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Faculty promotions 2011
Thursday, August 25, 2011
The promotions of Christopher Dick, Aaron King and Trisha Wittkopp from assistant professor without tenure to associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology with tenure have been approved by the University of Michigan Board of Regents, effective Sept. 1, 2011.
Dick, who is associate curator in the Herbarium, studies tropical ecology and evolution, population genetics, biogeography and forest history.
King, who is also associate professor of mathematics, studies theoretical ecology, epidemiology and population dynamics.
Wittkopp, who is also associate professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, studies evolutionary genetics and genomics, and evolution of development.
“Please join me in congratulating all three of them for this very well deserved promotion!” said Professor Deborah Goldberg, chair of EEB.
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NSF DUE grant for Myers
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Professor Phil Myers has received a grant from the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education’s TUES program (Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The two-year award for over $577,000 is for his project titled "Discovering Patterns in the Natural World through Student Inquiry in Ecology and Biodiversity." The project began August 1, 2011. Partners at 20 universities will help design, test, and disseminate classroom activities based on the Animal Diversity Web's database of natural history, systematics, ecology, and conservation biology. The ADW is sponsored by the U-M Museum of Zoology.
“This project will lead students in college classrooms to discover for themselves patterns and processes that underlie evolutionary biology, ecology, and conservation biology,” said Myers. “We've been working on this for quite a few years, and some of the activities we've produced have been tested at U-M, Michigan State University, Kalamazoo College, Northern Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, and some others. We're now going to fine-tune software, expand the databases exposed to our query tools, create a number of new activities, and test them in classes at 20 participating colleges and universities.”
Students work with online materials but report and discuss their findings in class. Myers is the principal investigator and has worked on this project with colleagues in the Museum of Zoology’s ADW including Tanya Dewey, Roger Espinosa, George Hammond and Tricia Jones.
According to the abstract, this project expands the reach of a previous Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement grant that established a search engine, Quaardvark, for the ADW structured database. The Quaardvark query tool allows the database, which contains information and images for over 3,500 animal species, to be searched according to a number of properties of ecological, evolutionary, anatomical, and physiological interest. Researchers find it useful, as do teaching faculty and their students. It has been used for activities in courses at U-M and a number of additional colleges and universities in Michigan and Virginia due to its flexibility.
The expanded network of faculty involved in the new project work at community colleges, liberal arts colleges, historically African-American universities, comprehensive state universities, colleges and universities serving Hispanic or Native American populations, and major research universities. Teachers of organismal biology are assisted to integrate activities involving ADW materials into their curricula. Tools for assessment of student learning from these activities are under development, and Quaardvark is being modified to access data from other rich collections in addition to the ADW. Because students can use the system on questions of their own design, even new students of biology are able to carry out research at progressively more intricate levels as they become more skilled and sophisticated in their understanding of biological concepts. Software supporting the project is freely available, so it can be adopted and adapted for students around the world and incorporated into other sites that promote the use of digital STEM resources.
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MONSTER VINES LSA research grant
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Professor Robyn Burnham has been awarded a grant of over $78,000 from the LSA Associate Professor Support Fund for her research that asks which liana species overwhelm trees in “liana forests” of southern Amazonia?
Her primary aim is to determine whether southern Amazon basin forests are as diverse (species rich) in climbing plants as those in the heart of the Amazon, near Manaus, where she is currently working.
Secondarily, given the curious vegetation type in these southern forests, called “liana forest” or “mata de cipó”, she will determine whether climbing plants that dominate there have a higher potential for creating thickets via vegetative reproduction (self-cloning), and can thus overwhelm the forests if left to grow after deforestation or selective logging.
“Lianas are a ubiquitous life form found in almost all forests, but are especially diverse in tropical regions,” said Burnham. “A forest in Michigan, which might have three or four species of vines, could have as many as 70 or 80 species in the lowland tropics of South America. They contribute not only diversity but a variety of fruit and floral resources to the cornucopia found in tropical environments. Interestingly, some liana species are capable of vigorous re-rooting once they are cut or broken, and have the potential to be problematic in areas where management does not take into account their different potential for vegetative reproduction.
“To determine the origin and ecological future of the forests and their lianas, we need to understand the composition, structure, diversity from site to site, and the basic regeneration of species. My general research goals are to improve knowledge of climbing plant species, with special focus on the traits that set them apart from each other and from trees.”
