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$420K NSF grant for Hunter
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Professor Mark Hunter has been awarded a three-year NSF grant for over $420,000 to study how belowground ecological interactions influence host-parasite interactions above ground.
“Hosts and parasites are often studied as pair-wise interactions, without considering the ecological communities within which they interact,” wrote Hunter in his project summary. “This is problematic because other species in food webs may significantly alter parasite virulence and transmission, two traits that drive the evolutionary and ecological dynamics of host-parasite interactions.”
Hunter’s research will address this knowledge gap by examining how belowground species interactions alter the virulence and transmission of a host-specific parasite above ground. “In particular, the project will focus upon an interaction between monarch butterflies and their protozoan parasites, the milkweeds that monarchs use as larval food plants, and the mycorrhizal fungi that interact with milkweed roots.”
Such community-mediated indirect effects should be pervasive. For example, diverse organisms use natural products from their community members as medicines. In terrestrial plants, the expression of medicinal natural products is influenced strongly by mycorrhizal fungi.
The research project has two specific aims. “First, experiments will determine how different species and densities of mycorrhizal fungi affect the foliar composition of cardenolides (secondary milkweed chemicals that are toxic to monarch butterfly parasites) and the subsequent virulence and transmission potential of monarch parasites. Second, experiments will examine how mycorrhizal fungi affect the medication behavior of monarch butterflies. Previous work has shown that infected monarchs increase their offspring’s fitness by preferentially laying their eggs on high-cardenolide milkweed. The research will extend this work by determining whether mycorrhizal fungi alter the medicinal properties of milkweeds and thereby the oviposition preferences of infected monarchs.
Hunter’s research will integrate research with education in several ways. Many experiments are suitable as stand-alone projects, and students of multiple levels (undergraduate and graduate) and from diverse backgrounds will participate in the design, execution and presentation of this work. Dr. Jaap de Roode at Emory University, a collaborator in the research, also received funding from NSF.
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Herbarium completes imaging and digitization of type collections
Friday, April 19, 2013
The U-M Herbarium has completed a five-year project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to image and database its rich holdings of type collections of plants and fungi. A type specimen is the specimen which formed the basis of the original description of an organism.
This is part of a broader effort called the Global Plants Initiative (GPI) to digitize type collections of most major herbaria worldwide. The resulting scans and associated material have been made available online through the JSTOR Plant Science website.
Mainly through the efforts of Heather Huggins, a research museum collections specialist, over 23,000 type specimens were imaged and digitized. All specimens that were flattened and pressed were imaged, but 2,900 bulky lichen and fungal types were sent to the Field Museum in Chicago to be photographed with a specialized system adopted specifically for the GPI.
As part of an ongoing effort to continue databasing type specimens and to guarantee support for the initiative in the future, Professor Paul Berry, director of the U-M Herbarium, was elected to the GPI steering committee in 2012. The committee aims to encourage other institutions to join GPI, to continue to enhance the overall utility of the website, and more generally to integrate the initiative into broader informatics and digitization projects at national and international levels.
Caption: From 1964 - Cosmos mcvaughii, scanned from the Chicago Natural History Museum
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On U-M Gateway: Vandermeer chosen for U-M diversity service award
Friday, April 19, 2013
Professor John Vandermeer was among a select group of faculty awarded the 2013 Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award from the U-M Office of the Provost. The recipients were selected for their dedication to developing cultural and ethnic diversity at U-M.
“Your contributions to the multicultural mission of the university have been extensive and of extraordinary caliber,” wrote Lester P. Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, in the award letter. “It is my pleasure to bestow upon you this high honor.”
Established in 1996, the award is given in honor of Harold Johnson, dean emeritus of the School of Social Work. The award provides $5,000 to recipients to further research and scholarship opportunities. Vandermeer is the Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Alfred T. Thurnau Professor with affiliations in the Center for the Study of Complex Systems, Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics, School of Natural Resources and Environment, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and American Studies.
