People of Merritt Lab

Graduate Students

Osvaldo Hernandez

Osvaldo Hernandez (PhD)

My academic interests include both teaching and research in the fields of entomology and stream ecology. Currently, I am working in the Smith and Klamath River watersheds of northern California in conjunction with the California Cooperative Fish Research Unit located at Humboldt State University ( ) Salmonid population declines in the Pacific Northwest have resulted in the need for management options that will likely lead to increased fish production. Current management options being considered to stimulate fish production include the removal of riparian red alder (Alnus rubra) and fertilizing of streams by way of salmon carcass additions. In an effort to assess the efficacy of these management options, we propose to experimentally manipulate light and nutrient levels in previously harvested second order streams with a red alder riparian canopy. Experimental manipulation is a logical approach to determining the relative effects of increased light, nutrients, or both by contrasting manipulated and controlled areas in both natural and artificial streams.

My M.S. research involved investigating the effects of forest succession on macroinvertebrate communities after clearcut logging at the Maybeso Experimental Forest, with funding and logistical support provided by the Juneau Forestry Sciences Laboratory. Previously, I worked at the City of Austin, TX, Environmental Department collecting and identifying macroinvertebrates for urban stream bioassessments and aiding with Barton Springs salamander (Eurocea sosorum) surveys. My introduction to field research began at St. Edwards University, Austin, TX, assisting Dr. Allan Hook in cataloging aculeate wasp diversity at Dolan Falls Preserve, Val Verde Co. in west Texas.

I have assisted as an undergrad TA in entomology and zoology labs, and as a graduate in aquatic entomology and entomology courses (Insects Globalization and Sustainability, and Forensic Entomology). Additionally I have assisted in an aquatic insects workshop for the American Fisheries Society, and in a workshop for Korean educators for the Visiting International Professional Program at MSU. I am currently a teaching assistant for the Center for Integrative Studies at MSU. I am interested in a teaching university position.


Ryan Kimbirauskas (PhD)

I earned my BS in Biology from Alma College in 1995 and MS in Aquatic Entomology from Michigan State University in 2004, under the guidance of Dr. Richard Merritt. My MS research was conducted in southeast Alaska where I investigated the role of red alder on aquatic macroinvertebrates within headwater streams of regenerating forests. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Medical Entomology and working on a World Health Organization and National Science Foundation funded project investigating the potential role of aquatic organisms in the transmission of Buruli Ulcer Disease in Ghana, Africa. Buruli Ulcer is an emergent infectious disease often referred to as The Mystery Disease due to the lack of epidemiology evidence, absence of readily available cures and unclear understanding of the modes of transmission. It does appear as though impacted bodies of water are a common thread in this story and biting aquatic insects have been implicated as possible vectors of this disease to humans (see the lab's Buruli Ulcer overview).

I also became involved with Forensic Entomology while at Michigan State University and am currently one of twelve Board Certified Forensic Entomologists in North America ( ). I first became interested while assisting Dr. Merritt with a homicide investigation where insect evidence was being used to estimate the time of death. Since then, Dr. Merritt and I have worked on more than 50 cases together and are frequently called upon to testify in court as expert witnesses regarding insect evidence. We are also developing a training video on how to properly collect insect evidence during criminal investigations and recently developed an online course through Michigan State University covering the various ways insects can/have been used as evidence during death investigation (send me an email for more information).

Ryan Kimbirauskas’ research interests include: aquatic community/ecosystem ecology and land-use disturbance, microbial-invertebrate interactions, disease ecology, forensic entomology, and larval debridement therapy; courses taught: science for non-majors, science and math education for education majors, forensic entomology.


David Michael Malakauskas (Ph.D.)

I earned a B.S. degree in Fisheries Biology at Humboldt State University in Northern California, and continued my education there, eventually earning an M.S. My M.S. research involved analyzing the population structure between spring and fall runs of Chinook salmon in the Trinity River. While working on my M.S., I was also involved in a study of the Klamath River, with the California Cooperative Fish Research Unit, and did initial work on cataloging the aquatic insect fauna found therein. My teaching experience includes work as a TA in aquatic entomology, fisheries techniques, and integrative studies in biology. My research interests include aquatic insect ecology, fish physiology, and genetics, and my PhD research will involve the study of corixid ecology in the Copper River Delta in Alaska. In my spare time, I enjoy fly fishing, guitar, hiking, camping, and of course, collecting aquatic insects for my personal collection.


