EEB graduate news
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Tran receives scholarship and grant to support colobus monkey research
Monday, June 11, 2012
EEB graduate student Lucy Tran was awarded the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology E.C. Walker Scholarship and a Grants-in-Aid of Research from the American Society of Mammalogists. The UMMZ and ASM funds will support a study that investigates why black-and-white colobus monkeys appear to persist and even thrive in human disturbed forest in parts of Africa. The awards are for $5,000 and $1,500, respectively.
“My overarching goal is to determine whether species-specific traits, such as flexibility in dietary and sociobehavioral strategies, have enabled black-and-white colobus monkeys (Colobus guereza) to persist in anthropogenically-disturbed forest in parts of their range in Africa,” said Tran. “Guerezas are one of the few species in the colobine lineage (subfamily Colobinae) to exhibit this persistence and reputed success in human-disturbed forest. As a result, they are listed as being of least concern on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List.
“However, a time lag in demographic response to disturbance may produce a similar distribution in which guerezas are observed to still occur in disturbed habitat. I explore these two alternative hypotheses for explaining guereza distribution patterns using genetic data that was collected last summer from guerezas living in disturbed and undisturbed forest in Uganda, with complementary population data from collaborators.”
In both scenarios, guerezas would occur in disturbed forest, but the patterns of genetic variation would differ between the two, Tran explained. “For example, genetic variation would be higher in disturbed than undisturbed forest if it's true that guerezas can tolerate or prefer disturbed habitat for whatever idiosyncratic reason. The reverse genetic pattern would be found if the time lag scenario is more accurate.” Tran’s advisor is Professor L. Lacey Knowles.
Edward Carey Walker graduated from Yale College (1842) and received his law degree from Harvard University. He served as secretary of the Detroit Board of Education from 1864 – 1882 and was a leading member of the U-M Board of Regents in the 1860s. He was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1876. The E.C. Walker Scholarship was established by his son, Bryant Walker, in his father's memory, to make an annual award for graduate scholarship excellence in biology under the direction of the Museum of Zoology.
Caption: Colobus monkeys learning the ropes. Credit: Lucy Tran.
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Alumnus book reviewed in journal Science
Friday, June 08, 2012
The new book, "A Guide to Academia: Getting into and surviving grad school, postdocs and a research job," by Prosanta Chakrabarty (Ph.D. EEB 2006) received an excellent review in the journal Science, June 8, 2012.
Chakrabarty is assistant professor/curator of fishes at Louisiana State University, Museum of Natural Science in Baton Rouge.
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The sky's the limit: Marvin scores NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
EEB graduate student David Marvin has been awarded a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship, which will support the final years of his dissertation research.
“I am using a combination of airborne and satellite remote sensing imagery with field-based forest censuses to discriminate liana (woody vine) and tree canopy cover in tropical forests,” Marvin said. “My research will develop a method to detect liana canopy cover at landscape scales, quantify its extent, and verify whether it has increased over recent decades. The discovery that lianas have increased in size and abundance in tropical forests suggests these forests may see a change in community composition and a reduction in their carbon storage capacity. Monitoring changes in liana canopy cover will increase the accuracy of predicted changes to tropical forests, and aid in understanding the mechanisms responsible for increasing liana size and abundance.”
NASA received 497 applications for the 2012 NESSF Program in the following research areas: earth science, heliophysics, planetary science, and astrophysics – the four research programs of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, according to NASA’s announcement. Fifty-four awards were selected by the science divisions on a competitive basis. Criteria for evaluation included: the scientific merit of the proposed research; the relevance of the proposed research to NASA’s objectives in Earth or space science; academic excellence based upon an applicant's transcripts, the letter of recommendation by the student's academic advisor, and the degree to which it supported the proposed research. Marvin’s project is titled “Are tropical lianas increasing in abundance? An integrated satellite-aerial-ground approach for liana detection at the landscape scale” and his advisor is Professor Robyn Burnham.