Deborah Goldberg, Elzada U. Clover Collegiate Professor and chair of EEB, who was a recipient of the award in 2012, wrote of Vandermeer, “I cannot think of anyone more deserving… I have had the good fortune to be a colleague of John’s for almost 30 years, with experiences ranging from being an assistant professor in awe of an already highly distinguished senior colleague, to being chair of his department and plotting with him how to increase the diversity of our graduate students. In all those years, he has been THE member of our department (first Biology, now EEB) who has been the most sensitive to problems of racial and gender inequality, most aware of the social science data that exposes the causes of those problems, and most active in seeking solutions. John is absolutely committed to social justice and is willing to make the effort that’s needed to effect change, both at an individual level and an institutional level.
“As an individual mentor, John has worked hard to recruit and support students from nontraditional and disadvantaged backgrounds, including underrepresented minorities from the U.S., economically and educationally disadvantaged students from Central America, and women of all backgrounds. He has spent huge amounts of time helping students to develop the skills necessary to succeed in graduate school.”
Vandermeer has been instrumental in initiating several programs that have made or are making important improvements in EEB’s recruitment and retention of nontraditional students. Several years ago, he and Professor Ivette Perfecto of SNRE received an NCID-ADVANCE grant to develop a recruiting program for undergraduates from institutions with high populations of underrepresented minorities. They have established close connections with Howard University, Tuskegee University, Morehouse College, and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and that program continues to recruit graduate students to EEB.
Vandermeer is the principal investigator of an NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program that recruits and funds underrepresented minority students for a research experience during the summer between their first and sophomore years.
“As one of the founding members of STRIDE (Strategies and Tactics for Recruiting to Improve Diversity and Excellence), John was critical in developing the workshops used to train faculty search committees to be aware and counter the unconscious biases relative to gender and racial minorities that underlie evaluation and the subtle phenomena that make a climate unfavorable,” wrote Goldberg. “After completing his rotation on STRIDE, John became a founding member of PRIDE, a similar group that works on biases in the graduate admissions and mentoring process.
“He has improved the lives of many students in EEB and at the university and made substantial progress in increasing diversity at organizational scales from his own lab to the department to the university.”
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On U-M Gateway: FRACKTOPIA video with Nadelhoffer
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
The gas and oil recovery techniques of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling are changing the American energy landscape. What are the potential effects of these technologies? The U-M College of Engineering has created a multimedia site and is cosponsoring a town hall with Michigan Radio on April 16 to explore the future of fracking in Michigan.
Professor Knute Nadelhoffer is interviewed in the video at 13:16 and 19:20. Watch the video and find out more.
U-M Gateway (scroll through the featured photos at the top of the page)
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On U-M Gateway: geladas' vocal lip smacks resemble human speech
Monday, April 15, 2013
Move over Planet of the Apes. The rhythmic vocal sounds made by lip smacking in wild gelada monkeys have similarities to human speech, a new U-M study shows.
Lip smacking, a common primate facial gesture used in friendly interactions, involves rapid opening and closing of mouth parts in a speech-like fashion. However, geladas are unique because they simultaneously vocalize while lip smacking to produce a sound that has been called a "wobble."
The gelada wobbles have a rhythm that closely matches the pacing of syllables spoken by humans, says Thore Bergman, U-M assistant professor in the departments of Psychology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Researchers tracked geladas in the Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia where they recorded the unusual sounds of th is species. Bergman describes geladas as sociable creatures with a large vocal repertoire. The wobble is used primarily by males and always in a friendly context.
Bergman analyzed the recordings of geladas' vocal sounds, tracking their duration and frequency. Using the digitized waveform of wobbles, he measured the peaks (loud parts) and valleys (quiet parts) that occurred several times a second. The analysis shows a close match between the intervals in gelada sounds and human speech -- something that no other primate vocalization has been shown to do.
As Bergman and other U-M researchers continue their work analyzing lip smacks, they want to learn if these sounds have a special function for the geladas. The paper was published in Current Biology April 8, 2013.