Burnham and her collaborators, including her graduate and undergraduate students, will construct geographic maps of the distribution of dominant lianas in southern Amazonia, with emphasis on the characteristics that lead to their reign in certain vegetation types. EEB graduate student David Marvin will use Landsat Mapping of lianas as a component of his dissertation. In Amazonia, scientists from local institutions, largely in Brazil, will also be involved in the research.
The work is based on existing collections from herbaria, on focused field surveys in selected high priority areas, on dominance mapping using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and on greenhouse experiments that will target vegetative regeneration (cloning).
The research could help to slow the degradation of Amazonian ecosystems, thereby aiding with issues such as carbon storage, habitat preservation, indigenous rights, erosion, colonization, and/or agriculture. Burnham’s latest research will tackle a problem of immense conservation importance, and brings the traits and strategies of lianas to bear on the origin of liana forest in the southern Amazon. Are lianas reacting only to historical land-use? Is the distribution due to climatic conditions, which could expand beyond the southern Amazon in the future? Recent reports of lianas increasing in abundance in other neotropical sites has made an initial survey in liana forests much more critical and timely.
The data gathered will be the first of its kind for liana forest, in which all stems are identified and measured, and placed in a geographic model for prediction of dominants in nearby unsampled forests. These data will provide a springboard for important research into the unique nature of the vegetation type, as well as into the species unique to the area. The award is supported by the Margaret and Herman Sokol Faculty Awards.
Pictured: Robyn Burnham (front row, orange cap) and her field crew: left to right back row: Junior, Luciane Ferreira, Marcia Cleia Vilela Dos Santos, Romario da Silva, Antonio Martin; left to right, front row: Joao Batista
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Great start: M-Bio Summer Program
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
“The M-Bio Summer Program is off to a great start,” said Joe Salvatore, assistant director, Science Learning Center and M-Bio Summer Program Coordinator. “The M-Bio scholars are thriving as they tackle four intense summer courses, attend weekly lectures from prominent University of Michigan faculty, and participate in a variety of academic, social and cultural activities.”
M-Bio is a two-year program for biology-interested students admitted to U-M. The program begins with an intensive summer residential academic program followed by two years of special programming. The program is designed to strengthen and diversify the cohort of students who will receive their biological sciences degree from U-M.
"I'm so glad I've participated in M-Bio. I've met people that will be friends for the rest of my time at the university, and met professors that truly care about how I do in school," said Nathan Sheskey. "This summer has been truly rewarding. I have had the chance to meet new friends, learn my way around campus, and get a feel for the rigor of college level classes. M-Bio has been a great experience that I feel will ensure my success at U of M."
“Upon graduation, students who participate in M-Bio will be especially well prepared to seek career opportunities or to attend graduate or professional school in the biological sciences,” said Professor Deborah Goldberg, chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, whose NSF grant is funding scholarships for students in the program.
M-Bio students are participating in a rigorous eight-week residential summer program, taking three non-credit preparatory courses in math, science, and writing, and completing a three-credit course covering critical academic success and research skills. In addition to a daily schedule of classes, M-Bio students are participating in evening study sessions, attending lectures, working closely with academic coaches, and participating in a rich array of social, cultural and personal growth experiences. Upon successful completion of the summer term, students will have earned three credits toward their degree and a small stipend.
“The M-Bio Program provides the support and structure to help students from many different backgrounds excel as they pursue degrees in the biological sciences,” said Salvatore.
Over their first two years, M-Bio students have the opportunity to enroll in special Comprehensive Studies Program (CSP) sections of introductory science and math courses which emphasize in-depth analysis of key concepts. An academic coach will meet monthly with students to achieve success and manage academic and personal challenges. M-Bio students will enroll and participate in study groups sponsored by the Science Learning Center (SLC) for their introductory science courses. The students will engage in research experiences through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) during the academic year and in the summer between their first and second years and they will attend social and cultural programs offered throughout the academic year.
“Research suggests participation in a summer transition program, followed by comprehensive support throughout the academic year, increases academic excellence,” said Goldberg. “M-Bio students will be encouraged to build upon their strengths as they develop personally, academically and professionally.”
"M-Bio is more than a program of preparation. It's a challenge within itself to form a strong community, and to set aside childish ways to become young adults who handle their own problems in a mature manner. I've learned a lot about myself through being in this environment," said Chinyere Onimo.
