Rice Rivers News and Events

News and events

Oyster in net

VCU receives funding for oyster restoration work

June 13, 2018

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program has partnered with Toadfish Outfitters of Charleston, South Carolina, to advance its efforts to replenish oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Toadfish Outfitters, a manufacturer of coastal lifestyle products, has designated the VOSRP as the sole recipient of proceeds from the sale of Toadfish products in Virginia. VOSRP will use the funding initially to acquire 20 million oyster larvae that will be planted on recycled oyster shell placed in Chesapeake Bay waterways. This will allow VCU to plant more than 2 million oysters in the watershed, and coincides with Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week.

“Oysters are the ultimate friend of the coast as they help to keep our waters clean,” said Casey Davidson, founder of Toadfish Outfitters. “Since day one, we’ve promised to give back a portion of every product sold toward oyster habitat restoration, so working with VCU was a natural fit.”

VOSRP, part of VCU’s Rice Rivers Center, is a collaborative, community-based oyster restoration program that works closely with the Virginia seafood industry. The VOSRP currently collects recycled oyster shells from more than 50 restaurants and 30 public drop-off locations statewide to use in the creation of sanctuary oyster reefs. The shells are seeded with juvenile oysters before they are planted. These efforts are direly needed because the Virginia oyster population is currently estimated to be at two percent of peak numbers.

Read the entire article, "VCU receives funding for oyster retoration work."

students present outside at the VCU Rice Rivers Center

10th annual VCU Rice Rivers Center Symposium

June 5, 2018

The Walter L. Rice Education Building at VCU Rice Rivers Center was standing room only during the 10th annual Rice Rivers Center Research Symposium, held on May 11.  A perfect day on the James allowed the guests and students to enjoy breakfast and lunch on the bluff overlooking the river, and after presentations in the center concluded, an afternoon poster session was held along the walkway which spanned the length of the building. 

The day began with opening remarks from Rice Rivers Center Director Dr. Greg Garman and an introduction of VCU Life Sciences faculty member Dr. Cathy Viverette, who organized the symposium.  Presentations included: 

Characterizing hydrologic and water quality conditions of urban and non-urban streams of central Virginia. Rikki Lucas*, Paul Bukaveckas, VCU BIO/CES.

Climate change and mountaintop removal mining: a MaxEnt assessment of the potential dual threat to West Virginia fishes. Lindsey R.F. Hendrick* #, VCU-CES; Daniel J. McGarvey, VCU-CES. 

Salinization affects nitrate reduction in a coastal freshwater wetland. Joe Morina * #, VCU-ILS; Rima Franklin, Scott Neubauer, Bonnie Brown, Nicole Holstein, VCU-BIO.

Environmental DNA as a conservation tool for the endangered James spinymussel (Parvaspina collina). Bonnie A. Roderique*, Rodney J. Dyer, Daniel McGarvey, VCU-CES; Brian C. Verrelli, VCU-ILS; and Brian Watson, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF).

Landscape-scale factors influencing Golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) occupancy in western Virginia. Elizabeth K. Schold, VCU-BIO, and Lesley Bulluck, VCU-CES/BIO.

Winter assessment of non-breeding grassland birds at Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Adele Balmer, VCU-ILS; Matthew DeSaix * #,  VCU-CES; Brooke Goodnow, Zachary Grasso, VCU-BIO; Jack Hopkins, VCU-CES; Benjamin Nickley, Mo Sweany, L. Abigail Walter, Stephanie Warshawsky*, VCU-BIO; Catherine Viverette*, VCU-CES; and Lesley Bulluck, VCU- CES/BIO.

High-resolution genetic markers reveal migratory patterns and genetic structure in a wetland-dependant species of conservation concern. Matt DeSaix*#, VCU-CES; Lesley Bulluck, VCU-CES/BIO, Rodney Dyer and Catherine Viverette*, VCU-CES.

Communicating TeamWarbler. Emma Davis, VCU-BIO/ANTH/CES; Kaela Gossett VCU-CES; Mckenzie Joseph, Nicholas Beiler, VCU-BIO; Panama Avian Ecology 2011-2018 VCU-CES/BIO;  Lesley Bulluck VCU-CES/BIO; Edward Crawford, VCU-RRC; Catherine Viverette VCU-CES; Thomas Woodward, VCU-AltLab; and Team Warbler.

The Urban Forestry Collaborative. L. Wyatt Carpenter, VCU-OOS; Jane Remfert*, VCU-ILS; Edward Crawford, VCU-RRC; and Jerome Legions, Carver Area Civic Improvement League (CACIL).

