Hear alumnus Cooley on NPR Science Friday
John Cooley, a Ph.D. biology alumnus (1999) and a former U-M Museum of Zoology Insect Division student will be interviewed on NPR's Science Friday May 20, 2011. Cooley is a periodical cicada researcher who will discuss the current mass re-emergence of 13-year cicadas from the southern United States to Maryland, and as far west as Iowa. Cooley is a research scientist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at The University of Connecticut.
EEB Outstanding Student Paper Award
EEB graduate student Jeremy Wright won the 2011 EEB Outstanding Student Paper Award for "Conservative Coevolution of Müllerian Mimicry in a Group of Rift Lake Catfish," the cover story in the February issue of Evolution.
"We chose this paper because the author used a variety of approaches to answer an interesting and understudied question about how Müllerian mimicry evolves," wrote Joseph Coolon, one of the postdoctoral fellows who reviewed the submitted papers. "The author used creative, well-performed assays using evolutionarily interesting non-model organisms and the results show a novel mechanism for the origin of Müllerian mimicry and also characterized one of few known examples of Müllerian mimicry in vertebrates. Finally, the paper was well-written, accessible to people in other fields, and claims are supported throughout. While all the papers submitted were great, we feel that this paper stood out as the best overall."
Every year one graduate student paper is selected based on approach of study, scope of findings, and insights into questions of broad scientific interest using multiple lines of evidence. The prize is $500.
Sweetland Fellows Seminar grant
Dr. Lynn Carpenter, lecturer and advisor, received a $4,000 grant to attend the Sweetland Fellows Seminar, which emphasizes the importance of writing in undergraduate curriculum. Carpenter used the experience and time to revamp the General Ecology Lab from Biology 282 to what is now EEB 372 and meets the upper level writing requirement.
"We added several writing assignments, including a grant proposal (which can potentially be submitted to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society), a review paper, field notebook entries, and a large research paper at the end. We even were fortunate enough to receive funding from Sweetland for one graduate student instructor (GSI) position whose task will be to help develop the new writing component of the course. Carpenter is a lecturer and advisor in the Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and an advisor for the Program in Biology.
Tree of life sprouts new branch: James interviewed on NPR
Listen in to Professor Timothy James who was interviewed as a related expert on National Public Radio Thursday, May 12, 2011 regarding a paper published in Nature from researchers at the University of Exeter, UK, showing that the evolutionary tree of fungi grew a new branch.
EEB bragging rights
Check out these awards received by EEB graduate students Ya Yang, Na Wei, Leiling Tao, and Alexa Unruh during the 2010-2011 academic year.
Yang was awarded $10,000 for one year from the National Tropical Botanical Garden for her project, "Phylogenetic analysis of Hawaiian Chamaesyce using nuclear low-copy markers." Yang is investigating unresolved issues related to Euphorbia, an important genus of Hawaiian flora. Her research will contribute to an understanding of its biogeography and adaptive evolution.
Wei received a Rackham International Student Fellowship of $7,500 for tuition or stipend during spring/summer 2011. Her research focuses on dissecting gene flow pathways in tropical forest tree species. She is interested in integrating ecological modeling and genetic approaches into the study of interactions between tree species and their dispersal vectors. The award is based on a strong academic record, progress toward degree, demonstration of outstanding academic and professional promise.
Tao received a Matthaei Botanical Gardens Fellowship of $760.00. Tao is researching the interaction of plant stoichiometric imbalance and toxicity of secondary chemicals on herbivore growth. She is exploring whether the negative effects of plant toxins on animals are dependent on plant quality.
Unruh was awarded a Huron Mountain Wildlife Foundation research grant of over $10,000 to support her master's thesis fieldwork in 2010-2011. Her study is titled, "Shrews and global change: An investigation of the microclimates experienced by shrews in the northern Great Lakes." Unruh studies shrew communities and the microhabitat variables influencing them, with a particular focus on temperature and humidity in 10 different habitats.
New AAAS fellow
Joel Blum, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Geological Sciences and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology is a newly elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Fellows are honored for their distinguished efforts in advancing science.
Blum was chosen for his innovative and important contributions in trace metal and isotopic geochemistry and biogeochemistry that have significantly advanced understanding of Earth processes. He is one of nine U-M faculty members who are among 503 new fellows selected in 2011.
Red Cross volunteer aids tornado devastated N.C.
Following a storm that spawned some 200 tornadoes that ravaged the South in April, EEB staff member Dale Austin, was one of a legion of American Red Cross volunteers called into action. Austin spent two weeks in late April to early May at the Raleigh, N.C. district headquarters taking care of logistics. He was a facility coordinator supporting the volunteers who provide services to those affected by the disaster.
Austin's experience was, "as always, a physically and emotionally demanding job under less than ideal circumstances. The staff of the Triangle Area Chapter of the American Red Cross made my stay as easy and pleasant as possible."
He said his reasons for volunteering are complicated. "There is some personal satisfaction for a job accomplished under difficult conditions -- a challenge that stretches personal limits. Mostly, though, it's the dues we pay for living in a civilized world. That I do this today means that someone else may be available to help me if my home is destroyed.
"I get to meet and work with a huge range of people -- all walks of life, ethnic groups, wealthy and not. It's good to get other perspectives on the world."
Austin tracked, reassigned, and released a fleet of about 30 rental vehicles, acquired, inspected, and released facilities, and requisitioned supplies for the headquarters. "My area of coverage is one small corner of a larger whole," Austin said. "There are folks performing these same tasks at headquarters, kitchens and shelters throughout the state." He is a media consultant, desktop publisher and photographer for EEB and the Department of Geology at U-M.
