Biology Program Student Spotlight: Jennifer Zhu

Jennifer Zhu (Photo courtesy of Zhu)

Jennifer Zhu is a doctoral student in the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior subprogram of the Graduate Center, CUNY Ph.D. in Biology Program. A graduate of Cornell University, she was selected for Cornell’s McNair Scholars Program and worked in Professor Matthew Hare’s lab, where she considered genetic differences between hatchery- and native-born oysters and potential impacts on restoration outcomes. 
Zhu’s undergraduate experience working in the Hudson River Estuary led her to join Professor Stephen Gosnell’s (GC/Baruch, Biology) lab, which focuses on understanding the causes and consequences of ecological diversity and using that information to better manage natural resources. Much of the lab’s work centers on coastal communities, and Zhu has helped with multiple projects focused on local oyster reef restoration, including collaborations with the Billion Oyster Project and The River Project. Beyond conducting research that impacts local sites, she has also taken advantage of opportunities to engage students and the public in conversations about ecology, restoration, and the value of local communities. She has worked with the lab to help high school seniors in the New York Harbor School’s Aquaculture Program carry out year-long studies of how predators influence oyster growth, and she has mentored high school and college students through the lab’s work with Baruch’s College Now academy and the Brooklyn Urban Ecology and Environment Program. She also teaches introductory ecology labs at Baruch College and helped design a new, web-based curriculum for the course that uses open-educational resources.
Building on her experience with oysters, Zhu has focused her doctoral dissertation on determining how ribbed mussels, another local bivalve, impact salt marsh growth and ecosystem service provisioning in eutrophic sites such as those found in New York City. She applied for and received a Hudson River Foundation fellowship to support her first forays in this system. Collaborating with Gosnell and Professor Chester Zarnoch (GC/Baruch, Biology), she carried out a set of field and lab studies that indicated that including mussels in salt marsh restoration programs could lead to increases in denitrification, or nitrogen removal, which is an important service provided by local marshes. This led to a follow-up study where she considered how predators, which may be predicted to return to restored areas, will influence mussel impacts on denitrification. She was awarded a graduate fellowship from the Jamaica Bay Science and Resiliency Institute to support this work. 
Zhu has shared her research through presentations at meetings of the Northeast Estuarine Research Society and the Coastal and Estuarine Research Foundations, and she has authored two articles on her work. Her dedication to outreach, research, and conservation were recognized by her selection as a member of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation Rising TIDES Conference Program. She plans to complete her degree in 2021 and pursue a career in which she can continue to use science to inform environmental management. 

Submitted on: APR 20, 2020

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