Frontiers Master’s 2014 cohort dives in at U-M Biological Station


By Gail Kuhnlein
Jul 07, 2014 Bookmark and Share

The 2014 Frontiers cohort: Johanna Nifosi, Ivan Monagan,  Nicholas Medina and Peter Cerda

The 2014 Frontiers cohort: Johanna Nifosi, Ivan Monagan, Nicholas Medina and Peter Cerda. Photo credit: Bethany Christoff.

The 2014 cohort of Frontiers Master’s students headed north to the U-M Biological Station to dive into their summer of research in the program June 21, 2014.

A warm EEB welcome to new students Peter Cerda, Nicholas Medina, Ivan Monagan and Johanna Nifosi.

At the Biological Station in Pellston, Mich., the students will be working on a summer research project and participating in a series of professional development workshops as a cohort. Frontiers is designed to give incoming students an opportunity to learn about the full range of subjects in EEB. They will each take one course over the summer. Monagan and Nifosi are taking Biology of Insects, Cerda signed up for Field Mammalogy and Medina is interested in Forest Ecosystems.

“We are thrilled to have admitted four individuals who clearly demonstrate academic excellence and are well poised to succeed as graduate students,” said Professor Tom Duda, Frontiers director. In the spirit of the broad-based program structure, the students will not select their advisors until the beginning of the winter 2015 term. In the meantime, Duda will serve as their temporary advisor. 

Peter CerdaCerda, who graduated from the University of Texas–Pan American, is spending the summer working with Professor Emeritus Phil Myers looking at masked shrew and pigmy shrew populations on the burn plots at UMBS. “We want to know if the shrew populations differ depending on the age of the forest,” said Cerda. “I am also thinking about doing an invertebrate survey to see if a change in prey might be driving any differences.”

Nicholas MedinaMedina, a Brandeis University graduate, will be working with Professor Knute Nadelhoffer’s lab to study the long-term effects of different leaf litter, root and fertilizer inputs on organic matter decomposition rates in sandy soils. “We will be measuring the amount of carbon dioxide released by the soil and analyzing it for the quantity of older and younger carbon. Differences in the age of the carbon dioxide released may indicate how quickly or slowly different soil layers decompose over long periods of time when exposed to varying levels of leaf-litter fall, root, and woody debris conditions,” Medina said. “This is important because it tackles the larger question of how carbon-cycling dynamics are responding to changing temperate-forest dynamics, which are sensitive to changing seasonal climate regimes.”

Ivan MonaganMonagan, a graduate of Virginia State University, will be working with Dr. Brian Scholtens of the College of Charleston to explore his interest in studying factors that influence species diversity in isolated ecosystems. “For my summer project I look forward to using temporary ponds (vernal pools) as a model system to explore the relationship of variable pond characteristics to the diversity and abundance of insect fauna.” 

Johanna NifosiNifosi, a graduate of Universidad Metropolitana, Puerto Rico, will be working with Professor Mark Hunter. “I will be trying to assess what effect temperature has, due to global climate change, on the variance of parasites that infect monarch butterflies. It will be a very interesting project and I look forward to the answer.” 

The NSF-funded Frontiers Master’s Program was launched in 2008, in part to bring students to the study of ecology and evolutionary biology who might not otherwise have considered it. This is the program’s seventh cohort. Previous graduates have gone on to doctoral programs at Yale University, Harvard University, University of California and the University of Michigan.

The traditional master’s and doctoral students will be announced in web news in fall 2014 when they begin their programs.