"Dale is a wonderful example of a busy professional, who's able to commit time away from his active life towards the service of others," said Donna Duvin, regional CEO, American Red Cross, Washtenaw Regional Chapter. "We at Washtenaw County ARC are so very fortunate to have him!"
Faculty grants review
Here are a couple of EEB faculty grants received in early 2011:
Professor Trisha Wittkopp received a $7,000 REU supplement from the National Science Foundation for her project, "The evolution of gene expression: molecular mechanisms and inheritance patterns revealed on a genomic scale with next-generation sequencing."
Dr. Anton Reznicek received nearly $20,000 for one year from the Clarence and Florence Hanes Fund for his project to publish a one volume update and condensation of the three volume "Michigan Flora."
Messinger wins Rackham's Margaret Ayers Host Award
Susanna Messinger is the recipient of the Margaret Ayers Host Award for Rackham graduate students. The $5,000 award is for spring and summer support and research and is given to graduate students who excel as scholars and show promise of future contributions in their field and community.
Messinger's current dissertation research seeks to unravel the evolutionary effects of spatial structure on species interactions. "I focus on the theory of spatial effects on predator evolution, specifically pathogens and true predators," she said.
"Overall, in addition to improving our understanding of the structure and composition of complex communities, this research has implications for understanding emerging infectious diseases. Thus, the potential applied benefits of this research range from improved conservation and preservation of precious ecological resources to better control of human disease and agricultural pests."
Host received a Rackham degree in 1942 and went on to study at the University of Oxford. As an alumna, she served U-M in many capacities. After her death in 1987, the Margaret Ayers Host endowment was established to honor her memory and her remarkable contributions as a scholar and to the U-M community and to support women graduate students in perpetuity.
Faculty grants in brief
Here's a summary of EEB faculty grants received in late 2010:
Professor Mark Hunter was awarded about $150,000 for three years from the National Science Foundation for his project, "Collaborative Research: Geographic Variation in Plant-Herbivore-Parasite Interactions: Self-Medication in Monarch Butterflies."
Professor Aaron King received close to $60,000 from the National Institutes of Health for his project, "Fogarty International Center and RAPIDD Intergovernmental Personnel Act Assignment Agreement," which runs through June 2012.
Professor Catherine Badgley was awarded just over $130,000 for three years from the National Science Foundation for her project, "Collaborative Research: Climatic and Biotic Transformations of Neogene Mammalian Faunas of Pakistan."
Professor George Kling received nearly $290,000 for three years from the National Science Foundation for his project, "Collaborative Research: Turning on the lights – Photochemical and microbial processing of newly exposed carbon in arctic ecosystems."
Quality children's fiction that teaches science
Ducks in the Flow: Resources about Surface Ocean Currents for the Upper Elementary Classroom is a partnership between Eastern Michigan University and the Windows to the Universe team. Dr. Laura Eidietis, EEB lecturer, is a collaborator.
"The idea is to write quality children's fiction that also teaches science - both science conceptual knowledge and process," said Dr. Laura Eidietis, an EEB lecturer. "The storybook is really neat - I am personally a big fan. I can say that because I didn't write it. I just consulted and said things like 'That's not what barnacles look like' and 'ducks in Lake Michigan are not typically white,' and such."
Eidietis works with a team at EMU to write the children's activities that accompany the book as a summer consulting job apart from her lecturer role. "I really enjoyed the process and have volunteered to do it again if my partner, Dr. Sandra Rutherford in Geology and Geography at EMU, gets funding to do another set of two storybooks and associated activities.
Our goal was to increase ocean literacy in K-16 education. Thus, the storybook module has been inserted into a pre-service teacher Earth Science class at EMU. They do the activities, learn about the content, and think about how to use the activities in their future classrooms. Eidietis gave workshops at Hunter College, CUNY, and other workshops have been done around the country.
Eidietis interviews teachers who used the storybook, surveys teachers and undergraduates, and analyzes data. "If teachers learn about particular resources in their training, they tend to use those resources. This is not earth-shattering, but the data backing up the common sense has been lacking. Also, teachers feelings of preparedness to teach topical areas, such as ocean literacy, correlates with the frequency that they teach these topics. This is despite all the standards telling them what to teach - feelings of efficacy still matter."
This project is funded by a substantial award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Eiditis has several publications related to this research, including in Teaching Science and the Journal of Geoscience Education.
Brower Fellowship awarded
Liz Wason is the 2011 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.
Wason's research focuses on plant-insect interactions and plant defenses against herbivores. "The work has implications for biocontrol efforts in agricultural systems," she said. "The control of pests by manipulating the defenses against herbivores used naturally by plants may be a viable substitute for synthetic pesticides."
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.
The 2010 Brower fellow was John Marino, who studies the interactive effects of parasitism and predation on amphibian populations. Read more about Marino's research in the previous news item on his NSF DDIG award.
Digging it! Two NSF DDIGs
EEB graduate students Jasmine Crumsey and John Marino have won Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants from the National Science Foundation. The approximately $15,000 awards are for two years.
Crumsey will examine how interactions among different earthworm species will affect carbon storage. This project will answer unresolved questions regarding changes in forest carbon storage in response to invasions involving multiple earthworm species. As stated in Crumsey's abstract, "this research will have important implications for assessments of exotic earthworm invasion impacts on forest carbon balances in temperate regions. Further, results will improve our understanding of biological invasions on temperate forests and their impacts on forest environmental, economic, and cultural values. The project also has an important international collaboration component that involves researchers in France, where these worms invaded forests long ago. Outcomes will have implications for science policy. For example, there are no current restrictions on the importation of exotic earthworm species to the U.S., nor is there current legislation designed to limit their further spread."