Previously on the U-M Gateway (April 8, 2013)
U-M News Service press release
Caption: Gelada monkeys in conversation. Image credit: Clay Wilton
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In memoriam: alumna Dr. Nancy Walls: a lifetime of adventure and generosity
Monday, April 15, 2013
Dr. Nancy Walls, 82, died at Arbor Hospice on March 19, 2013. She was born in 1930 in Johnstown, Penn., the first of Frederick Alton and Effa Marie (Tucker) Williams' two children. The family moved frequently so her father could find work as a carpenter during the Great Depression, and she attended multiple elementary schools in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Ohio. Despite this, she skipped the eighth grade, entered high school in Maryland at the age of 12, and finished high school at 15 in Akron, Ohio, where the family finally settled. Her mother decided she should go to secretarial school but, after mastering the steno machine, she was bored and cut classes to go to a friend's home. She entered the University of Akron as a 16 year-old and transferred to the University of Michigan after two years. There she completed her undergraduate and master's degrees, began her doctoral program, and met and married a fellow microbiologist, (her now ex-husband) Kenneth Walls, Ph.D., in 1956. They moved to Atlanta where she taught at Emory for a year while writing her Ph.D. dissertation on the effects of gamma radiation on botulism.
Walls spent her academic career at the Georgia Institute of Technology, joining their Engineering Experiment Station in 1959 and helping develop their Biology Department in 1962. 1966 proved a banner year for her as she spent February through April in Antarctica on a Navy ship with a NSF grant retrieving and studying microorganisms from the ocean floor. That summer, she presented papers at scientific meetings in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy and a botulism seminar in Moscow, Russia, arriving home to find that NSF wanted her to go back to Antarctica from September to November, which she did. From 1969-1970, she became the first woman to head a Georgia Tech department. In 1973, she established ABI, Inc. an environmental consulting firm. Among its major projects was the study and protection of sea turtles around nuclear power plants. When she retired in 1997, she did not forget the many glass ceilings she had encountered and remained a committed advocate for and supporter of careers for women in science. Happily, she lived to witness much progress at her alma mater.
Wall's travels took her to every continent and friends teased her about her seeming need to "keep moving up": learning to fly her own airplane; climbing Long's Peak in Estes Park; hiking to the Eagles Nest in Bhutan; hot air ballooning in Australia’s outback. She had a deep interest in the Indians of the Southwest, their pottery and weavings. She loved animals, sometimes more than people, especially those she felt were trashing the Earth and its creatures. Her respect for animals did not prevent her from being stalked by a mountain lion at the Grand Canyon, almost backing into a reclining moose while taking pictures in Yellowstone, surprising freshwater seals when she swam in Lake Baikal, and catching lice from a camel she rode to the pyramids. A second retinal vein occlusion in 2001 left Walls blind. She bore this affliction with stoicism and equanimity. Known for her photographic memory and vivid imagination, she took some comfort in being able to conjure up visual images from her many past adventures.
Walls was a generous donor to U-M, her desire was to provide support in the three areas where she participated. She provided an expendable scholarship that she was later able to fully endow as the need-based Dr. Nancy Williams Walls Scholarship for undergraduate students from out-of-state majoring in the natural sciences. Her dream was that students like her would have the opportunity to come to Michigan and begin a career that would enable them to pursue their intellectual passions and achieve their dreams.
In 2004, she began funding the Young Scientists Symposium (now called Early Career Scientists Symposium) because she was so impressed by EEB Chair Deborah Goldberg's vision. Walls originally planned to fund the symposium for "two or three years" but she continued her sponsorship through 2013. As hoped, the symposium gained in size and prestige each year and provides a prominent platform for early career researchers that might not otherwise be available.
In 2008, Walls began regular support of the U-M Biological Station as part of the President's Challenge for Graduate Support to commemorate her graduate work at Michigan. Walls’ gifts to U-M totaled over $450,000 and in addition, she made a bequest to the Medical School for the Department of Microbiology and Immunology to honor "the most wonderful teacher I ever had" who taught Introduction to Microbiology when she was a doctoral student.
