Raymond Looney’s summer break began with a trip to Townsville, Australia, to attend the 5th International Symposium on Ranaviruses, a genus of viruses that are infectious to amphibians and reptiles. The experts he met at the three-day symposium gave him valuable feedback on his summer research project, which investigates whether the Canada Goose might be a vector for the spread of ranaviruses in the northeast.
“I’d never been outside the U.S., so it was awesome to visit another country and talk with experts from around the world about my research interests,” he said. Another awesome thing about the trip: his travel was paid for in part by the UVM Suiter grant and an NSF funded travel grant. Likewise, Looney’s summer research project is supported by a Simon Family Public Research Fellowship. “I’m really grateful for the support,” Looney said. “The fellowship allows me to live in Burlington this summer and pay for living and research expenses.”
He discovered his academic path at UVM when he took Ecology and Evolution, a course taught by Biology Professor Nicholas Gotelli who is advising Looney’s project.
This summer, Looney is travelling to sites all around Vermont with researchers from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department who are banding Canadian Geese found on freshwater lakes and ponds. Before releasing the birds, Looney swabs them for signs of viruses.
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Ranavirus is believed to have caused several recent mortality events in amphibian populations. Looney is interested in building an outreach program through the Fish and Wildlife Department educating boat owners and researchers about ways to minimize spread, like cleaning their boats and gear.
Looney says no current research points to birds as carriers, but waterfowl, because of their proximity to fish, amphibian, and reptile populations, could be a vector. He notes that ranavirus is found in the water and has the ability to be picked up by the feathers.
“The virus can survive anywhere its moist and warm,” he said. “The oil glands birds have near the base of their tails may help preserve the virus.”
When the banding season is over, Looney will spend his time in the lab analyzing samples. He sees this as a long-term project—he’s been accepted into the UVM accelerated masters in biology program which will allow him to earn a graduate degree one year after receiving his B.S. His current research will serve as the foundation of his graduate thesis.