Marino researches the effects of predators and parasites on larval amphibian communities. He will examine how differences among species in susceptibility to these natural enemies can affect community structure and composition. "Recent studies suggest that these parasites are increasing in abundance in areas near human activities such as agriculture and urbanization," he explained. "In order to understand the implications of this increased abundance, it is necessary to consider not only the direct effects of these parasites, but also how they interact with other prevalent stressors of amphibian populations, such as predators. My research will provide key insights into the mechanisms through which disease and predation jointly impact wildlife populations. These insights will be valuable to plan for the conservation of species that are exposed to a combination of threats."
The National Science Foundation awards DDIGs in selected areas of the biological sciences. These grants provide partial support of doctoral dissertation research to improve the overall quality of research.
Take control of your statistical arguments with Estabrook's book
Professor George Estabrook's book "A Computational Approach to Statistical Argument in Ecology and Evolution," published by Cambridge University Press, will be available in September 2011.
"Scientists need statistics. Increasingly this is accomplished using computational approaches. Freeing readers from the constraints, mysterious formulas and sophisticated mathematics of classical statistics, this book is ideal for researchers who want to take control of their own statistical arguments. It demonstrates how to use spreadsheet macros to calculate the probability distribution predicted for any statistic by any hypothesis. This enables readers to use anything that can be calculated (or observed) from their data as a test statistic and hypothesize any probabilistic mechanism that can generate data sets similar in structure to the one observed.
"A wide range of natural examples drawn from ecology, evolution, anthropology, palaeontology and related fields give valuable insights into the application of the described techniques, while complete example macros and useful procedures demonstrate the methods in action and provide starting points for readers to use or modify in their own research." (from CUP's website) Preorder the book.
In case you missed Professor John Vandermeer's 2011 Distinguished University Professorship Lecture, "Ecological Complexity and the Struggle for a New Agriculture," April 11, you can watch the video.
In memoriam - Professor Emeritus John M. Allen, cell biology innovator
Professor Emeritus John M. Allen, age 84, passed away April 20, 2011. Allen served as chair of the Department of Zoology from 1966-71, retiring in 1989 following 37 years of service. A native of Springfield, Miss., Allen received his bachelor's degree in zoology and an honorary Sc.D. degree from Drury College in 1948 and 1970, respectively. He received his doctorate degree in zoology from the University of Michigan in 1954. Allen joined the University of Michigan faculty as an instructor in 1952. He was appointed assistant professor in 1956, promoted to associate professor in 1960, and professor in 1964.
Allen brought cell biology to Michigan, ushering in a wave of change in the faculty that continues to this day. His scholarship involved, at first, application of light microscopy to the localization of enzymes in animal cells. His cytochemical studies were among the very first to permit an understanding, in specific chemical terms, of the functions of several intracellular organelles: notably the Golgi systems (which had long been deemed as an artifact), and the then newly discovered lysosomes and peroxisomes. He published widely on these subjects and on isozymes - multiple forms of similar enzymes within the same cell type. In the 1960s, he helped organize the American Society for Cell Biology and served as president of the Histochemical Society.
He was a frequent contributor to scientific symposia, such as those of the New York Academy of Sciences. In the Department of Zoology, Allen served as principal mentor to predoctoral students and associate mentor for other students. His generosity extended far beyond his own immediate circle of graduate students to seemingly all faculty and students who wished to learn the special technology that he had mastered and developed. Outside of his scientific endeavors, Allen was decorated with the Silver Star for his service in World War II.
Three cheers for three NSF fellows
EEB Ph.D. student John Guittar, and incoming Ph.D. students Jordan Bemmels and Katherine Crocker are recipients of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. They receive $30,000 a year for three years and an additional $10,500 annually for healthcare and tuition.
Bemmels hopes to study the genomic basis of local adaptation in drought tolerance in populations of a tropical tree species, along a precipitation gradient in Panama. This work will provide insight into the evolutionary biology of drought adaptation, as well as have implications for predicting how populations may respond to changing climates. Bemmels has elected to put his funding on reserve status during 2011-2012.
Katherine Crocker will be doing behavioral ecology research with Professor Elizabeth Tibbetts, and she anticipates working with chemical communication in Hymenoptera, one of the largest orders of insects comprising wasps, bees, ants and sawflies.
Guittar will investigate the origins and evolution of Pouteria, a taxonomically confusing genus of trees with a high relative abundance in many tropical forests. Read more about Guittar's research in the following news item. Pictured (left to right): Jordan Bemmels, Katherine Crocker, John Guittar.
International Institute Individual Fellowships
Cindy Bick, Frontiers master's student and John Guittar, Ph.D. student, are winners of U-M's International Institute Individual Fellowships. They will each receive $4,000 to help support their research abroad.
Cindy Bick will conduct research this summer at the Zoological Society of London. Bick will be gathering demographic data from their captive Tahitian tree snail populations to investigate why some species differentially survived a recent mass extinction event.
Guittar will investigate the origins and evolution of Pouteria, a taxonomically confusing genus of trees with a high relative abundance in many tropical forests. "Specifically, I am interested in exploring the roles of hybridization and reproductive isolation on tropical tree diversification," said Guittar. "The International Institute Fellowship will support one summer of travel and help me to build connections with botanists and local students at Yasuni field station in eastern Ecuador."
Biodiversity improves water quality in streams through a division of labor
Research by Professor Brad Cardinale is on the U-M Gateway and LSA home page. Watch for an EEB research feature coming soon.
Ecology Letters cover story
Professor Mark Hunter and colleagues at Emory University published what will be the cover story in the May 2011 issue of Ecology Letters. Their paper shows how one animal species in a community can affect how a different animal species catches a disease.
Hunter says that this paper is the second part of a story about how monarch butterflies get disease. In their October 2010 Ecology Letters paper, they showed that female monarchs choose plants with a chemistry that reduces disease transmission.
