Center for Conservation and Biodiversity

Research Awards

The Center for Conservation and Biodiversity has funds to aid graduate and undergraduate research and related educational opportunities in biodiversity and conservation biology. Graduate and undergraduate students enrolled full-time at the University are eligible for these awards.

Every year, the Center makes 2 or 3 awards of up to $750 for activities directly linked to student research and other educational experiences, e.g., travel to meetings and summer field sites, station fees, course and bench fees, visits to other institutions, internships (e.g., in EEB’s collections and greenhouses), and supplies.

The Center makes a separate $2000 award for one proposal with a primary focus on botany, and especially plant ecology. This award has been made possible by an endowed account established by A. I. and A. N. Silander.

Current and Former Awardees

Ellen Woods

Polygonum cespitosum (Persicaria longiseta) is an annual plant that was introduced to North America in the early 1900s from its native East/Southeast Asia. Incidence of P. cespitosum was predominantly limited to the moist, shaded forest understory in both its native and introduced ranges, but in the last 15 years, it has begun colonizing a wider range of habitat and has accordingly been recognized as invasive in New England. While P. cespitosum has been extensively studied in its introduced range, much less is known about its ecology in the native range.

With support from the Center for Conservation and Biodiversity, I will travel to East Asia to conduct fieldwork, which will primarily consist of visits to native populations of P. cespitosum to measure environmental site characteristics and collect seed for subsequent greenhouse experiments. I will ultimately compare the plants and environments of the native and introduced ranges to investigate mechanisms responsible for P. cespitosum's recent invasion. More specifically, I am interested in understanding the relative roles that pre-adapted traits, genetic diversity, and adaptive evolution post-introduction may play. By studying biological invasion in this context, I will be able to not only identify the pathway by which an exotic species becomes invasive, but more broadly address how a species adapts to novel environments, a central topic in climate change ecology.

Manette Sandor

Under climate change many species ranges are expected to move either northward or up in elevation in response to changing temperature and precipitation. Ecologists have made specific predictions for how individual species will respond to climate change, but species interactions (such as pollination, predator-prey relationships, or fruit consumption) also affect responses, and these effects are not well known. It is also not known how climate change will affect whole communities of interacting species. Many shrubs in temperate ecosystems depend on animals that eat fruit to disperse their seeds, especially in fall and winter. The animals eat the fruit, move to another location, and defecate the seeds. This process is important for determining where species will be able to move. With support from the Center for Conservation and Biodiversity, I will study the community of fleshy-fruiting shrubs and fruit-eating birds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to develop a theoretical framework for incorporating species interactions into climate change projections for individual species. I will determine where species are currently located and with what other species they interact and then project where they will be in the future. Understanding what species are most at risk from climate change within a community will allow conservation practitioners to prioritize species for protection.

Kali Block

I am interested in whether Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus), an invasive species, arrived in North America ready to establish breeding populations, or if they responded to conditions at a completely new latitude with a change in morphology. Originating in subtropical South America, Monk Parakeets have invaded and naturalized throughout North America over the past 40 years as a result of pet releases. Since Monk Parakeets have established populations in a wide variety of climates, either they have an “all-purpose” morphology, or each population should be changing in response to their climate. Ecogeographical theories provide insight into how latitudinal gradients of temperature and humidity affect an animal's morphology. Allen's Rule predicts that the size of extremities (e.g., limbs) decrease in size with increasing distance from the equator, Bergmann's Rule predicts that body size increases. These clines are thermoregulatory; larger bodies confer a greater ability to produce heat, and less surface relative to volume for heat loss and smaller extremities conserve heat. Gloger's Rule predicts that darker plumage is found in more humid environments (e.g. the equator) because of their resistance to bacterial degradation. With support from the Center of Conservation and Biodiversity, I am testing predictions made by all three of these ecogeographical rules by comparing the morphology of native and non-native populations of Monk Parakeet

Zachary Skelton

Fishes that migrate inland from marine environments to spawn must undergo physiological and behavioral changes that facilitate life in freshwater as adults, whereas juveniles must make the opposite halohabitat transition. These so-called anadromous species can tolerate a variety of salinity levels by successfully osmoregulating, whereby they maintain a steady internal water concentration. Ion transporters within ionocytes in fish gills and kidneys facilitate osmoregulation. There are three main ion transporters: Na+/K+ ATPase, cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator and Na+/K+/Cl- cotransporter. Molecular studies of the expression, localization, and regulation of these proteins have been characterized in many anadromous fishes. However, despite the wealth of morphological and genomic studies that have been published on the evolution of threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), little is known about the development and plasticity of this fish’s osmoregulatory physiology.

My award from the Center of Conservation and Biodiversity will be used to support studies examining the effects of early ontogeny and acclimation on osmoregulation in a population of anadromous stickleback from Alaska. The specific objective of my research will be to examine how ion transporter gene expression changes during a series of early developmental stages. I am primarily interested in seeing if sticklebacks acclimated to different salinities also differ in expression of osmoregulatory genes in gill tissues. My project will provide insight into the physiological processes underlying freshwater to saltwater transitions made by fish.