Alumni & Friends

Message from the chair

 Diarmaid Ó Foighil
Dear Friends,

Greetings from Ann Arbor! I’m writing this on a glorious late fall morning in the EEB chair’s office, perched just above the Kraus greenhouse. The view south across the U-M’s storied “Diag” is currently a sea of multi-hued foliage: a glorious mosaic of greens, yellows, browns and reds. We are enjoying peak fall color on central campus at the moment and our aesthetic pleasure is heightened by the underlying awareness that winter is just around the corner.

I’m pleased to report that the EEB department continues to thrive and that it stands to benefit from very significant investment by LSA and by the U-M in the biological sciences over the next three years. Although our biology program has undergone multiple organizational changes at the department level over the past century (previously Botany and Zoology, then Biology, now EEB and MCDB), its home has remained in the Kraus Building, built in 1914. That is about to change. A new state-of-the-art Biological Sciences Building, situated next to Ruthven Museums, has begun construction. It will house both biology departments plus the Museum of Natural History and we will move in by fall 2018. Meantime, our priceless research collections in the Museum of Zoology and the Herbarium will be co-located for the first time in 90 years, together with the paleontology and anthropology collections, in a new centralized museum complex on Varsity Drive. Although the process of implementing change and relocation is challenging, the end result will be spectacular. As of 2018, our program will be rehoused in modernized research and teaching space, poised to explore new frontiers in 21st century science. Our future is indeed bright!

Most years involve some degree of faculty transition and during 2015 we are losing one faculty member to retirement and gaining three. Ronald Nussbaum, who retires at the end of the year, has been a faculty member and curator since 1974. His research focuses on the biology of amphibians and reptiles worldwide with special emphasis on western North America and on the fascinating but endangered herpetological fauna of Madagascar. We are most fortunate to be the recipients of three exciting faculty hires as of September 2015. Assistant Professor Nyeema Harris studies the ecology of mammals and their parasites both in North America and in Africa.

It is hard to believe that she has only been a faculty member for two months – such has been her impact and contributions in the classroom and throughout our program. Dr. Harris is profiled in this issue of Natural Selections* on pages 3 and 5 – do not miss it. In addition, EEB continues its extraordinary run of success through the Michigan Society of Fellows with two new incoming assistant professors:  Lydia Beaudrot, who studies tropical forest ecology and conservation and Benjamin Winger, whose specialty is avian evolution.  

Because EEB’s research and teaching span the full range of biological diversity, from molecules to ecosystems, it can be difficult to succinctly summarize our academic program. However, this year’s edition of Natural Selections provides outstanding examples of what makes our program special. On our first page, we profile two outstanding alumni, one newly minted, the other an awe-inspiring veteran, both united in their infectious enthusiasm for biology and education. Last year, EEB major Charlie Engelman garnered 100,000 online votes to win a nationwide competition that may well be the start of a famous career. It was gratifying to see how the whole department supported Charlie and celebrated his success. I had the great pleasure of meeting Sophia Ellis at EEB’s Early Career Scientist Symposium earlier this year. It is hard to convey just how impressive and inspiring Ms. Ellis is one-on-one, but read her profile to get an inkling of this extraordinary pioneer and philanthropist’s accomplishments. In addition to the profile of Nyeema Harris (referred to above), this issue also contains a short summary article by William Foreman (Michigan News) on Professor John Vandermeer’s long-term agroecology field research station in Chiapas, Mexico – see the associated links for a series of in-depth articles and videos on this research program produced by Foreman and his team. There’s also an art-meets-science article that outlines how the Stamps School of Art & Design’s Making Science Visible class takes inspiration from the Museum of Zoology collections – be sure to check out the tumblr link to see the resulting artwork. We end with the ultimate family tree: Assistant Professor Stephen Smith and colleagues recently published an interactive “Tree of Life” for all 2.3 million described species – the first comprehensive genealogy of life on earth.

I invite you to stay in touch over the coming year. Please take advantage of the many electronic portals to departmental news and events, including our website (, Facebook, Twitter (#UMichEEB), Instagram, EEBlog, YouTube channel, RSS newsfeed and enewsletter. If you are visiting Ann Arbor, please feel free to drop in and visit me at Kraus 2019.

With my best wishes for a peaceful holiday season and a healthy and prosperous new year!


Diarmaid ÓFoighil signature

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