For the current paper, they studied a food web consisting of two species of milkweed, two milkweed herbivores (monarch butterfly and oleander aphid) and a monarch butterfly specific parasite.
"It turns out that animals like aphids can change the chemistry of milkweeds so that monarch butterflies become more susceptible to disease," Hunter said. "We normally think of disease transmission as being a matter only for the disease and the host organism. It turns out that other species matter too."
Tao wins Barbour Scholarship
EEB graduate student Leiling Tao has been awarded the Barbour Scholarship for 2010-11 by the Rackham Graduate School. Tao joins a long line of outstanding women who, over the past 96 years, have become leaders in science, education, public service, medicine and other fields in their home countries all over the world. She will receive $17,200, tuition and health and dental insurance for the academic year.
In 1914, the bequest of Levi L. Barbour established a scholarship program at U-M for women of the highest academic and professional caliber from the area formerly known as the Orient (encompassing the region extending from Turkey in the west to Japan and the Philippines in the east) to study modern science, medicine, mathematics and other academic disciplines and professions critical to the development of their native lands. Tao is originally from Guangzhou, China. She graduated from Sun Yat-sen University with a bachelor's degree in ecology in 2008. Tao currently studies how resource imbalance affects species interactions under global environmental change. For her future career she plans to apply her knowledge in theoretical and applied research to natural and degraded ecosystems in China.
Third annual BioKIDS Science Convention a success
More than 120 Detroit Public School sixth-graders presented the results of small-group science projects March 22 at the Michigan League Ballroom to local scientists that included a large EEB contingent. The students answered questions about what they have learned about ecosystems, biodiversity and ecology, and had an opportunity to ask the scientists questions.
"I was really happy with the turnout from EEB and other university units," said George Hammond, research program officer the Museum of Zoology and program officer for BioKIDS. "Along with SNRE and PitE, we had a few folks from environmental health, School of Ed, engineering, even dentistry. The kids seemed to have great time."
One of the teachers mentioned to Hammond that her kids were anxious beforehand, afraid that they were going to be sternly questioned by the scientists. They were really happy when everyone was so positive, and this was great for their confidence, Hammond said.
"The BioKIDS Convention demonstrates once again that not only are Detroit Public School elementary age students capable of sophisticated thinking about current and important science topics, but that they thrive with such challenges," said Nancy Songer, professor of education and project director of BioKIDS and Deep Think.
"Lately it seems as if a lot of talk associated with education and schools focuses on failing schools or cheating on tests. The BioKIDS Convention also proves that successful partnerships between public schools and universities not only exist, but they can shift the talk to topics that are more important, such as kids and learning."
Appreciation goes out to the following who represented EEB at the convention: David Allen, Susan Cheng, Jasmine Crumsey, Brian Dorsey, Evan Economo, Kenneth Elgersma, Huijie Gan, Deborah Goldberg, Antonio Golubski, John Guittar, Aaron Iverson, Doug Jackson, Jo Kurdziel, Hayley Lanier, Ines Ibanez, John Marino, Gail McCormick (undergraduate), Leslie McGinnis, Marshall McMunn (undergraduate), Susanna Messinger, Theresa Ong, Semoya Phillips, Lucy Tran, Liz Wason, William Webb.
Lehman elected secretary of U-M Senate
The University Senate elected Professor John Lehman as secretary of the Senate.
"I have a history of serving in elected faculty governance, and I stand for transparency and broad participation," Lehman said. He will serve a three-year term, and is charged with maintaining records for U-M's faculty governance panels and with keeping the minutes of meetings of the University Senate and Senate Assembly.
"The big challenges right now involve threats to tenure and both health and retirement benefits. We need to keep the academic enterprise strong while we endure a very challenging budget environment."
The University Senate consists of all professorial faculty, librarians, full-time research faculty, executive officers and deans. The Senate Assembly consists of 74 elected faculty members from the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses. University Record article.
Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship award
Wenfeng Qian, a graduate student in Professor Jianzhi Zhang's Lab has been awarded the Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship. The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship supports outstanding doctoral students who have achieved candidacy and are actively working on dissertation research and writing.
Qian studies mechanisms underlying evolutionary processes, especially how the changes at the molecular level result in the shifts of phenotypes. He uses Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model organism, addressing questions on the molecular mechanisms that lead to adaptive traits.
Qian will receive $27,000 over three terms, candidacy tuition and registration fees for fall and winter as well as GradCare health and dental insurance coverage during the fellowship period.
Romulus eighth-grader visits Wittkopp Lab
Jalen Copeland, a student from Summit Academy School in Romulus, Mich., visited Professor Patricia Wittkopp's lab recently as part of his school science career project.
"It was great fun talking with Jalen about his interests and giving him a sense of what scientists and professors do," said Wittkopp, who spent time answering his questions. "He sat in on my genetics course, learned about what we do in the lab from my lab members, did some hands-on work, and sat in on a journal club discussion."
Copeland helped MCDB graduate student Lisa Arnold set up a PCR reaction. "Often the youngest folks interested in visiting a lab are high school level," she said. "I think it was good for me to have to explain science and elaborate on what we do to an even younger age."
"Jalen particularly enjoyed vortexing the PCR master mix to get it very thoroughly mixed!" said Arielle Cooley, postdoctoral fellow. "He helped me load DNA onto an agarose gel, and learned how an electrical current causes the DNA to migrate through the gel. He used ultraviolet light to make the DNA fluoresce a bright pink color. Jalen toured the autoclaving facilities, where heat and pressure are used to sterilize lab equipment, with lab manager Elizabeth Walker. Finally, he examined fruit flies and learned about their life cycles with MCDB graduate student Gizem Kalay."
