News and events

VCU student produces video of Panama experiences

February 10, 2017

Brendan Wang, a student in VCU Life Sciences' Panama Avian Field Ecology study abroad program, captured the sights and adventures the class experienced in the Central American country. Students traveled to Panama  January 2 - 12 of this year, to visit and learn about four major ecosystems important to migratory birds including Panama Bay, coastal mangrove wetlands, tropical rainforest, and tropical cloud forest.



Learn more about the cloud forest site the students visited during the trip here.

Chesterfield County's Cosby High School introduces oysters into classroom

February 9, 2017

By Sarah Vogelsong, The Progress-Index

CHESTERFIELD - Even good vibrations can cause an oyster to clam up.

As students move around Anthony Palombella's biology classroom at Cosby High School in Midlothian, carrying out experiments and talking scientific shop, the nine oysters that inhabit a simple rectangular tank on the room's edge sense their presence through sound waves and go still.

It's only when the vibrations diminish that the creatures feel secure enough to open the protective lips of their shell to feed and, in so doing, filter the surrounding water.

This scientific observation - one that reveals much about the role and behavior of this prized bivalve within Virginia's rivers and coastal waters - is just one of many that Palombella's students have made this year as part of Chesterfield County Public Schools' collaboration with the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program.

Read more here.

A Bird's Eye View - STEM Integration

February 9, 2017

Anne Moore,  a teacher at Goochland Middle School and one of VCU Rice Rivers Center's community partners, was asked to write an article for the Winter 2017 edition of The Science Educator. The article describes her association with VCU's "Team Warbler," and how she integrates the project into her middle school STEM curriculum. The publication is distibuted by the Virginia Association of Science Teachers (VAST).

Ms. Moore's article, "A Bird's Eye View - STEM Integration," can be found on page 21 here

The VCU students that attended the Panama course also spoke to Ms. Moore's classes about their experiences studying abroad and bird conservation on the wintering grounds. They also worked with the middle school students through the Spring Semester on the yearly project.  


VCU to host annual events promoting environmental awareness

February 3, 2017

By Leah Small, University Public Affairs

 Interested in learning how global warming impacts the hundreds of miles of Greenland’s ice sheet? What about how urbanization impacts the western black widow spider? The environmentally conscious can learn about these and other concerns next week during a two-day roster of events hosted by either VCU biology and integrative life sciences student associations, local environmentalists or other academic and community partners. All events are free and open to the public.

“This is the week we get our science out to the public,” said Lindsay Miles, Integrative Life Sciences Student Organization member and event organizer. “That’s our main goal. Anyone is welcome.”

Read more here.



New Director of Center for Environmental Studies named

February 1, 2017

Dr. Robert M. Tombes, Vice Provost for Life Sciences and Research at Virginia Commonwealth University, recently announced Dr. Rodney Dyer as director of the Center for Environmental Studies (CES). Dr. Dyer held the position of Assistant Director of the Center for Environmental Studies for the past two years, and has been a member of the VCU faculty since he began in 2004 as assistant professor in Biology.

Dr. Dyer’s vision for CES is to produce quantitatively skilled practitioners of environmental sciences.  Approximately 70 CES students graduate annually, with graduates enjoying one of the highest rates of job-related placements.

 “Dr. Dyer is a world-renowned quantitative population geneticist whose creative teaching and scholarship are pioneering and perfectly aligned with the integrative nature of CES and Life Sciences,” stated Dr. Tombes.  “I am grateful for the groundwork laid by his predecessor, Dr. Greg Garman, who will now focus on the growth of research at our field station, the Rice Rivers Center.” 

A botanist by training, Dr. Dyer’s research focuses on population genetics and the impact that intervening landscape features have on genetic connectivity.  He has mentored 11 graduate students in Masters programs in CES and Biology, and the Integrative Life Sciences doctoral program.  The vast majority of that graduate work has been conducted at the Rice Rivers Center.

Dr. Dyer continues his phylogeographic work in Baja California, examining how coevolving plant and insect systems respond after climatic changes following the Pleistocene. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). He also has received NSF funding to study terrestrial genetic connectivity along urban gradients from Richmond, Virginia, to Rice Rivers Center in Charles City, Virginia, using flowering dogwood as a model system.  Dr. Dyer is a strong believer in Open Source research and publishing; his authored textbooks, “Landscape Genetic Data Analysis” and “Applied Population Genetics,” are both available without charge at his website,

VCU highlights "Team Warbler" in Annual Report

January 27, 2017

Dr. Cathy Viverette and Dr. Lesley Bulluck -- Rice Rivers Center's "Team Warbler" -- have been highlighted in VCU's Annual Report. Their work with the prothonotary warbler is just one way Rice Rivers Center contributes to solving our future environmental challanges.