The $600,000 NSF grant is titled “Michigan Biology Academy Scholars." The project is under the direction of Goldberg and Claire Sandler, director, Science Learning Center. Pamela A. Raymond, professor and chair of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Cinda-Sue Davis, director of WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) serve on the steering committee. The NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) award will support up to 20 scholarship recipients per entering cohort, for a total of up to 80 students over a four-year period.
Pictured from top: photo 1: Olivia Hobson and Briana Lung take part in a lab to determine how much energy is stored in food; photo 2: Kimberly Deering and Briana Lung paint the U-M rock to show their M-Bio spirit along with their classmates; photo 3: Everlin Gutierrez and Rodrigo Rangel participate in a lab exercise; photo 4: left to right: Kimberly Deering, Nathan Sheskey, Folake Olojo, Hannah Hakala, Rodrigo Rangel, Briana Lung on top of rock, painting U-M's famous rock along Washtenaw Ave.
Wittkopp wins teaching award
Monday, August 08, 2011
Professor Patricia Wittkopp has been awarded the 2011 Class of 1923 Memorial Teaching Award for outstanding teaching of undergraduates.
She was selected by her colleagues on the LSA Executive Committee, who select recipients each year from those recommended for promotion from assistant professor to associate professor with tenure and from associate professor to professor who have demonstrated outstanding teaching during their first years on the faculty. According to the letter announcing the award from Professor and Dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Terrance J. McDonald, “While this award recognizes teaching, it is only given to individuals whose achievements and promise auger well for a productive career as a scholar.”
The award consists of a certificate acknowledging achievements in undergraduate teaching and a prize of $5,000, to be officially presented at a forthcoming fall meeting of the faculty.
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Monday, August 08, 2011
Professor John Vandermeer has begun blogging to elaborate on tropical ecology and tropical agriculture, particularly their political aspects. He will also reflect on the history and philosophy of science.
A few recent posts in VandermeersBlog include: Darwin’s sacred cause: a potent message for biologists; Reflections on the new rurality; A new ectoparasite in the human ecosystem; and The continuing conundrum of the size of the human population. Darwin’s proclivity toward abolitionism, which Vandermeer writes about in his first post, was something he discussed at length during his Distinguished University Professorship Lecture. Don’t miss out on these insights and your chance to comment. And, you can see what an early riser Vandermeer is, check out the times of his posts!
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Fun in the sun at BioKIDS field trip
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Detroit sixth-graders explored the Environmental Study Area at U-M Dearborn at a BioKIDS field trip hosted by Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and BioKIDS for the second year in a row.
The trip is an extension of a BioKIDS Science Convention, hosted each year by U-M and modeled on a professional scientific meeting, where kids are the experts presenting posters on organisms they’ve studied to professors, graduate students, and others. In 2010, the scientists were impressed with the depth of the students' knowledge but were bothered that many of the students had never actually seen the animals they were describing. Thus, the idea for the field day was hatched.
Primarily EEB graduate students and several others, including teachers and parents, were field trip leaders for 85 students from Detroit's Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School and O.W. Holmes Elementary-Middle School.
In the morning, they walked the trails and stopped at stations for bird watching, catching insects with nets, and to view aquatic animals collected from a pond. An indoor station featured a variety of skulls and skins from the Museum of Zoology's teaching collection. After lunch, the students spent an hour removing invasive weeds (garlic mustard) from the study area.
Special thanks to George Hammond, research program officer, Animal Diversity Web, who organized the trip; science teachers Connie Atkisson (O.W. Holmes), LeAnne Peebles (F.L.I.C.S.) and the EEB field trip leaders Ray Barbehenn, associate research scientist; postdoctoral fellows Ai Wen, Kenneth Elgersma; graduate students Dave Allen, Susan Cheng, Serge Farinas, Sahar Haghighat, Hyunmin Han, John Marino, Rob Massatti, Leslie McGinnis, Semoya Philips, Iman Sylvain, Rachel Vannette. The School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Program in the Environment also provided field leaders.
Funding was provided by a National Science Foundation grant called “DeepThink: Thinking Deeply about Biodiversity and Ecology.” Special thanks to Professor Nancy Songer, School of Education, principal investigator, and Professor Phil Myers, EEB, and curator, Museum of Zoology, co-PI.
BioKIDS is a U-M School of Education and Museum of Zoology program that uses technology and hands-on-learning methods to help middle school students ask questions the way scientists do. Several thousand Detroit Public School students have participated in the BioKIDS program, charting wildlife in their own school yards and preparing reports on local ecosystems, such as the Detroit River.
