UMMZ announces student awards


May 02, 2013 Bookmark and Share

Each year, the U-M Museum of Zoology uses its historical endowments, some of which date from the early 1900s, to support graduate students research projects through scholarship awards.

The Mary R. Swales Scholarship for a graduate student in the Museum of Zoology who is researching birds, was awarded to Omar Bonilla.

Bonilla researches at the E.S. George Reserve in Pinckney, Mich., investigating the role of native ornithochorous plants and avian seed dispersers in the spread of invasive ornithochorous plants. Ornithochorous plants share a mutualistic interaction with birds, whereby birds eat the plant’s fruit and disperse its seeds. Bonilla will attempt to identify the spatial patterns of seed deposition of these invasive plants, and to classify the avian seed disperser community by their importance in spreading invasive species of the plants. Bonilla, whose advisor is Professor Elizabeth Pringle, received $2,000.

Bradshaw Hall Swales married Mary Rhoda Medbury in 1902. Swales earned his undergraduate and master of law degrees from U-M in 1896 and 1897. He passed the bar exam later that year and began to practice law in Detroit. His interest in birds began at an early age. He donated a collection of about 2,000 bird skins to the U-M Museum of Zoology and upon his death left the museum his considerable ornithological library. From 1912, Swales was a member of the museum's governing board and was an honorary assistant in ornithology.

The Robert R. and Francis H. Miller Scholarship, which supports graduate student research in the museum for students in the field of ichthyology, went to Alison Gould.

Gould's dissertation research seeks to define the population genetic structure of the sea urchin cardinalfish, Siphamia versicolor, and its luminous bacterial symbiont, Photobacterium mandapamensis, in Okinawa, Japan. This summer she will be sampling populations of the fish at various coral reefs around Okinawa in order to compare the geographic patterns of genetic structure between populations of the host fish and its symbiont in the region. Gould, whose advisor is Professor Paul Dunlap , received $1,000.

The Robert R. and Francis H. Miller Endowment was set up by their children in 2003. Miller and his wife, Francis Hubbs Miller, worked in the Fish Division for many years, he as curator of fishes and she as a research associate. He was the foremost authority on the fishes of Mexico (and wrote the definitive book on the subject, published posthumously) and she was his partner in almost everything they did, according to Professor William Fink.

Jen-Pan Huang and Rob Massatti received the Hinsdale Scholarship, which was created to support doctoral student research in the museum. 

Huang is interested in evolutionary processes that generate the diversity of life forms. Currently, he is working on testing the hypothesis of adaptation by interspecific hybridization in Hercules beetles. Different colorations found in Hercules Beetles are believed to have camouflage functions. Different species that live in the same habitat, however, share similar coloration. Since hybridization is possible between species in Hercules Beetles, they are thus excellent candidates for testing if hybridization could have play a role in promoting adaptation and shaping species specific morphology in nature. Huang, whose advisor is Professor Lacey Knowles, was awarded $4,000.

Massatti is interested in the diversity and distributional patterns of plants that occupy mountainous regions. He studies the effects of Pleistocene glaciations on plant diversification at different spatial scales (regional and intercontinental) using Carex section Racemosae, which includes about 60 species distributed primarily in eastern Asia and western North America. Additionally, he investigates how historical and contemporary environmental gradients influence species' distributions by utilizing fine-scale distributional data of the flora of the southern and central Rocky Mountains.

“The results of my research will be applicable not only to future studies of macroevolution, but it will inform conservation professionals about the potential impacts of climate change on plants in montane ecosystems,” Massatti said. Massatti, whose advisors are Knowles and Dr. Tony Reznicek, received $4,000.

Edwin C. Hinsdale, who the scholarship was named for, was one of the best known and most highly honored pioneer citizens of Detroit. He gained distinction in civic affairs, as a member of the bar, and for his boundless charitable works. He attended U-M for one year from 1847 – 1848. He was admitted to the Michigan bar in 1858 and practiced until his death nearly 40 years later. He was the treasurer of the city of Detroit from 1871- 1876, bringing order out of a chaotic time. In 1921, Genevieve S. Hinsdale bequeathed a part of her estate to establish a scholarship in her father’s name.

Pascal Title was awarded the Charles F. Walker Scholarship, which supports graduate student field research in herpetology.

Title’s research involves investigating controls on the accumulation of species. Different regions appear to support different amounts of biodiversity, and this often depends on the phylogenetic origin of the groups under study. He is interested in determining if different climatic zones lead to differential species diversification. He’s also interested in what controls species' geographic distributions.

“Abiotic factors such as temperature and precipitation could be the most important factors, or species interactions and character displacement might play a prominent role in the maintenance of range boundaries, and this may be important in the context of secondary contact following speciation,” he said. Title will use Australian reptiles as a study system to address these questions, and will collect data at both continental scales, as well as at population-level scales. Title, whose advisor is Professor Dan Rabosky, received $2,500.

Charles F. Walker was an honored and much loved curator from 1947 - 1975. His former students and faculty associates created the fund to commemorate and extend the activities he was famous for. He influenced many students in different fields of zoology well beyond herpetology.