Dr. Cori Richards-Zawacki has been awarded the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award by the National Science Foundation. The NSF grants this award to a select group of junior professors who have not only demonstrated exceptional research and teaching skills, but who have also successfully integrated their education and research efforts. Dr. Richards-Zawacki's project will use the relationship between climate and susceptibility of amphibians to a newly-emerged fungal disease (chytridiomycosis) to (1) develop new models for predicting disease risk in space and time (2) teach K-12 and university students about the potential impacts of climate change on ecosystems. The research component of this project will assess the effect of climate and host behavior on pathogenicity and immune defense using a combination of lab exposure experiments and field studies. These results will then be integrated using a biophysical modeling approach to predict where and when amphibians will be unable avoid or combat this pathogen, leaving them susceptible to mortality and declines. The education component of this project will use findings and techniques from the research to develop, employ, and evaluate new curricula for teaching the impacts of climate change on ecological processes. At the core of these curricula will be experiential learning and a "citizen science" approach facilitating feedback from K-12 and university classrooms to the research.
For years scientists have theorized that bird speciation, or the formation of new species, resulted from isolation due to the geographical and climactic changes of the landscape, such as the formation of the Andes Mountains in South America. A recent article in the journal Nature co-authored by Assistant Professor Dr. Elizabeth Derryberry, her postdoc Dr. Andres Cuervo, and an international team of collaborators, posits that tropical bird speciation in South America was caused by movements of populations across existing geographical barriers. This research is important because it not only helps identify the origins of South American tropical bird speciation, but it also presents an alternative hypothesis for speciation in general that may be applied to other organisms in other regions.
Dr. Renata Ribeiro, along with her collaborators Dr. Jordan Karubian and Dr. Liz Derryberry, has grabbed the attention of local media outlets recently with the announcement of a new study investigating the affect of lead contamination in the soil of New Orleans on mockingbirds' ability to learn new songs. Learning new songs is important for mockingbirds to be able to attract mates and reproduce. It is widely known that lead can be as poisonous to animals as it is to humans, but little is known about what specific impacts that lead contamination has on urban wildlife. New Orleans, with its many historic neighborhoods, tends to have a high amount of lead in its soil, which unfortunately makes it a good location to conduct such a study.
Dr. Hank Bart, Professor and Director of the Tulane University Biodiversity Institute, was featured on the Discovery Channel's new series "Beasts of the Bayou." The show's second episode focuses on the myth of the Altamaha-ha, or "Altie," a 20-foot-long water monster with a long neck, sharp teeth and a spiny tail. As an ichthyologist and the overseer of the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection, the largest collection of fish specimens in the world, Dr. Bart takes the counterpoint to a group of adventurers that insist the beast exists. "When [alligator gar] come up to take gulps of air," explains Dr. Bart, "they actually surface and curl, and I can imagine that someone would think they were seeing a monster."
Tulane's newest study abroad program takes students to Costa Rica to learn about the environment. The interdisciplinary Environmental Studies program consists of several fields important to understanding the environment including ecology, climate change, conservation, geology, international law, international politics and Spanish language. The team of instructors includes EEB's own Sunshine Van Bael, who teaches Tropical Agroecosystems, and Tom Sherry, who teaches Tropical Conservation and Global Change. Immersing students in Costa Rica allows students to experience the beauty of a tropical environment and the various issues facing many countries.
The Science and Engineering Spring 2014 Newsletter features a tribute to EEB's own Jeanette "Davi" Battistella who is entering her 31st year at Tulane. Davi has been an integral part of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department for more than two-thirds of that time. She is truly one of the greatest resources for the Faculty and Students of EEB. Thanks for everything Davi!
PhD candidate Jessica Henkel won first place in the Graduate Oral Presentation category at the 2014 State of the Coast conference. This biennial conference is hosted by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and brings together various interested parties including the scientific community, government agencies, business leaders and residents. Jessica wowed the audience with her talk titled "Potential impacts of sea-level rise on the migration ecology of shorebirds on the Northern Gulf of Mexico."
Koch-Richardson Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. John Schenk led a team of researchers that discovered a new plant in Arizona's Grand Canyon. Dr. Schenk and his colleagues described the white to light yellow flowering perennial, which they named Mentzelia canyonensis, in the journal Brittonia.
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