Carbon credits are for the birds  Elizabeth Keily, VCU-BIO; Zachary Palmore, Harikrishna Parasu, Hannah Coovert, Sedrek Kovar, Nathan Salle, VCU-CES; Jordan Rasure, VCU-BIO; Wyatt Carpenter, VCU-OOS;  Edward Crawford, VCU-RRC; Cathy Viverette, VCU-CES; and Team Warbler 2018.

Building STEM through community partnerships: Alice in Wonderland. Anne Moore, Goochland County School System (GCSS).

Grasses for the Masses: A short film. Ronaldo Lopez, VCU-RRC.


The afternoon poster session included:

An assessment of toxic metal pollution due to the transportation of coal. Elizabeth H. Bosch*, Liz Keily, Xin-Chen Liu, and Arif Sikder, VCU-CES.

Oh deer, don’t tick them off! White-tailed deer activity and tick biodiversity in the James River Park System. Emma R. Davis, VCU-BIO; Anne B. Wright, VCU-CES; Christina A. McGrath, VCU-ANTH.

Phenology mismatch and the consequences of unpredictable spring temperatures on resident and migratory bird species. Brooke Goodnow, VCU-BIO; Lesley Bulluck, VCU-CES/BIO. 

Groundwater quality assessment of the piney point aquifer. Elizabeth Keily*, VCU-BIO; Arif M. Sikder, VCU-CES; Mohammad Alauddin, Physical Sciences Department, Wagner College; S. Leigh McCallister, VCU-CES/BIO; and Daniel Boehling, VCU-CES. 

Regional and interspecific variation in crown feather reflectance in two hybridizing warblers. Valerie R. Galati, UR-BIO; Lesley P. Bulluck, VCU-BIO; and Kristine Grayson, UR-BIO. 

Identification of taxonomic and functional ichthyofaunal zones within the James River Basin, Virginia. Joseph L. Noel* and Daniel J. McGarvey, VCU-CES.

Assessing the relative influences of abiotic and biotic factors on American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) distribution using hydrologic, physical habitat, and functional trait data. Taylor Woods* and Daniel J McGarvey, VCU-CES. 

Gathering high resolution images of sieve elements in arabidopsis thaliana using confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) and transgenic A. thaliana expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) under a phloem specific promoter, in order to obtain geometric measurements of sieve elements and plates. Addisan Pound and Sierra Beecher, VCU-BIO. 

Projecting habitat of breeding and non-breeding Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria Citrea) under various climate scenarios. James Briggs VCU-CES; Ernesto Gagarin, VCU-BIO, VCU-CES, VCU-ANTH, Christina McGrath, VCU-ANTH, VCU-BIO, VCU-CES;  Autym Shafer, VCU-CES;  Michael Vassalotti, VCU-CES;  Mathew DeSaix*, VCU-CES;  Lindsey Hendrick , VCU-CES; , Jesse Reese, VCU-BIO, Catherine Viverette, VCU-CES.

Plasmodium infection rates in Anopheles darlingi mosquito populations under a scenario of malaria elimination using RADseq high throughput sequencing of mosquito DNA. Megan Mair, VCU-Life Sciences-CSBC; Anne Meireles, Instituto Oswaldo Cruz Rondonia; Genimar R. Juliao, Instituto Oswaldo Cruz Rondonia; Luiz Herman G. Soares, Instituto Oswaldo Cruz Rondonia; Tony H. Katsuragawa, Centro de Pesquisa em Medicina Tropical  - CEPEM-SESAU-RO; Mauro Tada, Centro de Pesquisa em Medicina Tropical  - CEPEM-SESAU-RO; Luiz Hildebrando Pereira da Silva (in memoriam), Instituto Oswaldo Cruz Rondonia; David Weetman, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine; and Luiz Shozo Ozaki, VCU-Life Sciences-CSBC. 

Comparison of soil organic carbon in disturbed and established wetlands at the VCU Rice Center. Sheryl Bradford​, Ellen Stuart-Haëntjens*, VCU-ILS; Scott Neubauer and Christopher Gough, VCU-BIO. 

Building a SMARTer Birdhouse. Amanda Fountleroy, Alexander French, Alex Kokich, Afroditi Fillipas, VCU Electrical and Computer Engineering (VCU-ECE); Lesley Bulluck, VCU-CES/BIO;  Adele Balmer VCU-ILS; and Catherine VIverette, VCU-CES. 

Physiological investigations of the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica).  Alyssa A. Darling*, Maame Konadu-Ampratwum, Christopher L. McLaggan, Bonnie Brown, VCU-BIO; and S. Leigh McCallister, VCU-CES/BIO. 

The Urban Forestry Collaborative: A community-engaged research project in Richmond, Virginia. Wyatt Carpenter, VCU-OOS; Edward Crawford, VCU-RRC; Jane Remfert, VCU-ILS; Jerome Legions, The Carver Area Civic Improvement League (CACIL); Louise Seals, Richmond Tree Stewards (RTS);  Jeanette McKittrick, Capital Trees (CT); and Catherine Viverette, VCU-CES.

