Student Spotlights

Gabriel Tigreros

Gabriel Tigreros, Master's Student

My name is Gabriel Tigreros and I am currently working towards my master’s degree as a student in the Joe McHugh lab. My research focuses on decaying wood and the unique communities of insects, fungi, and slime molds that utilize deadwood as a substrate. More specifically, I am hoping to shed some light on the saproxylic communities associated with deadwood in a longleaf pine ecosystem and hope to understand how these communities are influenced by certain characteristics relating to deadwood quality (such as tree identity, decay class, and different stand treatments). A majority of deadwood studies thus far have focused on saproxylic communities and their drivers within the context of boreal forests in the northeastern United States and eastern Europe, and I am excited to be exploring these patterns and how they relate to an ecosystem that I feel closely connected to. 

I think the first time I became interested in insects was when I took a general entomology class in my senior year of undergrad at the University of Central Florida. That experience opened my eyes up to the impressive amount of diversity associated with the insect world, and my professor and TA both encouraged me to pursue a career in entomology based on my obvious interest in collecting and identifying. I was also really obsessed with watching A Bug’s Life when I was younger, which I like to think may have subconsciously set me up on the path I’m on today.

After graduating from UCF, I hopped around between a few seasonal jobs and eventually ended up at the Jones Center at Ichauway in south Georgia, where I worked as a technician in the entomology lab for a year and a half. While I was here, I gained a new appreciation for the longleaf pine forests and grasslands that I now consider home. I spent pretty much all of my free time here wandering around outside, peeling bark off of fallen trees, collecting and drying fungi, swimming, and snorkeling, and learning how to fly fish. I recently just finished my field season here at the Ichauway, where I was collecting and preserving saproxylic fungi and slime molds to identify for my project.

In terms of what I do for fun, I’m kind of all over the place. I still love doing all the outdoorsy stuff I already mentioned, but I’ve also been teaching myself to play the trumpet recently, which has been challenging but also really rewarding. I play the bass guitar too, and I like to do crafty stuff like paint and crochet from time to time. Sometimes I’ll go out and dance at that Salsa thing they do at Hendershot's, but I’ve been kind of inconsistent about showing up recently. I’m not exactly sure what I’d like to do when I graduate, but I hope it involves beetles and fungi in some capacity. I was thinking that pursuing something in forestry might be a good fit, but I could also see myself managing a collection of insects or fungi.

Emily Shelby

Emily Shelby, Ph.D. Student

“Nothing, of course, begins at the time you think it did.” The American playwright Lillian Hellman may have been referring to her own life, but the quote sums up my academic journey. I cannot identify one particular moment that set me on this path. I can honestly say that I never planned on being an entomologist or doing research. I grew up in rural Savannah, Tennessee, a tiny town nestled along the Tennessee River. As a little girl, I was obsessed with picking up “creepy crawlies.” I got in trouble many times for putting toads in my backpack or hiding turtles in the bathtub. The sight of butterflies and brightly colored beetles brought me immense joy. Like many other future scientists, I was delighted by Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter, and his animal adventures. At that age, I had no idea what his job title was. All I knew was that I wanted to be like that when I grew up.

During high school, I decided that I wanted to go to become a veterinarian. I ended up going to Mississippi State University for a Bachelor of Science in Biology. I began volunteering in a lab that studied butterfly wing pattern evolution during my junior year. Originally my plan was to gain research experience to put on my veterinary school application. At first, I worked under a Ph.D. student and helped her with her research, but then I became interested in researching the developmental mechanisms that created the butterfly’s vibrant wing patterns for myself. After much consideration (and six veterinary school rejection letters), I decided to do a master’s degree in the lab in which I had been working, hoping that a master’s degree would make my future veterinary school applications look better. I fell in love with research, and I never looked back.

In early 2019, the semester before I was to graduate with my master’s degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. Then I met Dr. Patricia Moore. She gave a talk at our weekly department seminar. I was intrigued by her research and instantly knew I wanted to do a Ph.D. with her. After graduating with a Master of Science in Biology, I joined the Moore Lab at UGA in January 2020. Currently, I am a Ph.D. candidate investigating the complex functions of the DNA methyltransferase I (dnmt1) gene to figure out why it’s so important for insect reproduction. I specifically study how dnmt1 can be used as a target to control the invasive whitefly Bemisia tabaci. The goal is for my research to be a foundation for developing new pest management technologies. When I graduate, I’d like to have a career that combines my two great loves: investigating complex research questions and interacting with new people.

In my free time, I enjoy cooking, painting, reading, swimming, and other activities too numerous to name. I am actively involved in student government as I am the chairperson for the student advocacy committee as part of the graduate student association here at UGA. I also host and produce “Grad Gab,” a podcast that interviews grad students to explore all aspects of their lives.