Kalay said, "he was able to distinguish male and female Drosophila melanogaster from each other by looking at the abdominal pigmentation difference. He observed mutant and transgenic D. melanogaster flies under a tissue scope. He was introduced to different species of Drosophila (novamexicana and americana) collected from various regions of the U.S. In the end he was also quite entertained by observing his hands under the tissue scope."
Jalen learned about the surprising way in which simple changes to gene sequences can have a big effect on what an animal looks like, Wittkopp added. "The best part of my experience was seeing the mutated flies," Copeland said.
BioKIDS: EEB grads work with Detroit sixth-graders
Graduate students from U-M's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and School of Natural Resources and Environment have been visiting Detroit classrooms, working with the sixth-graders and presenting their own research in kid-friendly presentations. Students from Detroit's Foreign Language Immersion School and O.W. Holmes Elementary School, have been following the innovative BioKIDS curriculum developed by U-M.
The curriculum has been proven effective: according to 1996 data, just 30 percent of Detroit students passed the state standardized science tests. But for students using the BioKIDS curriculum, the pass rate rocketed to 42 percent.
More than 120 Detroit Public School sixth-graders will present the results of small-group science projects at 10:45 a.m. March 22 at the Michigan League Ballroom. At this third annual BioKIDS Science Convention, students will present posters about an animal species they studied from the Detroit River ecosystem. The students will answer questions from local scientists about what they have learned about ecosystems, biodiversity and ecology, and will have an opportunity to ask the scientists questions.
The BioKIDS/DeepThink research group works to improve science learning in high-poverty, urban, elementary and middle school classrooms, with particular focus on the Detroit Public Schools. The work centers on fourth through eighth grades, a period when the performance of American students in science falls behind that of students in other countries.
EEB's Susan Cheng, John Guittar, John Marino, Liz Wason and SNRE's Sarah Kiger are the students who visited the classrooms. BioKIDS is a joint project of the U-M School of Education and U-M Museum of Zoology and is supported by the National Science Foundation.
And the winner is. . .
Charles Davey, lab/classroom services technician, recently won a $500 prize from the M-Healthy Expo.
"I thought someone must be pulling my leg," Davey said, when he was notified via e-mail that he was the winner as a result of a survey he filled out. His very real prize was a $500 gift card for REI. He made his old bike safer for twilight and night biking with safety lights, and replaced the brakes and fenders, among other improvements. He spent the rest on rock climbing gear for himself and a friend so that trips to Planet Rock would be less expensive.
"I'm already getting some fun out of the climbing gear, and can't wait until it warms up a bit so that I can bust out that improved bike more often."
Mating mites trapped in amber reveal sex role reversal
Research by Pavel Klimov, assistant research scientist, is on the U-M Gateway and LSA website and has been extensively covered in the media, including on MSNBC and the Discovery Channel. An EEB research feature is coming soon.
NYTimes opinion piece cites Badgley research
Read Mark Bittman's column "Sustainable Agriculture Can Feed the World" from the New York Times, March 8, 2011.
Nadelhoffer to testify to House Energy & Commerce Committee in D.C.
On Tuesday, March 8, Professor Knute Nadelhoffer, director of the U-M Biological Station, will testify in front of the House Energy & Commerce Committee at a hearing on Climate Science and EPA's Greenhouse Gas Regulations. Watch the live webcast! Watch the archived webcast.
Nadelhoffer, Professor George Kling (EEB) and Professor Don Scavia (SNRE) wrote and co-signed a letter, along with over 150 other scientists, urging the Michigan Congressional Delegation to reject actions aimed at preventing the EPA from enforcing the Clean Air Act.
On Wednesday morning, March 9, Nadelhoffer and scientists from Michigan State University and Western Michigan University, will take part in a telephone conference call-in program with reporters. Nadelhoffer was quoted in the New York Times, on NPR, and more. Listen to the ESA podcast.
Burnham quoted in L.A. Times
A Los Angeles Times story about how vines are spreading in tropical forests at the expense of trees quoted Professor Robyn Burnham, who said the next step should be to identify those species of vines that pose the greatest threat. "Unless we understand those species, we might be doing what I think is racial profiling: we go out and arrest every vine out there, rather than figuring out if it's done anything wrong yet," Burnham said.
Warm welcome to new staff
Cindy Carl began as EEB's new senior secretary in January 2011. Carl brings 18 years of experience in customer service, advertising, development and communications with her from her former jobs at Trent University, Ontario; the Ann Arbor News; and most recently at St. Mary Student Parish, Ann Arbor. She received her bachelor's degree in natural resources from the University of Michigan.
"Outside of work, I love to go to concerts – UMS performances and Great Lakes Chamber Music, as well as to the Met Opera Live in HD performances," Carl said. "My husband and I like to spend time outside biking or walking the dog. We have two adult sons living on Canada – no grandchildren yet. I am looking forward to working in an academic setting again. I am detail-oriented and, so far, this job has lots of details!"
Cheri Brooks is the new contracts and grants specialist who joined EEB in February from the Epidemiology Department in the School of Public Health. She was the program coordinator for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars postdoctoral training program.
Brooks has been at U-M for only a year; however, her contracts and grants experience began at Purdue University's Agronomy Department in 1980 after she received her bachelor's degree in management from Purdue. She has also worked at Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University, and most recently at University of California, San Diego for 13 years. Her last position at UCSD was assisting Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) faculty with NSF, NASA, NOAA, State of California, and private foundation awards.
Brooks is a native Michigander who is patiently waiting for spring to arrive so that she can try yet another plan to keep the wildlife out of her vegetable garden. In the meantime, she is learning U-M's policies and procedures for grants and contracts and looking forward to meeting all of EEB's faculty, students, and staff.