The purpose of the NESSF is to ensure continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines required to achieve NASA’s scientific goals. The award is for $30,000 per year, including $24,000 student stipend and an allowance of up to $6,000, consisting of $3,000 for student expenses and $3,000 for university expenses. NESSF awards are made initially for one year and may be renewed for no more than two additional years, contingent upon satisfactory progress, as reflected in academic performance, research progress, recommendation by the faculty advisor, and the availability of funds.
Caption: David Marvin climbing a communications tower to assess liana canopy cover above Barro Colorado Island, Panama.
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Rackham Merit Fellowship awarded to Bick
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Incoming doctoral student Cindy Bick was awarded a Rackham Merit Fellowship, one of the largest and most prestigious awards for incoming students. The RMF recognizes entering students who have outstanding academic qualifications, show exceptional potential for scholarly success in their graduate program, and demonstrate promise for contributing to wider academic, professional or civic communities.
Bick is investigating questions pertaining to differential survival in a Pacific Island endemic species, terrestrial snails, with her advisor, Professor Diarmaid Ó Foighil. She is currently a U-M EEB Frontiers Master’s Program student, presenting her thesis defense June 13, 2012. She joins the Ph.D. program in the fall of 2012.
The RMF for doctoral students is a five-year funding partnership between Rackham and the graduate program that includes tuition, stipend, health and dental coverage, during each fall and winter term, with select summer stipend and benefits.
In addition to the five-year funding package, RMF doctoral students are invited to participate in the Summer Institute (SI), sponsored by the Rackham Graduate School. The eight-week program provides an accelerated introduction to graduate studies for newly awarded RMF recipients the summer before students begin their doctoral studies. Tuition and required fees for courses are covered by Rackham as well as a summer stipend, health and dental insurance.
The Rackham Merit Fellowship Program helps sustain the academic excellence and inclusiveness of the Michigan graduate community, one that embraces students with diverse experiences and goals, and who come from many educational, cultural, geographic and familial backgrounds.
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Sylvain receives Rackham D.F. Green Award
Thursday, May 24, 2012
EEB graduate student Iman Sylvain received the Dorothy Fletcher Green Award from the Rackham Graduate School.
The Green Award was established to honor her life and assist future generations who are pursuing degrees in science and math. Green was born in the early 1900s and despite limited opportunities for people of color, she managed to have a successful nursing career and raise a family. She strongly believed that pursuing higher education is critically important and instilled this belief in her family. The award is $1000.
Sylvain studies plant ecology and agriculture with her advisor, Professor Tim James. Her research project working with coffee aims to answer two important questions: Does the global movement of food influence fungal population structure through long distance dispersal? And does the manner of food production and processing influence the community of fungi causing spoilage? “The importance of these questions to human health and wealth is not only due to loss of food through spoilage but also through the cancerous mycotoxins that result from fungal-fungal competition,” according James.
Sylvain presents her master's thesis, “A multi-regional perspective on the effect of coffee agriculture on fungal community structure in green coffee beans,” May 29, 2012. She will spend the rest of the summer working in the James Lab and preparing her papers for journal submission. In August, Sylvain begins the doctoral program in plant and microbial biology at the University of California, Berkeley.
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James, Timothy; Sylvain, Iman
Two SSE Rosemary Grant Graduate Research Awards
Monday, May 21, 2012
EEB graduate students Jen-Pan Huang and Tristan McKnight received Rosemary Grant Graduate Student Research Awards from The Society for the Study of Evolution. These awards assist students in the first two years of their Ph.D programs by enabling them to collect preliminary data or to enhance the scope of their research beyond current funding limits by visiting additional field sites, or working at other labs, for example. Professor Lacey Knowles is their advisor.