Todd With Fish Web

Todd White (MS)

Todd White hails from the city of Ishpeming in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He came to the Merritt lab in 2000 as a student employee while working on the completion of a B.S. in Zoology at MSU. After receiving his B.S. in 2002, Todd was hired as a technician for the Merritt lab where he worked for two years specializing in the processing and identification of aquatic insect samples from all over N. America & the world. Todd started a M.S. program with Rich Merritt in Spring 2005. His research is supported by the United States Forest Service, and involves the assessment of the aquatic macroinvertebrate communities of stream habitats within the Copper River Delta, South-Central Alaska. Todd’s research also involves measuring the dietary preferences of juvenile salmonids within these streams to find out how important macroinvertebrates are to the freshwater life-stages of these economically important fish species. Todd would like to extend a heart-felt Thank You to everyone at the Cordova Ranger District, Cordova, AK for making his research possible, and for making his time in Alaska memorable, enjoyable, and bear-encounter free. When he’s not doing classwork or research Todd enjoys fly-fishing & fly-tying; hunting; country music; ballroom, latin, & country-western line dancing; watching movies; staying in shape; and hanging with friends & family.


Em With A Silver

Emily Campbell (MS)

Coming from Monterey, California I earned my B.S. in Ecological Biology from Humboldt State University with a focus in aquatic entomology under the direction of Dr. Michael Camann. I worked as an undergraduate TA assisting in both terrestrial and aquatic entomology lab courses. As an NSF-REU student I studied the effects of historical logging impacts on aquatic insect communities as an important food resource for juvenile salmonids in the Bull Creek watershed in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, CA. The logging itself, as well as roads constructed throughout the area, greatly exacerbated erosion that occurred during a major flood contributing huge quantities of sediment to the creek annually. Research showed little evidence that Bull Creek overcame the historic and ongoing effects of high annual sediment transport or that the biological integrity and invertebrate habitat quality improved.

Arriving in Michigan in the summer of 2007, I began my research on Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska studying the impacts of Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) disturbance and timber harvest effects on the distribution of stream insects. One of the least studied habitats in southeast Alaska and elsewhere are backwater pools which can act as a source of habitat refugia for main-channel taxa during disturbance events such as the annual salmon run. Refugia can be defined as distinct pool habitats connected to the main channel, but their position along channel margins protects them from disturbances caused by the annual migration and nest construction of salmon. My current research attempts to quantify the differences of insect community structure and biomass between riffle and refuge habitats and examine the role of backwater pools as a source of refugia for insect survival throughout disturbance events.

Additional interests include stream trophic level dynamics such as feeding ecology, systematics, science education and outreach, backpacking, running, and ocean swimming.


Sarah In Ghana Web

Sarah Willson (MS)

I earned my Bachelors of Science degree in fisheries biology from Humboldt State University in California. As an undergraduate, my primary research interest was fish disease, especially fish parasites. After graduation, I worked for the California Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit at Humboldt State. I was involved in a project investigating the life history, ecological requirements, and distribution of the freshwater polychaete Manayunkia speciosa, in the Klamath River, CA. I will begin the M.S. program at MSU in the fall of 2008. My primary research interests are aquatic ecology, disease ecology, and parasites of aquatic organisms. My outside activities include hiking, gardening, fly-fishing, stamp collecting, and being bossed around by my beagle and 3 guinea pigs.



Derek Busch (MS)

I spent my childhood days growing up around the East Lansing area. After starting out at Lansing Community College, I ventured out to Colorado where I spent several years living and working in the mountains while taking classes at Colorado Mountain College. From there I furthered my undergraduate studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder in Environmental Science. Many childhood trips to my family cottage in northern Michigan, opened my eyes to the natural world, and my interest was extended further after living in Colorado and spending much of my time outdoors. This interest from my childhood days has brought me back to Michigan to work on my M.S. in the Merritt lab. During my undergraduate studies, I was able to spend two summers in Southeast Alaska helping with several cooperative research projects in conjunction with the Pacific Northwest Research Station. Currently, my M.S. research involves looking at aquatic macroinvertebrate communities of pond systems and their association with aquatic vegetation within the Copper River Delta, South-Central Alaska.



