Graduate student Lisa Walsh holding a 2-month-old opossum named Joey. Image credit: Beth Lenoble

Graduate student Lisa Walsh is the recipient of a prestigious award from the American Society of Mammalogists for her research project “Isotopic niche variation in the Virginia opossum’s range expansion.”

The A. Brazier Howell Award provides funds to help defray the cost of attending the annual meeting where Walsh will present her research at the first plenary session. The meeting will most likely be postponed due to the COVID-19 situation.

Walsh summarized the results of two of her thesis chapters when she applied for the award: “Because opossums are generalists that seem to eat everything, we know very little about the ecological variation across their broad distribution. I used stable isotope analysis to examine the niche of the opossum across its range and to evaluate the assumption that opossums are spreading north because they are consuming anthropogenic trash.”

Stable isotopes of common and trace elements have a wide range of applications in ecosystems. Walsh uses the ratios of rare to common isotopes to gain insights about the opossum’s diets.

Walsh’s advisor, Priscilla Tucker, is especially pleased because she received the same award in 1984.