Field Sampling. Photo credit: Joann Cavaletto

EEB Ph.D. candidate, Nikesh Dahal, recently won a 2022-23 Michigan Sea Grant Fellowship valued at over $39,000. The one- or two-year fellowships are awarded to graduate students enrolled full-time at Michigan universities who are pursuing research relevant to Great Lakes issues.

“Broadly I am interested in studying freshwater ecosystems. My Ph.D. work aims to look at how species invasion impacts freshwater bacterial biodiversity. In particular, I study how zebra and quagga mussels, one of the most deleterious filter-feeders threatening global freshwater ecosystems, are impacting bacteria in Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Using genomic sequencing technologies, I hope to understand how filtration stress added by these invasive mussels is shifting functional trait distributions in bacterial populations and communities.”

With this support, Dahal will continue working closely with Dr. Hank Vanderploeg, a Research Ecologist and Ecosystems DynamicsvBranch Chief at the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. with whom he has worked since 2017. Dahal will use metagenomic approaches to identify effects traits related carbohydrate degradation and response traits related to grazing resistance. By understanding how these response and effect traits are related and covary, Dahal hopes to link shifts in bacterial community composition induced by filter feeding to modified ecosystem processes. 

Dahal’s plans, however, go well beyond the Great Lakes. Originally from Nepal, his long-term career goal is to work in the South Asian region and research the impacts of urbanization and intensified agriculture on water-related issues. “With my Ph.D. training in ecology and microbiology, I intend to track the dynamics of microbial populations and processes in freshwater ecosystems of the Himalayan region. I would like to establish a research laboratory dedicated to the study of microbes relevant to environmental and human health in Nepal.” As most of the research in the region is conducted by western scientists and international organizations, he added, “I hope to address the disparity of representation in the Himalayan ecosystem research by bridging the gap between local communities and the global research community.”

To further address this shortcoming, Dahal intends to work closely with the local communities to learn about the socio-ecological complexities of the issues faced by people living in this region. Dahal plans to teach interdisciplinary courses in Nepal that are relevant to the critical water-energy-food security nexus.

In the immediate future, Dahal said, “This opportunity will allow me to participate in educating the public about one of the most pertinent issues impacting the health of the coastal Great Lakes ecosystem and communicate how scientists are collaborating across institutions and disciplines to address it.” He added, “Receiving this award will allow me to spend more time on my research and allow me to dig deeper into the data analysis portion of my Ph.D. work. In addition to this, it will also help strengthen the collaboration with folks at NOAA.”

For more information about the Michigan Sea Grant, click here.