Grad-Invited Seminar Nominated 2009

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EEB Graduate Student Association

In order to nominate a speaker for the 2009 Grad-Invited Seminar, create a section heading with that person's name and institution, along with links to their personal webpage, a blurb about their research, etc. See the page from last year for examples. Deadline for nominations will be March 28. Voting will be conducted in early April.

John Wiens, Stony Brook University

John Wiens' research consists of three main areas: (1) phylogenetic approaches to questions in evolution and ecology, (2) the theory and methods of systematics, and (3) the biology of reptiles and amphibians. First, he is interested in using integrative phylogenetic studies of reptiles and amphibians to address diverse topics in evolution and ecology, including patterns of species richness, community assembly, evolution of major changes in body form, life history evolution, and ecological specialization. Second, he is interested in developing and testing methods for reconstructing phylogenies and determining species boundaries. He is particularly interested in the problems of combining data sets, delimiting species, and the analysis of polymorphic and quantitative characters. Third, he is interested in the phylogeny, evolution, ecology, morphology, physiology, and behavior of reptiles and amphibians.

In his website, four research projects are described:

Phylogeny, speciation, and species richness in Appalachian salamanders. Many of the worlds biodiversity hotspots are montane regions, but the reasons why montane regions are so rich in diversity and endemism has remained unclear. We are addressing this problem by focusing on a single group of organisms (plethodontid salamanders) in a single montane region (Appalachian mountains). The Appalachians appear to have the highest densities of salamander species of any region in the world. In collaboration with Paul Chippindale (Univ. Texas, Arlington), we are reconstructing the phylogenetic relationships of all ~100 species of plethodontids in eastern North America, using nuclear and mitochondrial markers. We will then combine our phylogeny with geographic and environmental data to understand the interaction of ecological and evolutionary processes that create high montane species richness and endemism. We are also studying the processes involved in specific speciation events, especially those that limit the distribution of montane endemics and might drive vicariance.

The Deep Scaly Project: resolving squamate phylogeny using genomic and morphological approaches. We are part of an NSF-funded multi-institutional consortium that is attempting to conclusively resolve the phylogeny of lizard and snake families. We are sequencing 50 single-copy nuclear protein-coding genes for 142 squamate species, and obtaining morphological data for the same species (as well as ~60 fossil taxa). We are seeking out new nuclear markers for vertebrate molecular phylogenetics through comparison of known nuclear genomes. We are also conducting simulation studies to address how phylogenetic information from fossils and large molecular data sets can be combined. Collaborators on this project include Tod Reeder, Jack Sites, and Maureen Kearney.

Dissecting the latitudinal gradient in species richness in treefrogs. One of the oldest known patterns in ecology and biogeography is the tendency for species richness to increase from temperate to tropical regions. Yet, a generally satisfying explanation for this pattern has remained elusive. The typical approach looks at the correlation between environmental variables and species richness, and considers evolutionary processes (e.g., speciation) only indirectly or not at all. We are focusing on one gradient in diversity in one group of organisms in one region (the change in hylid frog diversity from South America to North America), using an integrated phylogenetic approach that considers both ecological and evolutionary processes. We are reconstructing the relationships of the hylid species that make up this gradient using molecular and morphological data and then using this phylogeny to infer how ecological factors have influenced the diversity and distribution of species and clades to create the large-scale gradient in species richness. Collaborators include Tod Reeder, Bill Duellman, and Catherine Graham.

Evolution of color morph frequencies in Long Island redback salamanders. The classic model of speciation is as follows. A single homogeneous population becomes geographically divided, the populations diverge, and then the differentiated populations become sympatric again. We are studying a case where this scenario may have run in reverse. In most of northeastern North America, Red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) have two morphswithin a population, those with a red dorsal stripe (redback) and those without (leadback). On Long Island, however, most populations are monomorphic for one morph or the other, with redbacks dominating in the west and leadbacks in the east. We are currently using molecular markers and GIS-based analyses to try and uncover the evolutionary and ecological processess responsible for this remarkable situation.

Kellar Autumn, Lewis & Clark College

Kellar Autumn’s research focuses on the mechanisms and evolution of animal locomotion, and on developing biologically inspired materials and machines. Autumn is best known for his discovery of the mechanism of adhesion of geckos.