Best wishes to Hill
Kaye Hill retired from EEB in late January 2011 following a packed retirement party send-off surrounded by dozens of fellow staff, faculty, students, and postdocs. Hill joined EEB in 2004 as the contracts and grants specialist, where she helped with hundreds of proposals and awards. Her other U-M positions included work with the Diverse Democracy Project at the School Of Education and the Institute for Social Research, Population Studies Center.
Hill began her career working with community activists through the Education Services division of the Illinois Commission on Human Relations. The agency was active during the 1960s investigating racial discrimination, publishing public education materials, and promoting integration of public institutions. Next, with the Illinois Social Policy Commission, she worked for welfare and health policy researchers. In her subsequent jobs, Kaye supported a technical assistance project designed to develop community based drug abuse treatment programs and as an information systems coordinator in the newly created Department of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. According to Hill, the State of Illinois provided excellent opportunities for growth, training and education in consultation skills, organization and systems development, accounting, auditing and information science.
Those skills served Hill well when she worked for the American Institute of Indian Studies, a membership organization of South Asian Scholars from 40 or so universities across the U.S., headquartered at the University of Chicago. While with the institute, Hill organized fellowship competitions, administered awards, facilitated candidates' international research and travel activities and traveled to India, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Nepal.
"Kaye was a marvel of patience with the typical last-minute requests by faculty frantic to get their proposals submitted on time," said Deborah Goldberg, EEB professor and chair. "We are also going to miss her tremendous knowledge about all the arcane rules about what you could and could not do with grant funds from different sources. But mostly we will mostly miss her sense of humor and her passion."
"Kaye brought joy and laughter to the office and we will surely miss her," added Amber Stadler, business manager.
"The highlights of my career were the people I worked with – the ones who believed in what they were doing and did it to the best of their ability," Hill said. "Funny thing, they also turn out to be the most likeable."
Vanette's research is Global Change Biology cover
Rising carbon dioxide levels associated with global warming may affect interactions between plants and the insects that eat them, altering the course of plant evolution, research by EEB Ph.D. student Rachel Vannette and her advisor, Professor Mark Hunter, suggests. The findings appear in the March issue of Global Change Biology as the cover story. Watch for an EEB research feature coming soon.
Mercury in Bay Area fish a legacy of California mining
Mercury contamination, a worldwide environmental problem, has been called "public enemy No. 1" in California's San Francisco Bay.
Mercury mining and gold recovery in the mid-1800s to late 1900s, combined with present day oil refineries, chemical manufacturing plants and wastewater treatment plants have contributed enough mercury to threaten wildlife and prompt a fish consumption advisory in the Bay Area. With so many possible sources of contamination, environmental scientists and regulatory agencies would like to know which specific sources contribute most to harmful levels of mercury in the aquatic food web.
Teasing out that information was not possible in the past, but with the use of a mercury "fingerprinting" technique, researchers from the University of Michigan, the University of California, Davis, and the San Francisco Estuary Institute, have identified the main sources of mercury in bay floor sediments and shown that small fish near the base of the food web acquire their mercury from those sediments.
"Without a clear answer to what was responsible for mercury in fish in San Francisco Bay, we needed a way to trace its origins," said Professor Joel Blum. "This is the first study to track mercury directly from source to sediment to food web." The findings appear in two companion papers, one in the Feb. 1 issue of the journal Geochemica et Cosmochimica Acta and the other published online Jan. 21 in Environmental Science & Technology.
Their findings have been widely covered by the media. U-M News Service press release
Two visiting scholars in Tucker Lab
Professor Priscilla Tucker was awarded a Research Opportunities Award of $25,000 from the National Science Foundation, a supplement to her existing NSF grant. The grant is funding visiting scholar David Kass, a professor of biology from Eastern Michigan University, who is doing sabbatical research from January – June, 2011.
Václav Janoušek is a visiting scholar from the Czech Republic's Charles University from January - April as part of Tucker's ongoing collaboration with colleagues from that country. The visiting scholars are working on various aspects of a hybrid zone study, involving the genetic mechanisms of reproductive isolation in the house mouse.
In memoriam: Beverly Rathcke's life illustrates the power of friendship, kindness
Professor Emeritus Beverly Rathcke died January 6, 2011, surrounded by friends and cats at her home in Ann Arbor. Dozens of messages arrived during her final days attesting to the power of her friendship in fostering an amazing community of people. Friends and family say they marveled at her kindness and the positive influences she contributed to their lives.
Rathcke was valedictorian of her high school class, and earned a Fulbright Fellowship to study entomology at Imperial College in London after completing her undergraduate degree at Gustavus Adolphus. She did doctoral work at University of Illinois and postdoctoral work at Cornell University, then joined the faculty of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at U-M, where she served from 1978 until her retirement in 2010.
Rathcke conducted pioneering studies on pollination biology and plant-animal interactions in species ranging from mangroves (Bahamas, Mexico and Florida) to spotted knapweed (Michigan) to mountain laurel (Rhode Island). She was the dissertation chair or co-chair for 29 doctoral students and worked on more than 50 other doctoral committees. She was an excellent teacher and strong advocate for graduate students; she received a Rackham Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award in 2008. She encouraged her friends and former students to follow their passions - not just to be scientists, but to be artists and explorers and spiritual seekers. Former students and colleagues traveled from as far as California and Maine to celebrate her retirement. This past year she traveled and reconnected with former students, colleagues and friends in Mexico, California, Maine and places between.
Rathcke's home was a frequent gathering place for potlucks. Parties overflowed with quirky scientist types and their families. In 2005 she completed a renovation of her house, which was featured on the Old West Side homes tour. Her beloved rescue dog, a Keeshond named Kodi, was a part of her life for 11 years. She enjoyed Ann Arbor life, attending garden and home tours and music and dance performances. Her exultant laugh will echo always in the minds of her friends, they say.
