Student Spotlights


Christiana Huss, Master's Student

I am Christiana Huss, a master’s student in Carmen Blubaugh’s insect agroecology lab. My research focuses on the invasive yellowmargined leaf beetle and finding IPM solutions such as biological control or intercropping that help control their populations. My goal is to help farmers find ways to fight pests without regular pesticide applications. The best part of this research is keeping up my tradition of working outside every summer. When I graduate, I’d like to explore a career in landscape design or habitat conservation to help our native wildlife and pollinators. I’d love to spend my days outside scouting for insects, removing invasive species, or creating gardens.

I’m originally from Charleston, South Carolina where live oaks and marshes cover the landscape. I’ve been watching arthropods for as long as I remember. When I would play outside, I’d give Oreos to ants to see if they liked the chocolate or the cream more. I’d keep millipedes in shoeboxes and fiddler crabs as pets. Then, when I got the Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Insects and Spiders as a gift, I started catching beetles and spiders to identify in my book. In high school, I took my first ecology course where I was fascinated by mark-recapture experiments and plant physiology. That’s when I decided to pursue wildlife ecology at Clemson University. My goal at Clemson was to learn how to identify as many things as possible by taking all the “-ology”s: ornithology, dendrology, mammology, and finally entomology.

In my free time, I like to foster cats and dogs from the Athens shelters. My roommates are as animal-crazy as me so we live with 4+ cats, 2 dogs, 2 Guinea pigs, a bearded dragon, and a terrarium of bess beetle larva that I keep on my desk. I enjoy spending time hiking, bird watching, painting, gardening, or exploring Athens’ breweries and live music. Soon, I plan to expand my garden and incorporate chickens, ducks, and goats so that I can be as self-sufficient as possible.


Kelsey Wilbanks, Ph.D. Student

Growing up in Alabama, I spent my childhood exploring the rolling hills and plateaus of the Tennessee River valley. During the summers, my sister and I spent hours wading in Aldridge Creek, catching crayfish and chasing small fish. Only after my undergraduate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and moving to Augusta, GA, was I introduced to aquatic insects. I had no idea there were so many types of insects living just below the surface of the water. After seeing a whirligig beetle with what appeared to be 4 eyes, I was hooked. I wanted to learn everything about aquatic insects and freshwater systems, which led me to receive a MS from Georgia Southern University under the direction of Dr. Checo Colon-Gaud. My master’s research focused on biomonitoring methods for macroinvertebrates in non-wadeable streams and showed me just how important these little critters were to the health of freshwater systems. Dr. Darold Batzer gave a seminar during my time at Georgia Southern University and his research was so interesting. Currently, I am a Ph.D. student in Dr. Darold Batzer’s lab working on a number of projects focused on drought.

My research currently focuses on large rivers, floodplains, oxbow lakes and the southeastern US. One of my first projects with Dr. Batzer was looking at floodplain lakes during a major flooding event on the Savannah River. We found that oxbow lakes were unique habitats, separate from the main river channel and floodplains, and contained a resilient community of aquatic insects that were well adapted to hydrological variability. Another project I was able to complete with Dr. Batzer was researching changes in physiochemical, nutrient and carbon metrics between a drought and a non-drought period on the Savannah River. We found unexpected differences during the drought where the water temperature was colder, some nutrients were lower, and there was less carbon. This led to a few of our current projects, one of which is looking at long term changes in discharge across rivers and streams in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Preliminary data showed that discharge is disproportionally decreasing in the coastal plains and increasing in the mountains. Lastly, we are currently collecting aquatic insects, algae, and nutrients in floodplains, oxbows and the Savannah River to further understand how drought affects individual river habitats and the aquatic insects that live in them. I have a lot of fun in this field, working in the Batzer lab, learning new insect facts, and I’m looking forward to more research and interesting projects.

When I’m not working on research, I enjoy spending time with my blue and gold macaw, umbrella cockatoo, cat and 10 chickens. I also keep honeybees and garden, so I spend a lot of time outside. I enjoy hiking, mountain biking, skiing, backpacking, reading, traveling, and being outside in general. I also come from several generations proficient at handiwork so I make soaps, crochet, sew, and craft.