Huang is studying the Hercules Beetle to test the predominance of two competing mechanisms during population subdivision. Hercules Beetles have traits with different phenotypes that are governed by genetics and induced by environmental differences. By comparing phenotypic differences in these traits across multiple closely related populations/subspecies, Huang will estimate the speed and magnitude of evolutionary changes in non-plastic and plastic components of these traits.
McKnight is exploring dynamics of parallel evolution in the ecology and morphology in a pair of robber fly lineages using a combination of phylogenetic and ecological techniques. Robber flies (an understudied group of insects) are an interesting new system for exploring the creation of local communities from regional species pools and uncovering tradeoffs involved in adaptive radiations, according to McKnight.
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Cable spells her way to fundraising for 826michigan
Monday, May 21, 2012
EEB graduate student Rachel Cable participated in The Second Annual Spelling Bee for Honest Cheaters, Dirty Rotten Spellers, and Mustachioed Heroes in Ypsilanti recently to raise funds for 826michigan.
826michigan is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students aged 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.
Cable teamed up with doctoral students Dan Gershman and Ahmed Tawfik from U-M’s Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences. They wore space costumes from a previous series of science writing workshops that Gershman and Kristen Mihalka (U-M AOSS) created and implemented at 826. The spelling bee team, The James Webb Space Spelloscope, raised $595.
The spelling bee was hosted by poet Raymond McDaniel and featured Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber and author Steve Amick.
“It was a great event that raised over $10,000,” said EEB graduate student Susan Cheng. “The proceeds will be used to support the organization's free programs for students, which include tutoring, writing workshops, and other in-school programs. It wasn't your typical spelling bee, the words were really hard! Rachel and Dan had to spell mulct and foumart.”
Cheng recently volunteered at a writing workshop called Robot PI:The Case of the Forgetful Firefighter at 826michigan where she played a character the students interviewed to figure out who the guilty party was. EEB graduate student Alison Gould has participated in a writing workshop helping students write stories. Cable, Cheng and Gould plan to stay involved with the organization.
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Hunter passes Frontiers' director reins to Duda
Thursday, May 17, 2012
As of May 1, 2012 Professor Mark Hunter has handed over the director’s reins for the Frontiers Master’s Program to Professor Tom Duda for a five-year term.
“We've just recruited our fifth cohort of students for a total of 21 students overall,” said Hunter, who was the director for the first five years of the program. “Graduating Frontiers students have joined doctoral programs at institutions across the U.S., including Harvard, Berkeley, UCLA, Minnesota and University of Michigan, among others.
"The program was conceived as a STEP project within the university's ADVANCE program,” he said. STEP stands for Strategies Toward Excellent Practices. “Deborah Goldberg, John Vandermeer and Beverly Rathcke were the ones who developed the idea for Frontiers and I was lucky enough to inherit the fruits of their efforts. And the support that we've had from Rackham – from Abby Stewart and from Janet Weis – has been spectacular. The Frontiers Program has been the result of a lot of work by many people."
"It's been a real privilege to work with Frontiers students during the past five years. They have increased the strength and the diversity of our graduate program and I have learned a lot from them. It's reassuring to know that the program will in great hands with Tom Duda as director. Tom has put in a lot of work over the past few months to learn about Frontiers. He has some great ideas for leading the program into the future."
“As the founding director, Mark Hunter has done an absolute stellar job establishing the Frontiers programs with comprehensive mentoring and rigorous standards,” said EEB Professor and Chair Deborah Goldberg. “I am delighted that Tom has agreed to be the next director and will be bringing his talents and creativity to the program.”
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EEB Frontiers students graduate to U-M's EEB Ph.D. program
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Bick (2010 Frontiers cohort) is investigating questions pertaining to differential survival in a Pacific Island endemic species, terrestrial snails, with her advisor, Professor Diarmaid Ó Foighil. “In recent decades, the rich endemic tree snail fauna of the Society Islands (French Polynesia) has been almost completely extirpated by an introduced predator,” Bick said. “However, two snail species have differentially survived in the valleys of Tahiti and the goal of my thesis is to determine what factor(s) underlay this differential survival.