A life celebration will be held at 4 p.m. Feb. 19, at the fourth floor amphitheater of the Rackham Graduate School Building. All are welcome. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to causes that can be found in her full obituary in AnnArbor.com and the University Record.
Update: There will be an Indian food buffet and potluck to participate in at your convenience. If you are inspired to bring a dish to share, please bring finger food, appetizers, salads, or desserts to complement the Indian food that will be provided. Also, make sure to label your dish, so that we can make sure to get it back to you, and bring a serving utensil if possible. We will have a display table for photos and other mementos, so please bring items that you think others might enjoy.
An unusual case of Müllerian mimicry
There are about 10 species of catfish found only in Lake Tanganyika, Africa, with a similar color pattern not found anywhere else in their genus, which contains over 120 other species throughout the continent.
EEB Ph.D. student Jeremy Wright's experiments demonstrated that a model predator quickly learned that these catfishes were unpleasant to eat (they're venomous), based on their highly distinctive color pattern of dark leopard-like spots on an orange or brown toned background. Further experiments showed that a color pattern similarity between species was sufficient so that once a predator learned to avoid one species, it would avoid attacking others as well. This shared benefit of toxic species based on similarity of color pattern is called Müllerian mimicry, and is very rare in vertebrates. Wright's work was one of the first experimentally demonstrated cases in fishes.
"Most cases of Müllerian mimicry involve two or more unrelated species and selection causes one to evolve greater similarity to the other," Wright said. In Wright's research, all of the species shared an ancestor with a similar color pattern to the one seen at present, meaning that when new species formed, they would very likely already have been highly similar in appearance, with selection maintaining that similarity.
"It's an unusual case because all of these species are related, but this also seems to have allowed them to skip the initial evolutionary steps that are usually necessary to establish Müllerian mimicry."
Wright's paper, "Conservative coevolution of Müllerian mimicry in a group of rift lake catfish," will be the cover story in the February issue of Evolution. It was published online in October 2010.
EOL Rubenstein Fellow
Dr. Pavel Klimov, an assistant research scientist working with Professor Barry OConnor, has been selected as a 2011 Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) Rubenstein Fellow.
"As part of my EOL project, I propose to create a digital classification of mites (including ticks) and contribute at least 650 species pages of mites having medical, veterinary, and agricultural importance," said Klimov. "This will complement my research projects by broadly disseminating data online and making it easily available to the scientific community and general public."
EOL is an international collaboration of scientific organizations and the general public with the shared mission to gather and share knowledge about all 1.9 million known species on the planet. The EOL Rubenstein Fellows program provides partial stipend or salary support for early career scientists to serve information about the organisms they study through the Encyclopedia of Life. This year's recipients specialize in a variety of taxonomic areas, ranging from rhododendrons of the world to African birds to mites. Klimov will receive $20,000.
Costa Rica by land and sea
Professor Robyn Burnham is exploring Costa Rica by land and sea as a faculty travel representative with U-M Alumni Association from Jan. 12 - Jan. 22, 2011.
"The trips are great opportunities for me to share my enthusiasm for tropical ecosystems, especially the climbing plants, but also to hear about the interesting travels that our U-M alumni have taken," she said. "It is also an opportunity for me to use my Leopold Leadership training to help inform members of our broader community on the importance of various approaches to conservation of tropical ecosystems."
This is Burnham's third U-M Alumni Association excursion. She has traveled to Argentina/Chile and Amazonian Peru (Iquitos and surrounding areas).
"The exhibit points out an interesting historical confluence between international politics and the Museum of Zoology," said Professor William Fink, curator and director of the Museum of Zoology.
Leonard Woodcock (1911 - 2001) was the fifth president of the United Auto Workers when President Jimmy Carter appointed him as American Statesman. In that role, he led a Presidential Commission to Vietnam and Laos to negotiate the return of American soldiers (MIA), possible prisoners of war.
Woodcock returned to the U.S. with the remains of 12 MIAs and established the groundwork for normal relations between the U.S. and Laos. The Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong presented Woodcock with the gifts of a stuffed turtle and a bamboo flute, which are in the museum exhibit.
Why a turtle and a flute? The Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is suggestive of the legendary Golden Turtle or Blue River Angel from an ancient Vietnamese legend "The Magic Crossbow." The legend takes place in 225 B.C. The Blue River Angel appears repeatedly throughout the story as the Golden Turtle with helpful advice for King An Duong Vuong in his efforts to rid the land of local spirits and unify the upland and lowland tribes into a single country.
The flute is the national musical instrument of Laos. The spirits are represented by the ghost of a musician who played a similar flute. In the legend, spirits symbolize the local leaders who were resisting the king's attempts at unification. The king calms the spirits with the turtle's help.
The flute and turtle were donated to the Museum of Zoology by Sharon Woodcock, Leonard's wife, in 2010. Visitors can read more about Woodcock's role in politics and academia, including some time at the University of Michigan, in the exhibit and see the original turtle and flute gifts. Angels and Envoys was developed by John Klausmeyer, senior exhibit preparator, and Greg Schneider, research museum collection manager.
Cressler begins postdoc
Recent graduate Dr. Clay Cressler has begun a postdoctoral fellowship in the Biology Department at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. He is working with Drs. Bill Nelson and Troy Day studying host evolution in response to parasitism. Cressler was awarded a Queen's University Senate Advisory Research Committee fellowship.
The project's goal is to understand how dynamical interactions among hosts, their resources, and their pathogens influence the outcome of parasite-mediated selection on host life history. The project has both theoretical and empirical components, using the zooplankter Daphnia as a model system.
Blogging from pole to pole
Read the adventures of recent U-M EEB alumnus Dr. Heather Adams from Antarctica in her blog called "Beyond the tundra ponds: research from pole to pole and travel in between." Adams studies natural bacterial communities in polar lakes and streams. She is a postdoctoral research associate at Montana State University.
