Monday, April 6, 2015

Jenny Stern surprised by Udall scholarship

Jennifer Stern, an undergraduate student mentored by Leo Smith, curator of ichthyology, is one of two students to be awarded the prestigious Udall Foundation Scholarship. 

Stern and KU junior Ashlie Koehn were awarded the scholarship for 2015. They are among 50 students nationwide honored as 2015 Udall Scholars. The honor comes with a scholarship of up to $5,000 for the scholar's senior year. The Udall Foundation honors undergraduate college students across the nation for leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to American Indian nations or to the environment. KU’s University Honors Program worked with Koehn and Stern to apply for the highly competitive award.  

Koehn, a junior from Burns triple-majoring in economics, environmental studies and global & international studies, plans a career in environmental economics.

Her interest was sparked not in Lawrence, but in Germany. 

"A unique, clarifying moment came last summer while I was studying abroad with Environmental Studies in Freiburg, Germany," Koehn said. "There, Professor Earnhart taught a class on environmental economics, and I began thinking more deeply about the potential of economic policy as a way to protect the environment. I am currently studying economics in Kyrgyzstan because I see it as a way to make a difference on issues like climate change. I am incredibly honored to represent KU as a Udall Scholar and humbled by the faith and support shown in me." 

"In Freiburg, Ashlie excelled academically and creatively exploited the many opportunities to explore issues relating to environmental economics and sustainability," said Dietrich Earnhart, professor of economics. "While many perspectives help to promote environmental sustainability, economics provides a useful framework for identifying the underlying causes of environmental problems and constructing effective policy solutions.  Ashlie demonstrates that she has a great ability to apply this framework effectively in order to help solve current and future environmental problems." 

Stern was one of 50 honorable mentions recognized by the Udall Foundation in 2014. After spending last summer at the New England Aquarium in Boston as a marine science summer camp intern, she was eager to apply again this year. Her focus in graduate school will be the effects of climate change on arctic ecosystems, specifically beluga whales. 

"I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunities that the Udall Scholarship will provide me," said Stern. "I’m especially looking forward to the Scholar Orientation this summer, where I can meet and connect with others who are just as passionate about the environment as I am. I am dedicated to pursing research and connecting the public with nature, and I have pursued activities that have allowed me to do both. In addition, I have had the privilege of working with phenomenal research advisors who have shown me the possibilities and progress that research provides." 

"Jenny’s ability to take the diverse research opportunities available to undergraduates at KU to build a directed research program toward her career goals exemplifies what makes Jenny and KU great," said Leo Smith, assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology who is directing Stern's independent honors research. "Jenny’s strength is in her creativity and her ability to connect ideas and synthesize across her experiences. I have been fascinated by her early recognition that a scientific leader must be able to conduct research, teach the next generation of scientists, and explain scientific findings to the public." 

Smith was joined by Joy Ward, associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and another of Stern's research mentors, and Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships for the University Honors Program, at an impromptu surprise ceremony at the KU Natural History Museum to present Stern with the news of her Udall Scholarship. Koehn, who is spending the 2014-15 academic year in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, had a more intimate ceremony via Skype but was equally surprised by the news, which was delivered over a time difference of 12 hours. 

Student applications include a summary of research, leadership and community service experience, as well as an 800-word essay on a speech, legislative act, book or public policy statement by former Arizona Congressman Morris K. Udall or former Arizona Congressman and Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall, as well as three letters of recommendation addressing leadership, public service and academic achievements. Applications were submitted March 4. 

More information about KU's 2015 Udall Scholars is below: 

Ashlie Koehn, of Burns, is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn and is a graduate of Fredrick Remington High School. She is a triple major in economics, environmental studies and global & international studies. She is a member of the Kansas Air National Guard; staff sergeant, 177th Information Aggressor Squadron; Kansas Air National Guard-cyber intelligence analyst/aggressor and was named the 2013 Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year. She is currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, with Boren and Gilman scholarships. Koehn also is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and was named a Newman Civic Fellow in 2014. 

Jennifer Stern, of Lawrence, is the daughter of George and Joan Stern and is a graduate of Free State High School. She is majoring in ecology & evolutionary biology. She conducted original research on climate change and Ash trees with Joy Ward, associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, and on the evolution of venom across the sharks and stingrays with William Leo Smith, assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and assistant curator at the Biodiversity Institute. Stern spent summer 2014 at the New England Aquarium Harbor Discoveries Camp as the marine science camp counselor intern. She is member of the University Scholar program and head peer leader for the Peer Led Undergraduate Supplements in Biology program. Stern received a 2014 Honorable Mention for the Udall Scholarship. 

