Newsletter 2014-1 March 3, 2014

We Lose a Hero of Evolution
Aykut Kence, one of the first Ph.D. graduates from Ecology and Evolution and a student of Robert Sokal, passed away on February 1, 2014. He was one of the very first TAs of the famously tiring and rigorous Biometry course, and he of course ushered students into the Loyal Order of the Normal Deviate. His thesis was entitled "The effects of variation in larval development on laboratory populations of Tribolium and houseflies." He came to the United States and the very new Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook from Turkey after getting his degree at Istanbul University in 1968. After earning his Ph.D. degree at Stony Brook and a postdoc at the University of Houston, he returned to his native Turkey and spent his entire career in Ankara at the Middle East Technical University. While he was a pioneer in the development of population genetics and evolution in Turkey, he will be long remembered for his tireless advocacy of the theory and teaching of evolutionary biology.   More here.

E&E and Stony Brook University Continue Expansion in Genomics

Stony Brook University announced last Spring a second round of cluster hires, decided through a campus-wide competition. The search has now begun, and Stony Brook University is now interviewing candidates with the expectation of hiring three genomicists. Ecology and Evolution will supervise interviews for a position in plant genomics, which is now about to proceed. But this only builds on some exciting new faculty addition to the Department and the University. Recently, Dr. Sasha Levy joined the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology. Sasha develops technologies using random DNA barcodes and next-generation sequencing to quantitatively study the behavior of millions of small lineages in large cell populations. He uses these tools to understand how cell populations, such as microbial pathogens or cancer, evolve; how environmental fluctuations shape evolutionary strategies; how genetic and protein-protein interaction networks change across environments; and how genetic architecture constrains the adaptive process. Sasha is an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook and will soon join the Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution. Dr. Krishna Veeramah has just taken residence in the Department of Ecology and Evolution. At Stony Brook his research will be focused on using genomic-scale data to understand the evolutionary genetics of human and non-human primates and conducting geographically fine-scale studies of human genetic variation in sub-Saharan Africa. He is also involved in projects examining ancient DNA from Migration Period Europe and the genetic basis of epilepsy. He joins Dr. Brenna Henn, who uses genomic approaches to study genetic variation and ancient migration routes of human populations. She recently presented a very successful public lecture at our department's Living World lecture series on ancient migrations.

Resit Akšakaya and Kevin Shoemaker
Conservation of Black-Footed Ferret Endangered by Plague-Infected Prey

Decades of human persecution (e.g., poisoning) of the Black-footed ferret's favorite prey, prairie dogs, and severe outbreaks of plague and distemper led to its  extinction in the wild in 1987. Since then, thousands of captive-raised ferrets have been released across North America, and at least four wild populations have been successfully reestablished. However, a new factor threatens to undermine these hard-fought conservation gains: the continued eastward spread of the exotic bacterial disease plague, which is a quick and efficient killer of prairie dogs, and is caused by the same microbe that is implicated in the Black Death pandemics of the Middle Ages. A team led by Stony Brook ecologists Kevin Shoemaker and Resit Akšakaya is using a new multi-species computer modeling approach, and have linked models of plague, prairie dog, and black-footed ferrets, to explore the consequences of ecological interactions in ways not possible using standard methods. More here 

Uroderma bilobatum, a fruiteating New World bat.Sebastien Puechmaille
New World Uroderma bilobatum, a fruit-eating bat. Credit: Sebastien Puechmaille
By dark of night, how do bats smell their way to fruit?
How do we smell? The answer lies in the 1,000 or so genes that encode what's known as olfactory receptors inside our noses. This gene superfamily constitutes 3 to 6 percent of a mammal's genes.In fact, little is known about how olfactory receptors function in mammals, or how this large gene family has evolved in response to different evolutionary challenges. Liliana Davalos of Stony Brook University, Emma Teeling of University College Dublin and colleagues report their results in a paper published in this month's' issue of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. Has the evolution of other sensory systems, changes in diet, or the random accumulation of changes through time driven the evolution of olfaction in mammals?
"Bats offer a prime opportunity to answer this question," says Davalos."They've evolved new sensory systems such as echolocation, and various bat species eat very different foods, including insects, nectar, fruit, frogs, lizards and even blood." Two large groups of bats branched out since diverging about 64 million years ago. These groups separately evolved specialized echolocation and a diet based on fruit.The patterns have arisen twice, once among New World leaf-nosed bats that feed primarily on figs and another among Old World fruit bats. The bats feed on variety of fruits, including figs, guavas, bananas, mangoes and other tropical fruits. More here.
Alumni and friends we hope you remember how important an early financial boost was in your graduate research. Please give to the Lawrence Slobodkin Fund for Ecological Research. Donate Now at this Link
Give to the George Williams Fund for Student Research. Donate Now
Give to Ecology and Evolution Award for Student Excellence. Donate Now

How much? Suggested donations. Full professors: >= $200, Associate Professors: >= $100, Assistant Professors and Postdocs: >= $50 Please get used to giving annually. We need your help. Thanks so much!!

E&E Events, Passages

Dianna Padilla was selected as a Fellow of the AAAS. Congratulations to Dianna! Spencer Koury, student of Walter Eanes, was awarded an N.S.F. Dissertation Improvement Grant and a Stony Brook University travel grant to attend the SMBE meeting. Dan Dykhuizen has announced that he will retire at the end of the Spring 2014 semester. Rodrigo Cogni (Ph.D. 2010), now on a postdoc at Cambridge University, is taking a faculty position in the Ecology department at the Universidade de Sao Paulo. Caitlin Fisher-Reid, student of John Wiens,  will soon commence a tenure-track assistant professorship at Bridgewater State University. Dennis Slice has been promoted to the rank of Full Professor with tenure at Florida State. Niamh O'Hara has been awarded a fellowship by the American Association of University Women. Ross Nehm delivered the John A. Moore lecture in education at the SICB meeting in Austin. Jessica Stanton, student of Resit Akšakaya, is now a post-doc at USGS in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Sarah Supp, Postdoc in Catherine Graham's lab, has just gotten an NSF grant on macroecology and body size, and will move to the Universities of Maine and Vermont on another postdoc. Laura R. BotiguÚ, Brenna Henn's postdoc,  has received a two-year Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Catalan Government called Beatriu de Pinˇs Programme. Shaelyn Bishop, graduate student in Liliana Davalos' lab, got a fellowship recently in association with the CREST program in NSF. 

Our Ecology and Evolution Retreat will be held Saturday, March 8, at the Bates Estate in Setauket. Come at 8 for breakfast and stay all day for talks, lunch, potluck dinner, awards, and, of course, entertainment. Here is a question about E&E history. Who was the first winner of a speaker award at the very first E&E Retreat? Answer in next newsletter.

Contacts: Chair Walt Eanes, Graduate Program Director Resit Akšakaya or
the Newsletter Editor, Jeff Levinton


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