Read more about Team Warbler under the partnerships section in the 2015-16 Virginia Commonwealth University Annual Report


First oyster shell collection of 2017 breaks record

January 24, 2017


The Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP) in the Richmond region continues to break records with a haul of 8.5 tons of recycled oyster shells. 

Since 2013, VCU Rice Rivers Center has facilitated the collection of waste oyster shells from restaurants and returned them to the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay to help restore wild oyster populations, improve water quality and provide new fish habitat. The VOSRP collects shells from over 50 restaurants and public drop-off locations in Charlottesville, Richmond, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Suffolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach and on the Northern Neck of Virginia.

To learn more about this program, participating restaurants, and VOSRP public recycling sites, visit here

Research report: The numbers behind the innovation

January 19, 2017

Those are a few of the ongoing accomplishments made with $218.9 million in VCU research expenditures, according to the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey, which outlines higher education expenditures in the U.S. for fiscal year 2015.

Read more here

Dominion Foundation gift helps support environmental sciences training

January 17, 2017

A new “enviro-techniques” class will use the VCU Rice Rivers Center as an outdoor laboratory for environmental sciences research training, thanks to the generosity of a $50,000 gift from the Dominion Foundation to VCU Life Sciences. The two-course series for undergraduate and graduate environmental science and biology students will use modern research tools to quantify carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions in wetlands and forests, and evaluate the connection between plant and animal biodiversity.  The first three-week session will take place this summer.

The course is being developed and directed by Ellen Stuart-Haentjens, M.S., with Scott Neubaurer, Ph.D., and Chris Gough, Ph.D., participating in training module development and co-instruction. The program will become a permanent offering in the university’s Environmental Studies and Biology curriculum.  Once completed, course materials will be made available to the VCU community and public via open access.

Financial support from the Dominion Foundation will provide essential equipment and supplies, including software for real-time data analysis and visualization, measurements of tide, greenhouse gas-trapping chambers, and field laptops and tablets. Additional support from the Dominion Foundation provides a cohort of student researchers with supplies to conduct independent research projects after the completion of the enviro-techniques course.  Students will be challenged to formulate hypotheses, execute research activities, and analyze data onsite at Rice Rivers Center.

“The breadth of ecosystems and state-of-the-art instrumentation at the VCU Rice Rivers Center make for a perfect outdoor classroom,” stated Dr. Chris Gough. “We are uniquely positioned to teach and assist students in the development of skill sets they can apply to their research and careers.”

The second part of the series will have students return to Rice Rivers Center and collaborate in teams to address real-world environmental science questions by use of critical thinking, team work and instrumentation.

Moving Woodpeckers 2

January 13, 2017

By Bryan Watts, Center for Conservation Biology

Following the historic and successful move of eight red-cockaded woodpeckers into the Great Dismal Swamp during the fall of 2015, the multi-state and multi-agency coalition gathered again in October 2016 to execute the second of a scheduled three-year commitment to move woodpeckers.  The effort was successful despite the wrath of the weather gods.

The Great Dismal Swamp, the northernmost of the great humid swamp forests of the South, received more than 20 inches of rain in the run up to the 2016 move.  In late September, Tropical Storm Julia moved north along the Atlantic Coast and stalled over Hampton Roads, dumping more than 12 inches of rain on the swamp.  Just one month later Hurricane Matthew, one of the most destructive hurricanes in recent memory, made its way up the coast dropping another 12 inches of rain on the swamp.  Slow to drain, the swamp held a tremendous amount of water in the week before the scheduled woodpecker move, with many of the trails requiring waders to slosh through.  In addition to the standing water, there was just enough time following the rains to create a dramatic hatch of mosquitoes throughout the swamp.

After much deliberation about the post-storm conditions, Will McDearman, National Recovery Coordinator, and Nancy Jordan, maestro of the Carolina Sandhills woodpeckers, decided in true field biologist fashion to move forward and “get ‘er done.”  This decision triggered a convergence of woodpecker biologists on Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge from throughout the Southeast on 18 October to “roost” targeted birds.  Roosting went as planned and the decision was made to capture and transport birds on the 19th.  Four hatching-year males and four females were captured, boxed, and transported north on the evening of the 19th.  The drive north was longer than usual due to road closures and detours related to Hurricane Matthew, but all birds arrived and were placed in artificial cavities for release by 4:30 AM.  Screens were removed and birds were released into their new habitats at 7:00 AM.  

A second translocation was conducted during the fall in order to even out the sex ratio and to give the population the maximum likelihood of forming new breeding pairs.  On 14 November, a Virginia crew traveled to Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge and roosted, captured, and transported two hatching-year males for release in the swamp.  The transport and release went off without any problems and both birds were released the next morning.  With the successful conclusion of the second translocation of 2016, the refuge held seven males and eight females.  A survey will be conducted in early spring of this year to determine retention of birds and follow-up breeding monitoring will be conducted in late April and May.

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