Source: KU News

News Type:
Student News
Thursday, April 2, 2015

Hannah Owens has been awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology in Competitive Area 2: Interdisciplinary Research Using Biological Collections. The project is entitled "Out of the Tropics and Out of the Drawer: Integrative Analysis of the Tropical Diversity Gradient From Museum Collections of New World Swallowtail Butterflies." The goal of the proposed research is to innovate in analysis of the tropical diversity gradient by incorporating traditionally-hypothesized drivers of the pattern, such as evolutionary history, clade age, and diversification rate, with novel factors such as tropicality of suitable ecological niche, breadth of abiotic niche, and morphological variability. I will be mentored by Rob Guralnick at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. The fellowship consists of $138,000 spread over two years.

News Type:
Student News
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Brendan Lynch from the Office of Public Affairs recently interviewed Matt Davis and Leo Smith from KU Biodiversity Instutute’s Ichthyology for a research feature on concerning their three-year, $575,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. With the grant, they will study evolutionary patterns and diversity in three lines of widespread deep-sea fishes: lizardfishes, lanternfishes and dragonfishes.

News Type:
In the News
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Matt Davis, Nancy Holcraft, Ed Wiley, Leo Smith and John Sparks, have learned that their research paper, "New Study Links Species Specific Bioluminescence with Increased diversification in open ocean," has been published in the journal Marine Biology

From the American Museum of Natural History news release: “Scientists have shown for the first time that deep-sea fishes that use bioluminescence for communication are diversifying into different species faster than other glowing fishes that use light for camouflage. The new research indicates that bioluminescence—a phenomenon in which animals generate visible light through a chemical reaction—could promote communication and mating in the open ocean, an environment with few barriers to reproduction." 

News Type:
Research News
Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Though present in more than 6,000 living species of fish, the adipose fin, a small appendage that lies between the dorsal fin and tail, has no clear function and is thought to be vestigial. However, a new study analyzing their origins finds that these fins arose repeatedly and independently in multiple specie

News Type:
Research News
Friday, November 22, 2013

The deep sea could be the largest habitat for life on Earth yet to be methodically explored. Due to chilly temperatures, extreme depth and an eerie darkness below about 650 feet, it can be technologically arduous and very expensive to collect and observe the biodiversity that thrives in this mysterious ecosystem. 

“Collecting deep-sea fishes is engaging, challenging and rewarding work,” said Matt Davis, a research associate with the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas. “Often it requires a lot of dedication to long shifts  — 12 to 16 hours — on a boat where a ton of various activities are taking place simultaneously. The trawl net is being dropped and emptied on board 24 hours a day, leading to a near-constant stream of new specimens needing to be identified, photographed and measured. These trips often last anywhere from a week to months, and every trip brings new challenges and discoveries.”

Now, Davis and Leo Smith, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU, have earned a three-year, $575,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study evolutionary patterns and diversity in three lines of widespread deep-sea fishes: lizardfishes, lanternfishes and dragonfishes.

“We are very interested in what factors have shaped the present-day biodiversity that we observe in the deep sea,” said Davis. “One aspect of this involves studying patterns of how lineages have diversified and accumulated over time. In general, we are interested in identifying periods in evolutionary history where the evolution of a group is significantly altered in terms of rates of speciation and extinction.”

According to the KU researchers, who are working with colleague John S. Sparks at the American Museum of Natural History, many species associated with these lineages share common physical traits.

“There are a few anatomical features that a lot of people identify with deep-sea fishes that are, in general, great examples of evolution occurring in this environment,” Davis said. “Among these are large dagger-shaped teeth, which many predatory deep-sea fishes employ to trap and contain prey. It’s also very common for the body of deep-sea fishes to be either black or red. Few deep-sea organisms are capable of seeing the color red, as the wavelength for this color does not travel very far in water. Fishes that are bright red are effectively invisible to a lot of other organisms in the deep-sea.”

Another usual trait among deep-sea fishes is bioluminescence  — the ability of an organism to produce and emit light — which gives them advantages at great depths.

“This is incredibly common in marine environments, particularly in the deep sea where there is little to no penetrable sunlight,” Davis said. “Most deep-sea fishes emit and display bioluminescent light through a variety of fascinating anatomical structures, such as the lure of an anglerfish, or modified scales, called photophores, that can aid in the reflection and transmission of light. There are many hypothesized functions for bioluminescence, including attracting prey, communication and camouflage.”

Likewise, many fishes that inhabit waters below 650 feet or so are hermaphrodites, such as dragonfishes, which are capable of switching their sex over the course of their lifetimes. Others, like tripodfishes and lancetfishes, can produce both eggs and sperm at the same time.

“Some have hypothesized that being able to alter the type of gamete produced over the course of one's life history may provide a reproductive advantage in an environment where it may be difficult to find a mate,” Davis said. In addition to expeditions to collect deep-sea fishes, the KU researchers will rely on established collections of fossil fishes to trace how various deep-sea fish evolved.