In this article:
Allen, David; Barbehenn, Raymond; Cheng, Susan; Elgersma, Kenneth; Farinas, Serge; Haghighat, Sahar; Han, Hyunmin; Marino, John; Massatti, Rob; McGinnis, Leslie; Myers, Philip; Phillips, Semoya; Sylvain, Iman; Vannette, Rachel; Wen, Ai
Not once nor twice – but thrice! Wright wins best poster
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Three cheers to Jeremy Wright who received the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists’ 2011 Storer Award in Ichthyology for his poster, “Adaptive Significance of Venom Glands in the Tadpole Madtom (Noturus gyrinus).”
Venom glands in fish have long been assumed to be anti-predatory adaptations. But direct examinations of their fitness benefits have been lacking and are confounded by the sharp, bony fin spines in many catfish species, which are also likely deterrents to predation. Wright’s experiment presented Tadpole Madtoms (Noturus gyrinus), a small catfish, with several fin spine phenotypes (intact, stripped, absent) to a potential natural predator (Largemouth bass - Micropterus salmoides). He found that the venom glands of this species do provide a significant fitness benefit relative to individuals having fin spines that lacked venom glands, or no spines at all.
Additionally, through comparative experiments using madtoms and a related catfish species, the Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis), Wright also found that particular venom components contribute disproportionately to predator deterrence. The lack of a single protein in the bullhead venom completely eliminated the fitness benefit provided by the madtom venom (even though injections of bullhead venom did induce signs of toxicity in the predator species).
These findings provide new insights into the evolution of defensive venom toxicity in fishes and its possible relationship to tradeoffs in life history traits such as fecundity, body size and growth rate, as bullhead species reach much larger sizes, grow faster, and produce more offspring than do madtoms.
The poster was presented at the society’s annual meeting (attendance approximately 900) held in Minneapolis, Minn., July 6 - 11, 2011. The Storer Award is presented annually by ASIH for the best student poster. Wright also won in 2008 and 2009.
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Inspiring girls in science and math
Monday, August 01, 2011
Professor Annette Ostling and graduate student Susanna Messinger worked with a small group of 7th and 8th grade girls for a week this summer in late June to early July as part of a new ecology focus group for a U-M Women in Science and Engineering – Girls in Science and Engineering (WISE-GISE) summer camp.
The students explored and took part in hands-on lab and computer activities in Ostling’s lab, at the Museum of Zoology, and outside on the Diag and at the Nichols Arboretum.
The focus group was part of Ostling’s three-year NSF grant titled "Niche versus neutral structure in populations and communities.” Part of aim of the project is to encourage the participation of women in mathematical biology by running a focus group on topics related to the research at this camp. The grant award began September 15, 2010. She plans to run the focus group for at least the next two years of her grant.
Messinger took the lead on organizing the camp, creating the week-long program for the girls, and designing and digging up from a variety of sources the vast majority of the activities for the students.
The group went on an ecology scavenger hunt, experimented with yeast, toured the bird and mammal collections at the museum thanks to Janet Hinshaw (birds) and Steve Hinshaw (mammals). They toured the labs of Professor Liz Tibbett's (via graduate student Mike Sheehan), Ray Barbehenn, and Professor Chris Dick (via graduate student Brian Sedio). Graduate students Sheehan and Brian Dorsey accompanied the camp at the Arboretum as fellow naturalists. Dr. Jeffrey Lake, a former postdoc in Ostling’s lab, also assisted with the focus group.
At the museum they learned what biologists use museum collections for, such as to try to understand how environmental gradients influence the characteristics of organisms. They also learned how samples are preserved in museum collections so that they can be the most useful to biologists later.
“Our primary goal was to instill in the girls a love of ecology and an appreciation of how we can understand the neat organisms we find in nature through science,” said Ostling. “I think this goal was achieved, as their favorite activities were finding organisms out on the Diag and our ‘day in the field’ at the arboretum, as well as our lab experiment on yeast, in which we found the optimal conditions for yeast population growth by seeing what temperature and pH produced the biggest balloons on top of the beakers in which the yeast were growing.