Memorializing fallen earth defenders. Eslie Djemmal, Precious Skinner, Elena Kidwell, Josh Geen, Victoria Farnsler, and RIchard Bargdill, VCU-Department of Psychology (VCU-PSY).

The percentage of agriculture lands in riparian buffer zones and its effect on MBSS stream health points. Colleen O’Brien, VCU-CES. 

Comparing two methods of quantifying an invasion-restricting component Allee effect in the defoliating pest Lymantria dispar. Alexandra Barry and Derek Johnson, VCU-BIO. 


*denotes the student is a past recipient of a VCU Rice Rivers Center Research Award

# denotes the student is a recipient of a VCU Rice Rivers Center Fellowship 


Team Warbler visits The Steward School

Team Warbler visits the Steward School

May 23, 2018

Last month, members of Team Warbler were invited to The Steward School to talk about their adventures in Panama earlier this year. Elementary, and high school science students learned about what it was like to track and study the prothonotary warbler as they wintered in Central America, and were some of the first to learn about and view a new smart birdhouse that will be introduced to track the warblers’ movements and migration.

Team Warbler is a collaboration among VCU students from the Center for Environmental Studies, Biology Department, and College of Engineering, and are led by Life Sciences’ faculty members Dr. Cathy Viverette, Dr. Ed Crawford and Dr. Lesley Bulluck.  

“The Steward School students and faculty were blown away by the passion of the VCU students and professors.  The students that heard about the project have been putting their inspiration to action. The second grade students have been taking leadership roles at our school in helping save the oak seedlings on the playground to carefully following the birds nesting on campus since hearing from the VCU students. Our inspired Middle School students are going to benefit next year as they will have an opportunity to explore Kimages Creek and the habitat on the James River with the Rice Rivers Center students and faculty.”  -Cary Jamieson, Director of the Bryan Innovation Lab at The Steward School

Team Warbler members Emma Davis from VCU and Liz Ames from Ohio State University demonstrate bird banding to members of  Sociedad Audubon de Panamá

Team Warbler participates in bird banding demonstration in Panama

May 18, 2018

(Pictured, sitting from left to right: Team Warbler members Emma Davis from VCU and Liz Ames from Ohio State University)

A group of students left the bitter cold of Richmond behind to study abroad in Panama and follow the prothonotary warblers to their winter habitat. Dr. Catherine Viverette and Dr. Edward Crawford’s ENVS 515 Panama Avian Field Ecology class spent January 2 – 15 in mangroves and other tropical habitats tracking the small, yellow bird.  Beyond gathering data, one of the course requirements was to work with Panama Audubon Society and participate in community outreach in the host country.

VCU’s Team Warbler, accompanied by a graduate student from the Ohio State University, traveled to Panamá Viejo – the last remaining part of Old Panama City –  and partnered with the Sociedad Audubon de Panamá to hold a demonstration about bird banding and the importance of mangrove ecosystems to resident and neo-tropical migratory birds. They also educated local residents about migratory birds, local birds, and how banding allows scientists to study avian habits and health both locally and abroad.


VOSRP's Cindy Andrew and director Todd Janeski, along with Rice Rivers Center deputy director Dr. Ed Crawford

Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program honored with VCU Community Engagement Award

May 16, 2018


(Pictured, from left to right: Cindy Andrews, VOSRP Richmond Regional Coordinator; Todd Janeski, VOSRP Director; Dr. Ed Crawford, VCU Rice Rivers Center Deputy Director)


The Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP) was honored for Exemplary Partnership in Outreach from VCU's Division of Community Engagement. The Award was presented as part of VCU's annual celebration of community partnerships earlier this month. 

Read the VCU News article about the VOSRP and other community engagement award recipients, "Partnership aiding low-income seniors highlights community engagement award honorees."


Woman filming outside

New VCU Life Sciences course on conservation filmmaking

May 10, 2018

Ron Lopez, award-winning filmmaker and VCU Life Science faculty, will be teaching budding conservation filmmakers how to make science more accessible to the public through video.

The course, LFSC 591 Topics: Conservation Filmmaking, is a one-credit course offered during VCU’s summer session, June 20 – August 1. Student will learn how to break down a scientific topic/study into its communicable elements, create a narrative to tell the “story” of the research, and shoot and edit a film to communicate the science. 

Included in the course is an overnight fieldtrip to learn shooting techniques and drone applications in the field at the VCU Rice Rivers Center.  Accommodations will be provided on-site at the Inger Rice Lodge.

 This course is designed to complement student-based research and provide basic skills to pursue new, dynamic methods of communicating research.