“Because deep-sea fishes are quite difficult to collect, some of the biodiversity may only be known from a single collecting trip in one particular area of the world,” said Davis. “For this reason, museum collections are a fundamental aspect to understanding Earth’s biodiversity, including life in the deep sea. We will be working closely with the collections of many museums to accomplish our work, such as The Field Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Museum of Comparative Zoology and, of course, the Biodiversity Institute right here at KU.”

The KU researcher explained that Kansas, even though it is landlocked, has given researchers a trove of information about the ancestry of present-day deep-sea life.

“Many fossils that are attributed to deep-sea fishes are identified from deposits where there was a marine environment covering what is now exposed land,” Davis said. “Some of the most famous marine fossils in the world are actually known from Kansas, in the Niobrara Chalk. This Late Cretaceous formation is filled with marine fossils from the Western Interior Seaway that covered a large portion of what is now Kansas. Among these fossils are large marine reptiles, such as mosasaurs, and fishes, including Xiphactinus, a predatory fish that could reach lengths of up to 20 feet.” -Brendan Lynch

News Type:
Award Grant News
Thursday, November 14, 2013

SVP Cover

Gloria Arratia of the KU Biodiversity Institute has learned that "Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Memoir 13 Gloria Arratia (2013) Morphology, taxonomy, and phylogeny of Triassic pholidophorid fishes (Actinopterygii, Teleostei)" will be published by the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Volume 33. Each year SVP has an open competition of proposal for memoirs and the selected subject. After passing the review process, the memoir will be printed by Francis & Taylor free of costs (except the color illustrations).  Gloria's proposal on fishes was selected among six proposals competing for Memoir 13, year 2013. Attached is a cover page image; contact Gloria if you would like to see the full version.

News Type:
In the News
Monday, September 23, 2013

Leo Smith has joined KU as an assistant curator of ichthyology at the Biodiversity Institute and as assistant professor of systematics and evolution at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He comes to KU from the Field Museum in Chicago. Smith's research focuses on the evolutionary biology of fishes. He is interested in the large-scale phenomena that have shaped the history and diversification of fishes in both geographic space and geologic time. He uses a combination of phylogenetic or "family" trees and detailed anatomical and genomic analyses to understand the evolution and diversification of fishes.

Research associate Matt Davis has also joined the ichthyology division. Matt's research program focuses on the evolution of fishes that inhabit the deep sea, as the extreme habitats of this environment have produced fascinating evolutionary events among the 4000-6000 species of marine fishes that have invaded this realm (e.g., telescopic eyes, bioluminescence, hermaphroditism). He uses phylogenetic hypotheses as frameworks to investigate a breadth of evolutionary questions related to organismal diversity and diversification. His work focuses on exploring a number of evolutionary topics related to fishes that inhabit the deep sea, including; estimating divergence times, temporal changes in diversification rates, character evolution, correlations between speciation rates and evolutionary adaptations, ecological habitat shifts, and biogeography.

News Type:
Research News
Monday, September 23, 2013

Research associate Matt Davis and Ichthyology Curator Leo Smith have learned that their proposal "Collaborative Research: Diversification in the Deep-Sea and the Evolution of Fangs, Bioluminescence, Hermaphroditism, and Marine Habitat Transitions" has been awarded $575,000 by the National Science Foundation. Of the grant, $425,000 was awarded to PI Davis and Co-PI Smith (University of Kansas), and $150,000 was awarded to PI J.S. Sparks of the American Museum of Natural History.

Grant summary: All animals that have evolved in the deep sea are under similar selective pressures as a result of the environmental extremes (e.g., little to no penetrable sunlight, high atmospheric pressure). This extreme habitat has led to massive convergence in animal morphology and behavior across deep-sea organisms ranging from the production and emission of light (bioluminescence) to the evolution of enlarged fangs and gaping mouths. This multidisciplinary project will investigate the processes that have impacted the evolution of deep-sea fishes and their success in this fascinating aquatic realm. This study integrates phylogenetic relationships based on genetic and morphological data, comparative morphology, ecology, and evolutionary biology in an effort to broaden our understanding of fishes that have evolved, thrived, and diversified in the deep sea.

This research will increase our understanding of a diverse array of deep-sea evolutionary adaptations, including bioluminescent structures that are used for predation, defense, species recognition, and sexual selection. These novel morphologies and behaviors have never before been studied within the context of a robust evolutionary framework based on molecular and morphological data. The resulting hypotheses will include a temporal component based on the fossil record that will allow us to explore, for the first time, whether these specializations are having potential effects on speciation in the deep sea. This project will support the training of postdoctoral, graduate, undergraduate, and high school students in marine biology, systematics, and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas and American Museum of Natural History. Findings from this work will continue to augment a new bioluminescence exhibit created and curated by PI Sparks and co-PI Smith (Creatures of Light).

News Type:
Award Grant News