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ADW and NSF Innovation Corp program join forces
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
The National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program recognized the Animal Diversity Web’s potential and invited Professor Phil Myers and Tanya Dewey on board. I-Corps teaches academics how to move innovations from academia to the private sector.
I-Corps is an NSF initiative to assess the readiness of emerging technology concepts for transitioning into valuable new products through a public-private partnership.
Myers, the creator of the Animal Diversity Web and principal investigator for the I-Corps grant, and Dewey, research program officer for ADW and entrepreneurial lead for the grant, received $50,000 from NSF to pursue the commercial potential of the website and affiliated education projects. Their goal is to become a non-profit that generates enough funding through ADW to sustain the website and associated projects into the future. A number of previous and current NSF grants, aimed at addressing needs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education at K-20 levels, have supported ADW since its inception in 1995.
Following a rigorous series of phone calls with NSF to assess their suitability for the program, Myers and Dewey were invited to submit a proposal and attend a training program in Washington, D.C. in April 2013. In collaboration with the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, NSF offers the opportunity to participate in a special, accelerated version of Stanford University's Lean LaunchPad course.
They were partnered with Jeremy Mulder through the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship as grant mentor. Coincidentally, Mulder was an undergraduate student in one of Myers’ classes in 1996 at U-M and he contributed a species account in the fledgling days of ADW. Mulder is a patent attorney with extensive startup experience.
Myers described the workshop, which was taught mainly by deans and directors from business schools in the D.C. area, as intense. Called a bootcamp, it is designed to get participants out of their comfort zones and into the often rough and tumble business world.
“What they’re trying to do in a short period is cause a cultural change,” he said. “Their mantra is get out of the building.” Myers, Dewey, and Mulder talked to people at the University of Maryland, Howard University, The Smithsonian Institution and the Encyclopedia of Life about their needs and ADW’s plans.
“The 2011 report, Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education, sponsored by the NSF, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, calls for transforming undergraduate biology education to include more opportunities for students to work actively with real data to ask and answer questions,” according to the project summary. “ADW is ideally positioned to move data driven inquiry into classrooms because it has critical resources to support these endeavors and because it has demonstrated substantial success in improving science education in both K-12 and undergraduate audiences. We propose commercializing aspects of this project derived from the database and making them available to K-12 teachers, college instructors, and research investigators. We believe that doing so will allow us to expand and continue this project, making it an even more integral part of science education at all levels in the future.”
Most recently, the research team (especially Dewey) has been engrossed in talking to potential customers about their needs, challenges, and how ADW can fit into that landscape. They’ve conducted at least 100 interviews in the last month with much positive feedback and are now drafting a business plan that they learned about during the Lean LaunchPad course.
“We offer a unique resource and it’s clear that we have a lot of respect. People see us as very valuable,” said Dewey, who had ADW’s name recognition in her corner when she was making calls.
The plan is not to put a pay wall between ADW and their current audience, but the Animal Diversity Web could add some value added services, perhaps through a nominal membership fee or by selling customized educational materials.
“It looks like there are some opportunities there for us,” said Myers. “We’re a long way from generating revenue, but the potential is there.” Myers said.
Caption: (left to right) Phil Myers, Tanya Dewey, Jeremy Mulder
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EarlFest: honoring Werner before his retirement
Friday, June 14, 2013
When two of Professor Earl Werner's former students heard of his impending retirement (December 2013), they joined forces to plan EarlFest: a symposium to pay tribute to their mentor on May 18, 2013.
Colleagues, current and former students, postdocs, friends and family gathered to celebrate Werner’s career and influence on the field of ecology. A great lineup of speakers was selected from among people connected to Werner at different times in his career and from different perspectives. Mark McPeek, David T. McLaughlin Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, and David Skelly, professor of ecology and associate dean for research, Yale University, were the organizers. Here’s a fun fact: McPeek was Werner’s last student at Michigan State University when Werner worked at the Kellogg Biological Station. Skelly was his first student when Werner moved to U-M where he is director of the E.S. George Reserve. Students flew in from as far as Brazil and California to join the tribute.
The symposium was held in East Hall on the Ann Arbor campus. A pig roast followed at the E.S. George Reserve.
Throughout the symposium, a theme “that emerged repeatedly was the idea of an iterative research program that combines multiple approaches including fieldwork, experiments, and theory to address ecological questions,” said Shannon McCauley, a former student of Werner’s who is now an assistant professor of biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga.“It was fascinating to me that while the research questions addressed spanned a wide range, the iterative research approach and a mechanistic, trait-based approach to ecology was at the core of most of them. The fundamental tools and scientific vision gained in Earl’s lab is being applied to diverse questions in ecology and evolutionary biology.