Walls wanted her gifts to demonstrate her gratitude to the university that started her science career and made her dreams come true. The generous U-M alumna has left her mark on the university and the science community at large in countless ways.
Walls is survived by her brother and sister-in-law, Frederick and Jean Williams and their two sons: Frederick, III ("Trey") and his three sons; and, Drs. Kenneth and Katherine Williams and their sons, Alec and Luke. Donations in her memory may be made to the University of Michigan for the Dr. Nancy Williams Walls Scholarship Endowment Fund in LSA, which supports undergraduate science majors, or to a charity of your choice. To make a donation to the Dr. Nancy Williams Walls Scholarship, call (888) 518-7888 (toll-free) or (734) 647-6179 (local) 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. EST. The respectful care and sensitivity of the staff at Arbor Hospice afforded dignity to her final days.
(Most of the obituary was published in AnnArbor.com, March 24, 2013)
Caption: Deborah Goldberg and Nancy Walls at the Young Scientists Symposium in 2009.
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On U-M Gateway: self-medication in animals much more widespread than believed
Friday, April 12, 2013
It's been known for decades that animals such as chimpanzees seek out medicinal herbs to treat their diseases. But in recent years, the list of animal pharmacists has grown much longer, and it now appears that the practice of animal self-medication is a lot more widespread than previously thought, according to Professor Mark Hunter and his colleagues.
Animals use medications to treat various ailments through both learned and innate behaviors. The fact that moths, ants and fruit flies are now known to self-medicate has profound implications for the ecology and evolution of animal hosts and their parasites, according to Hunter.
In addition, because plants remain the most promising source of future pharmaceuticals, studies of animal medication may lead the way in discovering new drugs to relieve human suffering, Hunter and two colleagues wrote in a review article titled "Self-Medication in Animals," published online April 11 in the journal Science. Beyond self-medication, there are many cases in which animals medicate their offspring or other kin.
The authors argue that animal medication has several major consequences on the ecology and evolution of host-parasite interactions. For one, when animal medication reduces the health of parasites, there should be observable effects on parasite transmission or virulence.
The authors also note that the study of animal medication will have direct relevance for human food production. Disease problems in agricultural organisms can worsen when humans interfere with the ability of animals to medicate, they point out.
The first author of the Science paper is Jacobus de Roode, assistant professor of biology, Emory University. The other author is Thierry Lefevre of the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement in France.
Caption: A parasite-infected monarch butterfly lays her eggs on medicinal tropical milkweed that will help to protect her offspring from disease. Credit: Jaap de Roode
U-M News Service press release
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He wins Edwin H. Edwards Scholarship
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Qixin He has been awarded the 2013 Edwin H. Edwards Scholarship in Biology. The scholarship for graduate students studying biology is in memory of Edwards, who received his bachelors of science degree in biology from U-M in 1892.
“Climate change and human disturbance increase the threats posed by disease vectors,” said He. “Therefore, understanding mechanisms enabling their rapid adaptation is of central importance. My current research focuses on whether a specific chromosomal structural change (i.e., chromosomal inversions) facilitates adaptive divergence of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae, the most severe malaria vector in sub-Sahara Africa. Such chromosomal structural changes may promote local adaptation because they buffer populations from the mixing effects of migrants from different habitats.
“In this study, genome-wide genetic variation of each individual will be obtained from next generation sequencing technology. Genetic variation patterns of chromosomal inversions, together with their spatial distributions, can be used to test whether inversions contributed to genomic divergence among ecologically dissimilar populations connected by migration.”
“The results will be directly relevant to informing pest control agencies of which demographic or genetic factors will be the best target to impede rapid adaptation in mosquitoes. For example, it can provide critical information on whether genetically modified mosquitoes can compete with native populations and survive in the local environment. The work will foster academic communications between the United States and Cameroonian researchers and students, and promote the education of local communities in malaria preventions.” She studies in the lab of Professor L. Lacey Knowles.
