lakes St. Clair, Erie, and Ontario where I evaluated how consistent these spatial patterns were over time. I published the paper, "Genetic diversity and divergence of yellow perch spawning populations across the Huron–Erie Corridor, from Lake Huron through western Lake Erie" in the Journal of Great Lakes Research with Dr. Stepien, and we have another in review:  "Temporal population genetic structure of the yellow perch Perca flavescens within a complex lakescape: Insights that may aid adaptive management" based on the results of my M.S. thesis work. I now am pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.


Vrushalee Palsule (2011-2013)
VHS Fish Virus Project Research Technician
CV 2013

I received my B.Sc. in Biotechnology from Mumbai University, India and a M.S. in Cell and Molecular Biology from Louisiana Tech University. I like to get involved in research that incorporates various techniques in Genetics and Molecular Biology. This was encouraged as a research technician under Dr. Stepien on developing assays using StaRT PCR and Real time PCR to detect the VHS fish virus in Great Lakes. I gave several research presentations, traveling with the GLGL lab.  These included the International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species in April 2013 in Canada, and the International EcoSummit Conference in Columbus Ohio in October 2012.  I am a co-author on two 2013 publications on the VHSv fish virus, in Journal of Virological Methods and PLOS One.  I left the GLGL to go to live with my new husband in Florida.

Dr. Osvaldo Jhonatan Sepulveda Villet (Ph.D. 2011)
CV 2013

Now: Assistant Professor of Aquaculture, School of Freshwater Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

I received my B.S. in Aquacultural Engineering from the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara, and a M.S. in Biology from Central Michigan University. My earlier academic research  included Nutritional efficiency on freshwater crustaceans, developmental biology of marine shrimp, and proteomic research. An aquatic enthusiast at heart, I joined Dr. Stepien's Great Lakes Genetics/Genomics Laboratory at the Lake Erie Center to focus on yellow perch and percid population genetics and stock assessments for the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Erie and its tributaries. My interests include genome to proteome databases/mapping, applied genomics, QTL determination in animal species of commercial relevance and aquacultural research. I completed my Ph.D. dissertation, "Population genetic structure and biogeographic patterns in the yellow perch Perca flavescens," in October 2011. I received the IAGLR Scholarship award and was one of 20 students selected to compete for best paper at the American Fisheries Society. Dr. Stepien encouraged me to apply for the Knauss Fellowship, where I worked in Washington D.C. for the final year of my Ph.D.  I published three first-authored papers with Dr. Stepien on my dissertation work on yellow perch, in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, Molecular Ecology, and the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aqauatic Sciences. 

I enjoy most outdoors activities, including backpacking, canoeing, and Steelhead/Salmon flyfishing.

JoAnn Banda (M.S. 2011)

Now: Fish and Wildlife Biologist (Contaminants), US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ohio Ecological Services Field Office, Columbus OH

Research Interests:
I have lived near Lake Erie most of my life and knew I wanted to play a role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.  It was during my internship in the summer of 2006 at USGS in their Lake Erie Biological Station that I decided I wanted to work with freshwater fish.  After receiving my B.S. from Bowling Green State University in Environmental Science, I started my M.S. in Biology with an ecological focus at the University of Toledo in the Great Lakes Genetics/Genomics Lab at the Lake Erie Center.  This expertise led to my current position at the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

I began my research at UT as an undergraduate, as part of the NSF’s REU program, in the summer of 2007 at the Lake Erie Center in Dr. Stepien's Great Lakes Genetics/Genomics Lab.  I then went on to become an M.S. student, graduating in 2011. I tested for genetically distinct spawning groups of Lake Erie walleye (Sander vitreus) to determine if the genetic composition of spawning runs is temporally and spatially consistent.  I focused on sites in Lake Erie, and tested the western basin Maumee and Sandusky River and eastern basin Van Buren Bay runs from 1995, 1998, 2003, 2007, and 2008.  I  extracted DNA from fin clip samples taken by government agencies for the past 13 years during their catch and release programs, amplifying DNA from highly variable nuclear microsatellite loci with the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), identifying the alleles, and comparing among spawning group locations and years.  I published results from this work with Dr. Stepien in Transactions of the American Fisheries Society in 2012.  I also was an NSF-sponsored graduate mentor for two years in the program "Graduate Fellows in High School STEM Education:  An Environmental Science Learning Community at the Land-Lake Ecosystem Interface", where I worked with Paulette Cole at TECHs (Toledo Early College High School).


Dr. Joshua Brown (Ph.D. 2009) 
Now: Chair of the Hazard Resilience in Coastal Communities focus team and Program Officer for the Oregon and Washington Sea Grant program, NOAA National Sea Grant Office, Washington DC

Research Interests:
My interests centered on questions of adaptation and evolution, focusing on the evolution of invasiveness and plasticity, using aquatic organisms as model systems. To address these questions, I made use of molecular and ecological studies to identify and track changes in populations. I have been very interested in environmental policy in the Great Lakes and Oceans.  I currently am a federal program administrator at Sea Grant in Washington D.C.  I began that career trajectory with Dr. Stepien's encouragement to become a Sea Grant Knauss Fellow in 2009.

My research projects focused on the Laurentian Great Lakes and the Ponto-Caspian species suite that has invaded the region. These included the zebra and quagga mussels and the round and tubenose gobies. I utilized mitochondrial and nuclear DNA markers to elucidate population relationships and biogeographic pathways.  I received an IAGLR Scholarship award and presented at many conferences while in the GLGL, including AFS, IAGLR, and ASIH.  I then completed a Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship at Sea Grant in Washington D.C.  I published as first author with Dr. Stepien in Molecular Ecology (2008 and 2009) and Biological Invasions (2010). 