Research Associates and Collaborators

Dr. Mollie McIntosh, Ph.D. (Visiting Research Associate)

Mollie McIntosh

Mollie in her habitat

Dr. Mollie McIntosh is currently a research associate in the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University. She first became involved in the field of aquatic ecology working in restored and natural wetlands as an undergraduate at the University of Dayton where she obtained her B.S. in Biology. Mollie then went on to Indiana University and received her M.S. in Environmental Science with a concentration in Applied Ecology from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. During this time, she conducted her research on the effect of diversions on aquatic communities in tropical stream ecosystems. From there, Mollie came to Michigan State University to obtain her Ph.D. in Entomology, where she studied the potential use of macroinvertebrates as indicators of wetland quality in Michigan. Specifically, this project quantified macroinvertebrate response to human-induced changes by developing relationships between macroinvertebrate attributes, environmental stressors, and human activities at multiple spatial scales. This study was part of larger project that assessed the ecological integrity of freshwater ecosystems (wetlands, streams and lakes) of the Muskegon River Watershed; information on this project can be found at Currently, Mollie has been working with Dr. Rich Merritt, Dr. Eric Benbow and other colleagues on understanding the ecology of Mycobacterium ulcerans infection or also known as Buruli ulcer disease (

Mollie’s main research interests focus on the ecology, biology, and behavior of aquatic organisms and how these organisms respond to changes in the environment; general fields of interest include community/population ecology, entomology, plant/insect interactions, disturbance ecology, disease ecology and forensic entomology. Besides conducting research, she has become very active in science education, by teaching both undergraduate, graduate and study-abroad courses, and other outreach programs.



Dr. Eric Benbow – Research Collaborator (Assistant Professor, University of Dayton)

Eric Benbow was a post-doctoral and visiting research associate with Rich Merritt from 2001 – 2005, and remained at MSU as a fixed-term Assistant Professor from 2006 – 2008 working on the collaborative NIH Ecology of Infectious Disease study on Buruli ulcer disease. Benbow is a co-PI on this grant and continues this collaboration with MSU after accepting a tenure stream position in the Department of Biology at the University of Dayton, where he works on ecosystem ecology.

Benbow’s current research interests address the interactions of humans and the environment, particularly aquatic ecosystems and riparian corridors; with an emphasis on invertebrate communities. Specific projects include the ecology of microbial-invertebrate interactions and their role in mycobacterial disease emergence in West Africa; understanding the dynamics of marine-derived nutrients and natural disturbance in ecosystem structure and function among managed watersheds of southeast Alaska; the community ecology of small lake and quarry invertebrates; and watershed biomonitoring projects in Vietnam, the Republic of Palau, Hawaii, and Ohio. Previous research has addressed the effects of road salt on wetland community structure and function using integrated field and laboratory experiments.

General research interests include both basic and applied community and ecosystem ecology as it relates to human impacts that include the following: 1) deforestation and other landscape changes on mycobacterial-invertebrate disease transmission in Africa; 2) the effects of forest management on Alaskan watershed ecosystems; and, 3) water withdrawal and watershed development in the tropics. These research programs have focused on measuring and monitoring how invertebrate communities respond to these impacts and how understanding these communities provides information for better natural resource management and conservation.

Future plans are to develop studies that test hypotheses for understanding how ecological communities are structured over time, and how they respond to both natural and human-induced disturbances. Emphasis will be placed on how invertebrates interact with other communities such as bacteria, protests and algae. Studies will logically incorporate experiments and field surveys directed at the individual, community and ecosystem levels of organization; thereby predicting community responses at multiple spatio-temporal scales and generating information useful for developing resource conservation and management plans. The collaborative NIH study on Buruli ulcer employs this methodology for determining environmental risk factors for an emerging disease.