“I chose UM’s EEB program because of its outstanding depth in both ecology and evolutionary biology,” she said. “The faculty here is engaged in diverse and exciting research topics ranging from the origins of species to global climate change. Students get to be part of this exciting research. Fortunately, I found an advisor who worked on a research topic that I am highly interested in. The faculty and administration here are also very committed to fostering a supportive environment for its students.
“My undergraduate degrees were not in ecology or evolutionary biology and I was severely limited in the academic background that it took to succeed in an EEB graduate program. In the past two years as a Frontiers master’s student, I have been doing a lot of catching up. I have been exposed to a wide range of research topics as well as approaches in ecology and evolutionary biology. This exposure has enabled me to ‘fine tune’ my research interests and provide me with a foundation and competitive advantage to continue on to a nationally prominent Ph.D. program. This program also prepared me to navigate the mental and academic challenges of being a graduate student. Whenever I needed advice, there was always tremendous support from the EEB faculty and from diversity programs throughout the university.”
"Cindy has excelled in our Frontiers Master's Program and has proven to be a highly determined and intrepid researcher," said Ó Foighil. "I'm really pleased that she has picked us over Yale for her Ph.D. Given her interests in conservation biology, Cindy is well positioned to make a big impact (socially as well as scientifically) as a Polynesian woman scientist working in Oceania. We need to train talented young scientists just like her if we are to have any realistic chance of preserving representative fractions of these fragile island biotas."
Bick, who joins the Ph.D. program in the fall of 2012, was nominated for and received a Rackham Merit Fellowship, one of the largest and most prestigious awards for incoming students. The RMF recognizes entering students who have outstanding academic qualifications, show exceptional potential for scholarly success in their graduate program, and demonstrate promise for contributing to wider academic, professional, or civic communities. Farinas and Yitbarek are also Rackham Merits Fellows.
Regarding his decision to join EEB’s doctoral program, Farinas (2009 Frontiers cohort) said, “For me, it was a natural choice as I realized I had grown into a community here. There are so many great ecologists and the caliber of the work they do is amazing. Every day is a challenge. I have advanced greatly in knowledge and understanding since being here. Not only that, but I think the various other intellectual and social engagements that come along with this environment have caused me to grow quite a lot as a person.
“I feel the master's program was a solid preparation. Most of the time I felt like I was being treated like a Ph.D. student anyway. The expectations were quite high, but the mentorship was always there as a foundation.”
Regarding the experience of moving from Frontiers to the Ph.D. program, he said, “In all honesty, I don't feel like much has changed. Well, there's the additional stress of prelims of course, but the basic course is the same. I am trying to become the best and most well-rounded ecologist I can be. What I really look forward to, though, is more time to focus on deeper questions and building research that can answer them.”
Farinas will continue to study changing climate effects on plant communities. This summer he will focus more on questions of changes in nitrogen dynamics and the relationship to patterns of diversity. His advisor is Professor Deborah Goldberg.
Ong (2009 Frontiers cohort) chose to join EEB’s doctoral program because she really enjoyed working with her advisor, Vandermeer, and thinks that UM's theoretical ecology program and proximity to Detroit, which is currently the center of urban agricultural movements, was ideal.
“I found out that I was interested more in theoretical ecology and agroecology than conservation biology by going through the Frontiers program and being exposed to all sorts of research conducted at U-M,” Ong said. “Frontiers is a great program for deciding where to go next. It really helped me explore a variety of options, which helped me to decide what was best for me.”
Ong is currently investigating spatially-explicit ecological dynamics in urban gardens as part of Project Grow. Specifically, she is investigating the complex relationships between pea plants and other leguminous crops, plant pests (aphids) and the natural enemies of the pests (ladybird beetles and fungi). Ong and her collaborators will apply field, theoretical, and lab work towards understanding the patterns and mechanisms of pest and natural enemy dispersal through urban areas.