Professional Accomplishments:

  1. Founded new sub-field of research: gecko adhesion / adhesive nanostructures at the interface between biology, physics, and materials science.
  2. Discovered that geckos stick to walls with intermolecular van Waals forces (PNAS 2002).
  3. Discovered that gecko foot-hairs are the first self-cleaning adhesive known to science (PNAS 2005
  4. Discovered that gecko setae are a "smart adhesive" controlled mechanically not chemically (Nature 2000).
  5. Invented and patented first biologically-inspired design for gecko-like dry adhesive nanostructures, "gecko glue". US Patents #6,737,160 and #7,011,723.
  6. Discovered that geckos use only 1/3 as much energy to move as do other animals with legs.
  7. Challenged common assumption that evolution produces optimal designs. Showed that adaptation often produces suboptimal designs.

Autumn’s work has been featured on every major television network and in hundreds of newspaper, magazine, and Internet articles worldwide. He's also young, very enthusiastic, and is doing world-class, multi-disclipinary research at a small liberal arts school.

John Marzluff, University of Washington

John is on the leading edge in the developing field of urban ecology and also does fascinating research on crow learning and behavior. I think his multi-disciplinary approach is very attractive and something I'd like to learn more about.

Here's a blurb from his website:
Most of my research currently is focused on comparisons of bird and small mammal populations (and resulting communities) along the gradient of urbanization that exists from Seattle to the Olympic and Cascade Mountains in western Washington. Along with my colleagues in planning, policy, and landscape architecture, I am investigating how the pattern of human settlement affects structure and function of bird communities. My aim is to translate this research into meaningful policy to better conserve birds where humans live. To compliment this research, my colleagues and I have developed a new graduate training program in Urban Ecology at UW. This interdisciplinary program is currently funded by the National Science Foundation and seeks to improve Earth's condition by engaging policy makers, scientists, students, and citizens in the generation, teaching, and use of knowledge about the interactions between humans and ecological processes in urbanizing environments.

Camille Parmesan, University of Texas

Parmesan's early research focused on multiple aspects of population biology, including the ecology, evolution and behaviors of insect/plant interactions. For the past several years, the focus of her work has been on current impacts of climate change in the 20th century on wildlife. Her work on butterfly range shifts has been highlighted in many scientific and popular press reports, such as in Science, Science News, New York Times, London Times, National Public Radio, and the recent BBC film series "State of the Planet" with David Attenborough.

The intensification of global warming as an international issue led her into the interface of policy and science. Parmesan has given seminars in DC for the White House, government agencies, and NGOs (e.g., IUCN and WWF). As a lead author, she was involved in multiple aspects of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, United Nations).

Howard Rundle, University of Ottawa

Below is a blurb from his webpage, as well as some recent publications. He is the Evolution Society's 2002 Dobzhansky Prize winner.

"While I am interested in diverse topics in evolutionary ecology, the main focus of research in my lab currently addresses how natural and sexual selection interact during adaptation, and how both processes contribute to phenotypic divergence and speciation. Addressing such questions requires a comprehensive understanding of how sexual selection operates within populations and how it varies in different environments (e.g., social, geographical, natural). Our approach is primarily empirical and utilizes experimental evolution and behavioural assays to conduct manipulative, direct tests of various key evolutionary hypotheses. Because the majority of sexual selection theory has quantitative genetic foundations, much of our work is also conducted within a quantitative genetic framework.

Via ongoing collaborations with Steve Chenoweth and Mark Blows at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, I am also interested in understanding how the genetic basis of complex traits under natural and sexual selection affects their evolution, and how selection feeds back to alter the genetic basis of these traits. Examples of this work includes ongoing experiments examining the evolution of sexual dimorphism in sexual display traits, geographic variation in sexual selection among natural populations, and the evolution of indirect genetic effects of mating on sexual display traits.

The majority of this research uses the Australian fruit fly, Drosophila serrata..."

Rundle, H.D., S.F. Chenoweth and M.W. Blows. 2008. Comparing complex fitness surfaces: Among-population variation in mutual sexual selection in Drosophila serrata. American Naturalist: in press.

Chenoweth, S.F., H.D. Rundle and M.W. Blows. 2008. Genetic constraints and the evolution of display trait sexual dimorphism by natural and sexual selection. American Naturalist 171: 22-34.