“Another key goal was to instill an appreciation of mathematics and computer simulations of mathematical models as incredibly useful tools in ecology and all sciences. Although women are increasingly better represented in ecology, they remain underrepresented in mathematical ecology. Studies show girls lose interest in mathematics around middle school. Our hope was to reverse this trend for these girls by explaining how mathematics has been instrumental in understanding ecological phenomena, and getting them to work in groups playing ‘video games’ that help them understand some of those interesting phenomena, like competitive exclusion and coexistence, and the existence of keystone species. We were a little nervous about how this would go, but the girls got really into it. We eventually had to pull them away from the computer simulations to move on to the next activity. We can report a very positive impact to report back to the NSF, whose funding through the Advancing Theory in Biology program helped support this focus group.
“An additional key goal was to introduce the girls to the relevance of ecology for the environmental challenges we face as a society. To do this we built a model of the carbon cycle using plastic containers and water, and played a ‘murder mystery’ game about the factors contributing to a die off of big horn sheep, a threatened species. These activities lead to exciting discussions about climate change and the loss of biodiversity, and the role that ecology plays in enabling us to face these challenges.
“Overall, Susanna and I found doing the focus group to be incredibly rewarding. It is a great feeling to inspire girls at this age. I told them to e-mail me if they decide to become ecologists in case I can be of some help, and one girl immediately asked for my e-mail address.”
On the questionnaires filled out after the focus group, one student who had previously been interested in being a veterinarian became interested in learning more about ecology. Another wrote, "I really liked the experiment with the yeast because it was fun to work in a lab and do an experiment and see the results." Overall, the focus group got them excited about ecology. Another wrote, "I enjoyed the ecology focus group and I learned more about the environment. I would recommend it to my friends because I think learning about our environment is very important."
Others who deserve credit for helping out include: Rosalyn Rael, a recent postdoc in Ostling’s lab, and graduate students Rafael D'Andrea, Gyuri Barabas and Tory Hendry. Hendry facilitated the loan of essential lab materials from Professor Paul Dunlap’s lab. Other WISE-GISE focus groups included chemistry, gaming for girls, engineering, human genetics and physics.
See the U-M Engineering website for more photos and a short video, hit "next" to see more images.
Pictured in back from left to right: Fei Chen, Olivia Adams, Jayleen Rossi, Anna Mae Crowley, Emily Sedgeman, Jillian Beemon, Caitlin Meadows. Front: Maria Brown, Abigail Glad.
In this article:
Messinger, Susanna; Ostling, Annette
NSF grants to digitize biological collections
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Professor Timothy James and Rich Rabeler, assistant research scientist, have been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation as part of an initiative to integrate and digitize information for biologists, policymakers and the general public.
To respond to the need for greater accessibility of biological collections data, NSF has awarded grants through its Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections (ADBC) program. The program is expected to result in more efficient and innovative ways to provide access to information in biological research collections, and to speed up the process of integrating diverse information on the genetic, ecological, organismal, and molecular biology of specimens in collections.
James, assistant curator of fungi at the U-M Herbarium, was awarded over $210,000 for “North American Lichens and Bryophytes: Sensitive Indicators of Environmental Quality and Change.” Researchers will image about 2.3 million North American lichen and bryophyte specimens from more than 60 collections to address questions of how species distributions change after major environmental events, both in the past and projected into the future.
Lichens and bryophytes (mosses and their relatives) are among the most sensitive indicators of environmental change, and are dominant organisms in arctic-alpine and desert habitats, the vanguard of climate change. Large-scale distribution mapping will help identify regions where such changes are imminent, fostering proactive initiatives to protect these organisms.
“The value of every biological collection lies in the information attached to the specimens,” said James. “By enhancing the information attached to the moss and lichen specimens through photographs, geographic coordinates and collection notes we can use the latest technology to leverage the rich legacy left by past botanical pioneers. By comparison of historical collections to present distributions we have a window into how habitat loss and climate change have affected the distribution of these often overlooked organisms.”
Rabeler, U-M Herbarium collections manager, received over $190,000 for “Plants, Herbivores, and Parasitoids: A Model System for the study of Tri-Trophic Associations.” Researchers will unify some eight million records in 34 collections to answer how the distributions and phenologies of the plants, pests, and parasitoids relate to each other, in a tri-trophic databasing and imaging project. Data from this approach will benefit basic scientific questions and practical applications in the agricultural sciences, conservation biology, ecosystem studies, and climate change and biogeography research.
“The ADBC project is a great boost to efforts to digitize specimen data,” said Rabeler. “I am excited that the University Herbarium is represented in two of the first three funded thematic networks.”
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