Yitbarek (2008 Frontiers cohort) focuses on complexity, space, games, emergence, and assembly with his advisor, Vandermeer, and believes that there was no other place in the world than to join UM’s EEB department. “My choice for joining the Ph.D. program was relatively simple. I wanted to work with John Vandermeer,” Yitbarek said.
“Professor Vandermeer belongs to the last creed of world-class intellectuals and has made significant contributions to theoretical ecology as well as advanced this knowledge to the burgeoning field of agricultural ecology that sustains the livelihoods of millions of small farmers with the science of ecology.
“My training as a master student with John Vandermeer was aimed at helping me to discover things on my own, to challenge my own and others’ ideas, and to make mistakes, which in return gave me a much more profound understanding of the material at hand than any of the As I ever received in my life. In short, I became truly educated.”
As a Ph.D. student, Yitbarek is investigating the invasion dynamics of the little fire ant Wasmannia auropunctata, considered to be one of the world’s top 100 invasive pests. This species is not considered to be an invasive in its native range, but drastically reduces ant biodiversity outside of its native range. The question of why this is the case continues to be perplexing to many ecologists. By combining theoretical aspects of spatial competition, empirical analysis of competitive networks, and field observation in both Mexico and Puerto Rico, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the invasion dynamics associated with W. auropunctata.
“Both Ong and Yitbarek have been great students, both during their master's career and now as Ph.D. students,” said Vandermeer. “The direction each of them has taken is a consequence of their experience as Frontier's students and I doubt they would have taken these tracks if it had not been for the opportunities offered them by the Frontier's program. In addition to the perspectives both bring to my lab with their distinct cultural backgrounds, they bring a diversity of intellectual engagement that has been exciting for everyone in the lab. This diversity of scholarly pursuit has been an incredibly important contribution of the Frontier's program to our department more generally.”
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Tie for EEB Outstanding Student Paper Award
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
EEB graduate students Celia Churchill and Wenfeng Qian won the 2012 EEB Outstanding Paper Award. Churchill’s cover story in Current Biology (October 2011), “Females Floated First in Bubble-Rafting Snails” and Qian’s “Balanced codon usage optimizes eukaryotic translational efficiency” in PLoS Genetics (March 2012) were selected by the review committee of Ya Yang and Sourya Shrestha, EEB postdoctoral fellows.
Regarding the paper Churchill coauthored with her advisor, Professor Diarmaid Ó Foighil, and others, Yang and Shrestha wrote, “As the paper's opening states, it is indeed a challenge to explain drastic evolutionary changes mechanistically, and this paper – by providing phylogenetic evidence for a sequence of morphological evolutionary changes that shows how exactly neustonic (microscopic organisms that float on the surface of open water) bubble-rafting snails arose from its benthic (organisms living on sea or lake bottoms) ancestors – does that. The exposition is first rate, concise yet mostly accessible to non-experts, and the results are conclusive and impressive.”
Qian’s paper was coauthored with Jian-Rong Yang, former visiting student, Nathaniel M. Pearson, former postdoctoral fellow, Calum Maclean, postdoctoral fellow, and Qian’s advisor, Professor Jianzhi Zhang. The review committee wrote, “The paper attempted a very difficult question of the mechanisms behind codon usage bias. The authors used multiple arguments, including an elegant experimental manipulation in yeast. In the end, the author proposed a general evolutionary model that translation accuracy, coevolution between tRNA recycling and codon usage, and mutation and drift together determine the patterns of codon usage bias. The article is well written and well organized. The message is clear and convincing for evolutionary biologists in general.”
Shrestha wrote, “Ya and I enjoyed reading five nominees for this year's outstanding student papers. The papers spanned a wide range of topics and employed various techniques, each making substantive contribution in their areas.”
Every year a 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 winners will share the $500 prize.
Pictured: Wenfeng Qian and Celia Churchill
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Records 41 to 50 of 89