Ice-age reptile extinctions provide a glimpse of likely responses to human-caused climate change
A wave of reptile extinctions on the Greek islands over the past 15,000 years may offer a preview of the way plants and animals will respond as the world rapidly warms due to human-caused climate change, according to Professor Johannes Foufopoulos.
The Greek island extinctions also highlight the critical importance of preserving habitat corridors that will enable plants and animals to migrate in response to climate change, thereby maximizing their chances of survival.
To gain a clearer understanding of the past consequences of climate change, Foufopoulos and his colleagues calculated the population extinction rates of 35 reptile species - assorted lizards, snakes and turtles - from 87 Greek islands in the northeast Mediterranean Sea. The calculated extinction rates were based on the modern-day presence or absence of each species on islands that were connected to the mainland during the last ice age. The study results appear in the January 2011 edition of American Naturalist.
Foufopoulos, an ecologist with EEB and the School of Natural Resources and Environment, and his colleagues found a striking pattern to the island extinctions. In most cases, reptile populations disappeared on the smallest islands first - the places where the habitat choices were most limited.
The researchers conclude that a similar pattern of extinctions will emerge at various spots across the globe as the climate warms in the coming decades and centuries. In addition to adapting to a changing climate, plants and animals will be forced to traverse an increasingly fragmented natural landscape.
"The lessons learned from the wave of reptile extinctions suggest that if species are to survive the global climate shift already underway, not only do humans have to set significantly more land aside for conservation, but these protected areas will also need to be connected through a network of habitat corridors that allow species migration," Foufopoulos said.
Trees strike back when damaged
Poplar trees are among the fastest growing trees in North America, which makes them important choices for producing renewable bioenergy. By breeding hybrid poplars that are more resistant to insects, it is possible to reduce expensive and environmentally costly inputs, such as pesticides. Dr. Ray Barbehenn, a research scientist in EEB and MCDB, and his colleagues published a paper in the December 2010 journal Oecologia on their groundbreaking findings on one of the most widely touted plant defenses against insects, an enzyme in leaves known as peroxidase.
Peroxidase is named for its ability to break down hydrogen peroxide, but in doing so it produces damaging products of its own, free radicals known as semiquinones. Plants are supposedly protected from leaf-chewing insects, in part, by unleashing this chemical reaction in the guts of attackers. Previously, there had not been any research to show that this reaction actually occurs in insects, and therefore whether it is important for protecting plants.
In work supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, poplar trees were grown in the Natural Science Building greenhouse that produced either low or high levels of peroxidase to test the importance of this enzyme directly on gypsy moth caterpillars. By measuring the free radicals formed in the guts of these caterpillars, it was discovered that peroxidase can work effectively inside caterpillars, but, surprisingly, only when leaves containing high levels of peroxidase were recently chewed on by other insects.
Further investigation confirmed that poplar leaves that were damaged by insects produced hydrogen peroxide - the limiting ingredient for peroxidase to be active in the gut. Thus, when undamaged leaves were eaten, even a large amount of ingested peroxidase could do no harm to the attacking caterpillars. These results show not only what conditions are essential to permit peroxidase to work properly as a plant defense, but also point to ways to breed poplar trees that are better protected for future bioenergy plantations.
Chris Dukatz, Chris Holt and Austin Reese were U-M undergraduate research assistants on this project.
Goldberg elected ESA VP for Science
Professor and Chair Deborah Goldberg has been elected as vice president for science for the Ecological Society of America. The two-year term of office begins after the August 2011 ESA Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.
The vice president for science is responsible for developing policy for and oversight of the scientific programs of the society and serves as chair of the Standing Committee on Science. "I am particularly excited about working on projects related to making ecological databases accessible and interoperable, as well as integrating ESA's efforts in education with research through citizen science projects," said Goldberg.
Leave Michigan moose on the loose
A letter from a cadre of scientists from universities throughout the state wrote a letter to Governor Jennifer Granholm urging her to veto or leave unsigned Senate bill 1013 which authorizes a moose hunting season in Michigan and assigns key responsibilities for managing that hunt to an appointed Moose Hunting Advisory Council. The signers believe that the bill 'fails to assure adequate consideration of scientific concerns, greatly risks inappropriate influence by political factors and special interests, and focuses too much on short-term economic benefits of hunting moose without adequate consideration for the ecological or social consequences of moose harvesting.'
The letter further states,"Decisions about whether or how to hunt moose in Michigan should be delayed until an independent scientific panel comprised of appropriate experts evaluates the relevant issues." Read the letter.
"If you are concerned about the wisdom and lack of scientific content of the bill, please contact me to find out how you can help," said Professor Phil Myers, who signed the letter.
Colossal fossil: Museum's new whale skeleton represents decades of research
There's a whale of a new display at U-M's Exhibit Museum of Natural History, a leviathan that represents a scientific saga of equally grand proportions.
A complete, 50-foot-long skeleton of the extinct whale Basilosaurus isis, which lived 37 million years ago, now is suspended from the ceiling of the museum's second floor gallery and will reign over an updated whale evolution exhibit scheduled to open in April 2011.
Basilosaurus and its companions also represent decades of paleontological detective work by a team led by Philip Gingerich, director of the U-M Museum of Paleontology and the Ermine Cowles Case Collegiate Professor of Paleontology. Since the 1980s, Gingerich and colleagues have located and mapped the remains of more than a thousand whales in an area of the Egyptian desert known as Wadi Hitan ("valley of the whales"), a UNESCO World Heritage site. Their work there was the subject of an article in the August 2010 issue of National Geographic. In addition, Gingerich and colleagues have made significant fossil whale discoveries in Pakistan.