MattDr. Matthew Neilson (Ph.D. 2009)

Now: Scientist at Cherokee Nation Technology Solutions,contracted to U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Program, Southeast Ecological Science Center, USGS, Gainesville, FL 

Research Interests:
My research interests lie mainly around the evolution, biogeography, systematics and population genetics of fishes. For my M.S. degree at California State University Long Beach,  I worked on the population genetics of an invasive species of Asian goby along the California coast. For my Ph.D. dissertation I worked on the systematics and population genetics of  gobies that are invasive in the Great Lakes and native to the Ponto-Caspian region. I also am interested in the use of computer models in both population genetics and fisheries biology.  I currently work as a subcontractor for the USGS in Gainesville Florida on Invasive Species.

The main focus of my dissertation research was the systematics of the neogobiin gobies, a small species flock of ~20-25 species of gobies endemic to the Ponto-Caspian region (Black and Caspian Seas) of Europe/Asia. The systematic relationships within this group are not very well known: many species in the group are morphologically similar, and are highly sympatric (4-7 species in a given area) within their native range. More importantly, however, is that a number of these species have invaded areas outside of their native range, due to anthropogenic sources such as man-made canals or transport in ballast water. The problem thus arises in determining the actual number of species invasions or rate of range expansion when the potential for cryptic invasion of a morphologically similar species is high.  In addition, phylogenetic analysis species groups containing a large number of invasive/introduced species (such as the neogobiins) can shed light on the evolutionary origins of invasiveness, through examining the distribution of invasive taxa relative to non-invasive taxa within the phylogeny itself. My research utilized both morphological and molecular characters to describe the relationships among these species, as well as design morphological keys and molecular diagnostic tools in order to differentiate among these closely related taxa.  I received an IAGLR Scholarship award and an NSF Deepfin Travel award.  I made two trips to Russia while in the GLGL, to collect gobies along the Volga River and to examine specimens at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg.  I made many research presentations while at the GLGL, including at ASIH, SSE, and IAGLR.  I published three papers from my dissertation results, with Dr. Stepien as co-author, in the journals Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (2009), Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution (2009), and Diversity and Distributions (2010).  We also have a new paper in press in the Journal of Great Lakes Research (2013). 

Rachel Lohner
Former GLGL Research Technician
Current Education Program Manager

I received my B.S. in Biology from the University of Toledo in 2000. I then continued my education at U.T. and completed my thesis, titled Diversity, redundancy, and efficiency in microbial decomposition of Typha litter and M.S. in biology in 2002. After working as a technician at the Medical College of Ohio in a genetics laboratory for a year I joined Christine Mayer's benthic ecology lab at the University of Toledo's Lake Erie Center, where I worked on a benthic primary productivity project. I then joined Carol Stepien's Great Lakes Genetics Laboratory to work on the population genetic variation of walleye, using mitochondrial DNA sequences and nuclear microsatellites. I am currently working as the Education Program Manager at the Lake Erie Center.  Through this position I oversee environmental education programs and facilitate educational outreach and I serve as the program manager on Dr. Stepien’s NSF funded GK-12 grant titled, “Graduate Teaching Fellows in STEM High School Education: An Environmental Science Learning Community at the Land-Lake Ecosystem Interface”.

Dr. Rex Meade StrangeRex
Postdoctoral researcher

Dr. Strange comments, "My research interests include the processes of anagenetic change and cladogenetic diversification within the North American freshwater fish fauna." Dr. Strange's primary mission in his two year postdoctoral study (2004-6) in the Great Lake Genetics Laboratory was to work with Dr. Stepien to investigate the phylogeographic structure of walleye (Sander vitreus) spawning groups in Lake Erie. This postdoctoral research was supported by Dr. Stepien's NOAA Sea Grant Project # RL/R 7 "Development and implementation of a high-resolution data base for fishery management: Walleye and yellow perch stock structure." Dr. Strange's postdoctoral study focused on population structure in Lake Erie walleye using ten microsatellite loci, and included all recognized native spawning populations in the Lake. The practical aspect of this study is that the analysis identified management units (stocks) of this commercially important species. It also identified certain spawning groups (e.g., Cattaraugus Creek, Huron River, Western Reefs, Smoke's Creek, and Grand River, Ontario) as distinctive within the Lake and worthy of conservation. A paper on this work was published in Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 2007 by Strange and Stepien, "Genetic divergence and connectivity among river and reef spawning populations of walleye (Sander vitreus) in Lake Erie". In addition, Dr. Strange co-authored a paper on smallmouth bass stock structure across the Great Lakes using eight microsatellite loci, by Stepien, Murphy, and Strange 2007 in Molecular Ecology, "Broad- to fine-scale population genetic patterning in the smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu across the Laurentian Great Lakes and beyond: An interplay of behavior and geography." Dr. Strange also authored another paper with Dr. Stepien as co-author, 2007 in U.S. Fishery Bulletin "Yellow (Perca flavescens) and Eurasian (P. fluviatilis) perch distinguished in fried fish samples by DNA analysis". After completing his postdoctoral study in the Great Lakes Genetics Lab, Dr. Strange began a full time position in fall 2006 as an assistant professor of developmental biology with the University of Southern Indiana, Evansville, IN, where he is teaching histology and other courses.




Last Updated: 8/18/17