“When I heard about this event I knew I would attend. How could I not? Earl has influenced my thinking as a scientist more than any other person. He has also influenced me personally – showing me that humility and kindness are not barriers to succeeding. His passion for this work and joy he shared with us in being able to pursue research in these glorious natural environments has sustained me in pursuing this career and I know it will continue to do so as I try and pass some of that on to my own students.”
McCauley said that her career was further impacted by the way her former professor brings out the best in people by treating everyone with respect and as someone with valuable contributions to make, another example she hopes to pass on to her graduate students.
Of his professor’s legacy to the field, McPeek said, “Few people have one great idea. Earl has had three major themes in his research career. The first was as an original developer of optimal foraging theory. He then used those insights to understand how organisms might balance those foraging gains with the risk of predation in choosing among potential habitats. Then he moved on to develop the issues associated with how predators and prey might interact through changes in behavior and not simply from the prey being food for the predators (i.e., trait-mediated indirect effects).”
“Earl’s own remarks were probably the highlight of the day for me,” said McCauley. “He discussed what his students and postdocs had meant for him and I think for all of us to know that we had given something back to him was a wonderful feeling. He talked about the contributions students had made to research and to the vibrancy of the lab and it was a kind and deeply felt statement that had many of us in tears.
“The pig roast was also a delight – people shared stories, most of them about Earl’s reactions to our mistakes and foibles (generally patient and slightly amazed at the ridiculous stuff we managed) and of course, there were a few funny ones about Earl too.”
“Earl was always a quiet inspiration to all his students,” McPeek observed.
Captions: (from top) Earl Werner receives gifts from his many fans including a painting by former student, Gary Mittelbach, who is now a professor at the MSU W.K. Kellogg Biological Station; a rocking chair and a hammock. Credit: Mark McPeek.
Back row left to right: Gary Mittelbach, Mark McPeek, David Skelly, Luis Schiesari, an associate professor of environmental management at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. Front row: Earl Werner. Credit: Karl Dunkle Werner.
Sharing memories and laughter around the campfire at the E.S. George Reserve. Credit: Karl Dunkle Werner.
Enjoying EEB collegiality at the symposium during a break. Credit: Mark McPeek.
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Duffy named ESA Early Career Fellow
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Professor Meghan Duffy has been named an Early Career Fellow of the Ecological Society of America.
Fellows are chosen among ESA members who are making and show promise of continuing to make outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by the society. Such contributions include, but are not restricted to, those that advance or apply ecological knowledge in academics, government, non-profit organizations, and the private sector through outstanding contributions to research, education, and/or outreach. Fellows are elected for five years. The designation of Early Career Fellow is an honorific title.
“Meg is the complete package in terms of extraordinary scholarship, outstanding teaching, and a serious commitment to students, colleagues, and the discipline of ecology more broadly,” wrote EEB Professor and Chair Deborah Goldberg.
“Meg’s significant contributions to date, her impressive productivity (37 papers, although only 7 years post Ph.D.) and success at obtaining major grants all combine to give me great confidence that she will continue to make important contributions to ecological research and to our discipline. She combines sheer talent and intellectual curiosity, with hard work, immense energy, amazing organizational abilities, and a generosity of spirit that ensures she will continue her present trajectory.”
Duffy's research focuses on the ecology and evolution of host-parasite interactions. She is especially interested in the intersection of ecology and evolutionary biology, including how rapid evolution affects ecological host-parasite dynamics, and how ecological context influences host-parasite evolution. Her research uses a combination of observational studies of natural populations and communities, manipulative experiments in the lab and field, and mathematical models.
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Elgersma awarded U-M Water Center research grant
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Dr. Kenneth Elgersma has been awarded a $50,000 research grant from U-M’s new Water Center to support Great Lakes restoration and protection efforts.
Elgersma, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Professor and Chair Deborah Goldberg, is moving to University of Northern Iowa in September 2013 to begin a faculty position. The grant will help him expand on research he began while in the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Elgersma’s project is titled "Assessing ecosystem services provided by restored wetlands under current and future climate and land-use scenarios." The goal is to augment an existing computer model to assess the effectiveness of techniques — including herbicide application, burning and mowing — to control non-native weedy plant invasions.