The recipient is selected based on the novelty and scholarship of the proposed research; the clarity, merit, and appropriate scope and feasibility of the research plan; progress in the program including prior research results; and a letter of recommendation. The award is for one semester during the 2013 – 2014 academic year, including stipend, tuition, and GradCare benefits. This fellowship is given via a generous bequest of Julia A. Edwards for use in the recruitment of new doctoral students studying biology and to support current students whose distinguished performance is considered worthy of special recognition.
Caption: Qixin He catches mosquitoes in a village in Cameroon and meets local villagers.
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Crumsey awarded Brower Fellowship
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Jasmine Crumsey is the 2013 recipient of the Helen Olsen Brower Memorial Fellowship in Environmental Studies from EEB, awarded annually to a graduate student working in applied sciences for the conservation of natural resources.
Crumsey’s research looks at carbon (C) dynamics in a northern U.S. temperate forest. She is assessing the long-term impacts of above-ground leaf litter inputs and exotic earthworm activity on soil at the U-M Biological Station. Her advisor is Professor Knute Nadelhoffer.
“Because of its importance in C storage, alteration to the pool size or turnover time of C in soil organic matter may have large implications for the overall C dynamics of forest ecosystems,” said Crumsey.
“In northern temperate forests, aboveground leaf litter inputs function both as a key source of C inputs to soil organic matter and a driving factor of earthworm abundance and biomass. Soil organic matter processing is catalyzed by microbe-produced enzymes, whose activity can shift dramatically following earthworm invasions into temperate forests. Correlating soil C chemistry with measurements of enzymatic activity and earthworm biodiversity along a leaf litter gradient will highlight more precisely factors driving soil organic matter mineralization. I am studying shifts in soil C properties and microbial enzyme activity in response to earthworm community activity and long-term leaf litter input manipulations within the Detritus Input Removal and Transfer [DIRT] Experiment.
“Biological invasions have both ecological and economic consequences evident in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems of the Great Lakes region. Many studies have focused on aboveground terrestrial invasions, while belowground invasions have received notably less attention. The study of belowground invasions, however, is equally important for our larger understanding of how forest ecosystems respond to disturbance. Further, the UMBS DIRT experiment is one of five DIRT sites established across diverse ecosystems in the U.S. and abroad. Insights generated from this work will facilitate comparative studies linking above- and belowground ecosystem processes. Receipt of this award will thereby support research addressing a critical issue facing the Great Lakes region, and facilitate collaborations beyond the University of Michigan.
The prestigious award provides one semester of fellowship funding for stipend, tuition and benefits. Sally and Caspar Offutt, Jr., endowed this fellowship in tribute to Sally's mother who graduated in biology in 1917 from the University of Michigan. Brower led a vigorous public life touching on wide-ranging endeavors from politics to war relief. She invariably found her greatest satisfaction with projects involving the outdoors.
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Sheehan's dissertation wins honorable mention
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Michael Sheehan’s dissertation was awarded a ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Awards honorable mention from the Rackham Graduate School. He presented his defense, “The evolution of individual recognition in paper wasps,” April 13, 2012. Sheehan’s mentor was Professor Elizabeth Tibbetts.
“While all graduating Rackham students produce dissertations of quality, some students write dissertations that are truly exceptional for the high caliber of their scholarship and for the significance and interest of their findings,” states the Rackham Graduate School website. “We recognize these exceptional dissertations with the ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Awards.”
Dissertations are nominated for the award by university faculty members who have served as chairs of dissertation committees of outstanding students. The nominations are then read by a review panel composed of members of the Michigan Society of Fellows, with assistance from other members of the university faculty and research community.
The awards are cosponsored by ProQuest, which publishes nearly 80,000 dissertations and theses annually, including more than 700 by U-M authors.
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Records 11 to 20 of 294