To find out more information, contact Ron Lopez at


Below is Ron’s film, “An Oyster’s Eye View of the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program,” which won grand prize at the 2018 Environmental Film Festival.  Ron’s works have also appeared on Richmond and Charlottesville’s local public broadcasting stations. 


2018 Team Warbler in Panama

Team Warbler featured on Panama website

May 8, 2018

Students from Team Warbler were featured on the Adopta Panama Rainforest website.  They were following and banding Prothonotary Warblers in Central America as part of their Panama Avian Field Ecology class, lead by Dr. Cathy Viverette (VCU Center for Environmental Studies) and Dr. Ed Crawford (VCU Rice Rivers Center). 

Read more on: Adopta Panama Rainforest.


Katie Schmidt guides kayakers over Hollywood Rapids on the James River. (Photo courtesy of Katie Schmidt)

Love of the wild: Graduate student blends adventure and science through outdoor recreation programs

April 24, 2018

Schmidt leads outdoor recreation initiatives made possible by a partnership between the VCU Rice Rivers Center and the Outdoor Adventure Program, part of VCU Recreational Sports.

These initiatives include the addition of two new summer camps to Rice Rivers Center’s programs for children, courses in wilderness first aid that focus on first-response techniques in remote areas, and opportunities for VCU students and the public to explore nature through organized programs.

Continuing reading, "Love of the wild: Graduate student blends adventure and science through outdoor recreation programs"


A woman pretends to be injured during one of VCU's Wilderness First Responder courses

VCU offers a Wilderness First Responder course

April 9, 2018

If you are out in a remote location with a group and medical intervention becomes necessary, would you know what to do? VCU’s Outdoor Adventure Program presents Wilderness First Responder, a course that provides medical training for leaders in remote areas including outdoor educators, guides, military, professional search and rescue teams, researchers, and those involved in disaster relief.

The hands-on, in-depth curriculum is comprehensive and practical. The Wilderness First Responder course covers response and assessment, musculoskeletal injuries, environmental emergencies, survival skills, soft tissue injuries, medical emergencies and CPR training.

This course will be held at VCU Rice Rivers Center May 12 – 20, 2018 and lodging is available for the length of the course on-site at the Inger Rice Lodge.

The schedule is as follows:

May 12 – 18
8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

May 19
8:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.

May 20
8:30 – 5 p.m.

For more information and to register, visit

Despite the storms, some eaglets made it through safely and are seen in a nest with their parent

Eagle struggle with late Nor’easters

April 6, 2018

By Bryan Watts, Center for Conservation Biology

For the Northeast coast, the winter of 2017-2018 went out with a dramatic train of powerful storms during an intense two-week period in early March.  The trio of storms in quick succession included Winter Storm Riley, Winter Storm Quinn, and Winter Storm Skylar.  The storms killed several people, knocked out power for millions, and frustrated travelers throughout the Washington D. C. to Boston corridor.  For eagles in the Chesapeake Bay, the timing could not have been much worse.  Early March is late in the incubation period and the window when most eaglets hatch in the region.  Eaglets are most vulnerable to cold and wet conditions within the first two weeks after hatching.  It would have been extremely difficult for adults to manage a clutch or young brood during torrential rains and 60 mph winds.

Following the Nor’easters, CCB biologists had the opportunity to fly and examine more than 300 nests along the James River.  The storms had a clear impact on many breeding pairs.  Nearly 25% of active nests (N = 280) had failed their first breeding attempts.  This early loss rate is a multiple of that observed during most years.  One of the most telling indicators of how pairs struggled with the storms was the observation of ten abandoned clutches.  Although abandoned eggs are observed every year, they are relatively rare.  CCB will fly a productivity flight in late April to record young in the nest and see how many of the failed pairs will recycle and make a second breeding attempt. 

CCB has examined the impact of high winds on eagle nests in the past following Hurricanes Isabel and Irene.  In 2007, Bryan Watts and Mitchell Byrd published a paper titled, “Impact of Hurricane Isabel on bald eagle nests and reproductive performance in the lower Chesapeake Bay.”  The paper documented that 40% of nests were damaged or lost during Hurricane Isabel and that pairs losing nests were both less likely to breed and less productive the following spring.  Productivity for these pairs improved two years following the storm and was back to normal levels during the third breeding season.  A similar rate of nest damage was documented following Hurricane Irene.

Despite the sustained high winds, the impact of the Nor’easters on the eagles was different than the hurricanes examined.  Only four nests that appeared to have been active were damaged or lost compared to 40% during the two hurricanes.  The impact of the storms was on the loss of eggs or young and this is likely the consequence of timing.  Even though many nests appear to have been disrupted by the storms, many broods of small young made it through the storm intact.