“I am very excited that the Water Center has funded our work,” said Elgersma. “Invasive species are a serious stressor in Great Lakes wetlands, and our group has been focused on understanding the factors that contribute to invasions and the consequences for wetland ecosystems. This funding allows us to take our work one step further to understand how different management practices affect the invasion process and the ecosystem as a whole. So we're extending our basic research and applying it to the real need to understand how to mitigate the effects of invasions. Our work is geographically focused on Michigan coastal wetlands, but results will be applicable throughout the Great Lakes Basin.” Elgersma has been working on this research with Goldberg, SNRE Professor Bill Currie, EEB postdoctoral fellow Jason Martina, and collaborators at Michigan State University and Michigan Technological University.
The Water Center awarded 12 research grants, totaling nearly $570,000, to support diverse projects, including efforts to track the remediation of harmful algae blooms, assess the effectiveness of techniques to control non-native weedy plant invasions, study chromosomal damage in tree swallow nestlings, and monitor fish responses to restoration activities.
The grants were awarded to multidisciplinary teams led by researchers at universities across the Great Lakes region and beyond. Fifty-four proposals were submitted for the first round of Water Center research grants. A second round of larger grants, of up to $500,000 each, will be awarded later this year.
The $9 million Water Center was formed in October with an initial focus on providing a solid scientific framework for more efficient and effective Great Lakes restoration. As a center of U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute, the Water Center was made possible by a $4.5 million, three-year grant from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation and additional funds from the university.
The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world's surface freshwater. The region includes 10,000 miles of coastline and numerous globally rare plant and animal species. In addition, the Great Lakes support a wide range of recreational and economic activities, including vibrant tourism and a sport fishery industry that contributes $4 billion to the economy.
Article in the U-M Record Update
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On the U-M Gateway: Living fossils? Actually, sturgeon are evolutionary speedsters
Thursday, June 06, 2013
Efforts to restore sturgeon in the Great Lakes region have received a lot of attention in recent years, and many of the news stories note that the prehistoric-looking fish are "living fossils" virtually unchanged for millions of years.
But a new study by Professor Dan Rabosky and his colleagues reveals that in at least one measure of evolutionary change – changes in body size over time – sturgeon have been one of the fastest-evolving fish on the planet.
Watch for an EEB web research feature coming soon.
U-M News Service press release
Caption: A lake sturgeon from the Great Lakes. Photo credit: Michigan Sea Grant.
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The votes are in: He wins EEB's outstanding paper 2012-13
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
EEB graduate student Qixin He’s paper was selected as EEB’s Outstanding Paper of the Year. Published online June 5, 2013 in the journal Evolution, the paper is titled "Integrative testing of how environments from the past to the present shape genetic structure across landscapes."
He's coauthors are her advisor Professor L. Lacey Knowles and a former postdoctoral fellow in the Knowles lab, Danielle Edwards. They have been studying a southwestern Australian lizard species, Lerista lineopunctulata, which has highly reduced limbs and lives on sand plains or dunes. The genetic diversity of the species is not even – it’s highest in peninsulas near Shark Bay and lowest in the northern and southern extremes of their distribution, He explained.
“Several mechanisms could potentially explain this pattern,” said He. “Climatic factors might make the peninsulas more suitable habitats for the lizards, or the peninsulas might have been their refuge in the glacial time, and current distribution is a recolonization process from the past, or both of these mechanisms may be important. We performed ecological niche modeling using climatic data of their current distribution and predicted their potential occurrence in the past. During glaciations, coastline extended towards the ocean as sea level decreased. We found that in the last glacial maximum (LGM, a time in Earth’s climate history when ice sheets were at their maximum extension, about 20,000 years ago), suitable areas for the species shifted significantly, and only the Shark Bay area remained suitable from LGM until the present.
“Our spatially explicit demographic modeling confirmed that the model which considered recolonization from refugia and tracked the suitability of changes through time had the highest support, compared to ones that only considered current distributions or suitabilities. This finding emphasized the importance of linking historical processes with patterns we observe in the present. As landscapes are changing, so are species. Our paper also presented a scenario testing approach by integrating distributional, demographic and coalescent models to generate species-specific predictions of genetic variation, which can be readily applied in many different questions or systems.”
EEB postdoctoral fellows Joseph Coolon and Joseph Brown were the reviewers. “Beyond simply identifying the problem, Qixin et al. go on to supply a solution,” the committee wrote. They also noted that the authors performed post-analysis model adequacy tests, “something that is far too rarely performed in evolutionary biology.”
“Qixin's paper is rigorous in analysis, yet pedagogically presented; for these reasons, it is sure to be of great interest to the field,” they concluded.
Caption: (top) Qixin He. (bottom) Lerista lineopunctulata, lizard image credit: R. Lloyd.
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Cheng wins Michigan Space Grant Consortium award
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
Cheng’s project investigates how cloud conditions interact with changing forest canopy structure to control rates of photosynthesis and forest carbon dioxide (CO2) uptake.
“I am using NASA satellite data with data from ecosystem-level monitoring networks to examine how clouds affect forest surface energy, light conditions, and carbon uptake,” she said. “I'll also be measuring light, leaf temperature, and species-specific photosynthesis responses with a Research for Undergraduate (REU) student. I'll then use those data in a model to test how clouds and forest canopy structure influence the strength of atmospheric CO2 removal through changes in leaf temperature and leaf-available light.
“Ultimately, this will tell us how environmental and biological variables interact to control rates of ecosystem CO2 uptake, and can be used to inform how we manage forests to meet future climate-related challenges.” The REU student is Jean Wilkening from the University of Arizona, majoring in chemical engineering. Cheng's advisor is Professor Knute Nadelhoffer, director of the UMBS.
The MSGC gives preference to students pursuing projects directly related to NASA strategic interests, including aerospace, space science, earth system science, and other related science, engineering or mathematics fields. The consortium fosters awareness of, education in, and research on space-related science and technology in Michigan.
Caption: Susan Cheng taking photos of the forest canopy above a light sensor.
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Ecosystems publication includes undergraduate authors
Friday, May 31, 2013
At the U-M Biological Station, researchers analyzed differences that affect the balance of competition between trees, which could have consequences for future forest composition. Their paper was published in the June issue of Ecosystems.
Let’s back up and explain with help from one of the authors, Luke Nave: Nitrogen (N) is one of the most fundamental chemical constituents of living organisms – it is a component of enzymes, proteins, and even the genetic code.
“In forests, the availability of N to trees is therefore one of the most important factors governing their ability to grow, and trees have evolved diverse strategies to maintain their supply of this limiting nutrient,” said Nave, an assistant research scientist for the U-M Biological Station and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “In forests with rich soils and abundant N supply, trees are able to acquire much of what they need directly through root uptake, but in poor-soil forests like those found at the Biological Station (and throughout the upper Great Lakes), trees derive much of their N through symbiotic associations with beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, which colonize roots and grow outwards into the soil.
“Mycorrhizal fungi take up and pass along to trees large amounts of water, N, and other nutrients from the soil, in exchange for a steady supply of carbon-based energy sources from trees. In the forests of northern Michigan, trees typically associate with one of two types of mycorrhizal fungi: ecto- or arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Typically, ectomycorrhizae predominate in poorer soils, while arbuscular mycorrhizae become more common as soil fertility increases.”
Researchers performed a study at UMBS to determine how N uptake by ectomycorrhizal fungi and their host trees (namely, oaks, aspens, and birches) is changing as trees that form arbuscular mycorrhizae (in this case, maples) become more common. This change in forest composition (called succession) is occurring as short-lived aspens and birches are dying off and being replaced in large part by maples.
The project team included Nave, recent undergraduate students Jules Cooch (B.S. terrestrial ecology) and Nick Van Dyke (B.Sc. EEB); Professor Knute Nadelhoffer, director of UMBS; Jim Le Moine, a research laboratory specialist; and Linda van Diepen, a former U-M postdoctoral fellow. They determined that as forest succession has proceeded, ectomycorrhizal fungi are taking up less N and the trees that support these fungi (now primarily oaks) are acquiring relatively more of their N through direct root uptake. “These findings fit with results of other research at our site, which has showed that soil N availability has been on the increase during this successional period. Our results suggest that differences in mycorrhizal associations and nutrient uptake strategies between oaks and maples will affect the balance of competition between these two tree taxa, with consequences for future forest composition,” said Nave.
Their article, “Nitrogen Uptake by Trees and Mycorrhizal Fungi in a Successional Northern Temperate Forest: Insights from Multiple Isotopic Methods" was published in Ecosystems: Volume 16, Issue 4 (2013).
Caption: Jules Cooch and Nick Van Dyke. Photo credit: Jim Le Moine.
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Celebrating Chair Goldberg
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 -- Colleagues and friends gathered to celebrate the many successes of Professor Deborah Goldberg as chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for the past 12 years. Goldberg steps down as chair at the end of the summer. Professor John Vandermeer will step up to the plate for the 2013 – 2014 academic year, followed by Professor Diarmaid Ó Foighil, who will serve as chair through summer 2017.
Several colleagues paid tribute, presenting talks about Goldberg at the reception including: Dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Terry McDonald, Professors Vandermeer, Ó Foighil, Pamela Raymond, Earl Werner and EEB department manager Nancy Smith. Some 100 people attended the event, Celebrating Deborah, in the north atrium of East Hall on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus.
“Deborah has provided leadership to the department throughout its entire history,” said Ó Foighil. “From the very beginning, she stepped up to give EEB shape and direction, getting us back on track after an external chair appointment terminated prematurely and directing her formidable energy to all aspects of departmental function and development over the past 12 years. More than any other person, Deborah is responsible for EEB's success.”
“As chair for EEB, Deborah has been fantastic, encouraging everyone to do their best yet critically evaluating their work when called for,” said Vandermeer. “She was everything anyone could have wanted in a leader. As the one taking on the reins now, I shudder to think of the shoes with the golden soles that I now have to try and fit into.”
Smith provided comic relief with her Letterman style list of what she learned from Goldberg over the years. The list included: “It’s soil, not dirt,” “a person can spend their lifetime studying plants in their native environment, yet still manage to kill every houseplant that exists within 10 feet of her,” and “never let Deborah drive the department van!” Smith concluded on a serious note. “It’s been an honor to serve with you, and I know we will continue to grow and benefit from your wisdom in the days and years ahead.”
“I think that largely due to Deborah’s aplomb as a leader, she united faculty, provided a vision and sense of direction, and importantly, was unfailingly open, honest and fair. She always seemed to be the conscience of groups and committees,” said Werner.
“As everyone here knows, Deborah is a dynamo,” said Raymond. “She is one of the most energetic people I know, always thinking of new ideas and devising ways to accomplish her challenging goals. Indicative of her prodigious ability to do so many things at once and all of them well: She has maintained an active research program during her 12 years as chair; she has taken on important leadership roles in her professional community; and she has raised a wonderful son, Benjamin, who is here with us today to honor his mother.
“Deborah is deeply committed to diversity and access. One of her lasting accomplishments that has impact beyond the department is the creation of the M-Bio Scholars Program, which has now expanded into the newly constituted M-STEM Academies. The goal of these NSF-funded programs is to increase the representation of women and minorities in the sciences by encouraging and supporting excellent but underprepared students who want to major in biology or other science disciplines.”
When Goldberg steps down as chair, she will take on her next big challenge to build and lead the M-STEM Academies in LSA, expanding from just biology to all of the natural sciences in LSA.
“Under her guidance, EEB has also taken a leadership role in promoting diversity and access at the graduate level, with the very successful Frontiers Master’s Program,” Raymond continued. “Also laudatory are the many outreach efforts sponsored by the department, such as the recent BioBlitz survey of biodiversity on Belle Isle.”
Raymond proclaimed that Goldberg is in all respects the Mother Earth, the Gaia, of EEB. “There never can and never will be another one like her,” she said. She crowned Goldberg with a wreath of leaves, flowers and ribbon as Gaia of Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity at the University of Michigan. A fitting honor, indeed, for our illustrious chair.
Captions: 1. Professors John Vandermeer, Deborah Goldberg, and Diarmaid Ó Foighil. 2. Some 100 people gathered to celebrate Goldberg's 12 years serving as chair of EEB. 3. Professor Earl Werner presented one of the talks in honor of Goldberg. 4. LSA Dean Terry McDonald attended the event and paid tribute to Goldberg's many accomplishments. 5. Professor Pamela Raymond crowned Goldberg as Mother Earth. Photo credit: Mark O'Brien.
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Olsen elected to SACUA
Monday, May 27, 2013
The Senate Assembly elected Professor Laura Olsen to a three-year term on the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs.
The faculty governance body elected three new members including Olsen who is professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, and faculty director of the Undergraduate Program in Biology.
Olsen was one of the highest vote getters of eight faculty members vying for positions on SACUA, the nine-member executive body of the faculty governance system, which also includes the University Senate and Senate Assembly. Their terms began May 1, 2013 and continue through April 30, 2016.
“The University of Michigan is an internationally renowned institution, in no small part due to its world-class faculty,” Olsen said in her candidate statement. “The privilege and challenge of faculty governance is to represent this very diverse group of individuals as we face increasing demands on our time, concerns about continued retirement and health benefits, and an uncertain financial future. I believe that it is important for all faculty voices to be considered in decisions being made that affect our outstanding faculty and amazing student body as we work to preserve and improve our scholarship and academic life.”
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