Biological Sciences News


SEC’s Auburn University Faculty Achievement Award presented to biological sciences professor

AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Auburn University and the Southeastern Conference announced today that Professor Geoffrey Hill of the College of Sciences and Mathematics has been honored with the SEC’s Auburn University Faculty Achievement Award for 2013-2014. “The 2014 SEC Faculty Achievement Award winners are some of our nation’s most accomplished instructors, researchers and scholars,” said Dr. Jay Gogue, President of Auburn University and President of the Southeastern Conference. “It is my great pleasure to preside over an intercollegiate athletics conference that not only recognizes their work, but strives to support it as well.” Hill, an Alumni Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and curator of birds for the Auburn University Museum of Natural History, will receive a $5,000 honorarium and represent Auburn as the university’s nominee for the SEC Professor of the Year. The SEC Professor of the Year will be selected from 14 nominees representing each of the SEC universities.

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Three BioSci Clubs participate in Sleep in the Deep event at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Three BioSci Clubs participate in Sleep in the Deep event at the Tennessee Aquarium.

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Auburn Biological Sciences students visit Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

Auburn Biological Sciences students were tired but happy at the end of the day following their trip out on the R/V Alabama Discovery out of Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

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SCB explores Jackson County caves with Jim Godwin

SCB explores Jackson County caves with Jim Godwin

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Auburn University offers students intensive study-abroad and research opportunities in Costa Rica

Auburn students interested in an intensive study-abroad program in one of the world’s most lush and adventure-filled locations can take advantage of the Organization for Tropical Studies, which owns and operates three biological field stations in Costa Rica: La Selva, Las Cruces and Palo Verde. OTS is a non-profit consortium that includes 63 universities and research institutions from the U.S., Latin America and Australia. Auburn University is the only school in the state that is a member of OTS, and since joining the consortium in 1987, Auburn students have had access to educational, research and funding opportunities in Costa Rica that are not available to non-member institutions.

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SCB gets guided tour at Birmingham Zoo

SCB gets guided tour at Birmingham Zoo

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Take a tour on the Audubon Trail in the Arboretum

The Donald E. Davis Arboretum took part in a collaborative publication with the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, a book titled, "Audubon in the Arboretum: A Field Guide." The book showcases works by Audubon along with a detailed description of the plants featured in each print. Readers will gain insight into the natural world Audubon encountered, and the publication coincides with the openings of the exhibition "Audubon in the Arboretum" at the museum and the Audubon Trail in the Davis Arboretum. Readers can tour the museum's exhibition of Audubon plates and take a walking tour of the Audubon trail at the Davis Arboretum, which features the plants in each plate. The book was published by the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, with research support from the Auburn University Libraries, the Donald E. Davis Arboretum and COSAM.

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SCB Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project Work-Weekend

SCB Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project Work-Weekend

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SCB Kayak Trip

SCB Kayak Trip

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SCB goes on Gulf Coast Field Trip

SCB goes on Gulf Coast Field Trip

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Students study wildlife in Swaziland

“Warning!” reads the course description, “Mega-mammals, crocodiles, snakes, thorns, baboons, etc. may be abundant at many of the sites. Please be very careful!” The course, Field Biology and Ecology, provides one of the latest study abroad opportunities offered at Auburn University. Last summer during the inaugural course, 10 Auburn students ventured to Swaziland and South Africa for a once-in-a-lifetime, hands-on, research experience, guided by Biological Sciences professors Troy Best and Michael Wooten.

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SCB gets 2 behind-the-scenes tours at Callaway Gardens

SCB gets 2 behind-the-scenes tours at Callaway Gardens

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SCB longleaf pine restoration tour

SCB longleaf pine restoration tour

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Night Swamp Walk taken by SCB

Night Swamp Walk taken by SCB

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SCB hosts Wild Animal Safari at COSAM Open House

SCB hosts Wild Animal Safari at COSAM Open House

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Bradley publishes book about new technologies in the life sciences

Professor emeritus of biological sciences James Bradley recently published the book, "Brutes or Angels: Human Possibility in the Age of Biotechnology." The book includes basic information on an array of new technologies in the life sciences and the ethical issues raised by each. Bradley means for the book ito facilitate informed decision-making about the personal use of biotechnologies and the formulation of public policies governing their development and use. Ten biotechnologies that impact humans are considered: stem cell research, embryo selection, human genomics, gene therapies, human reproductive cloning, age retardation, cognition enhancement, the engineering of nonhuman organisms, nanobiology and synthetic biology. For more information about Bradley, go to this website.

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Havird and Santos receive NSF grant

Justin C. Havird and Scott R. Santos, both of the Department of Biological Sciences, are the recipients of a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology. The research proposal is titled, "Assessing evolution of euryhalinity in anchialine shrimps," and the funding will allow Havird and Santos to further investigate the evolution of the molecular mechanisms of osmoregulation in shrimp species from coastal ponds and pools. According to Havird, the molecular mechanisms of ionic and salt regulation in crustaceans have only been characterized for a narrow range of species, mainly crabs with a marine ancestry.

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Bond receives NSF grant to study millipedes

Jason Bond, professor of biological sciences and director of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History, received a three-year, $548,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology for his research proposal titled, "Millipede Systematics: Developing phylogenomic, classification, and taxonomic resources for the future." The grant funding will allow Bond to conduct research on millipedes which are in the arthropod class Diplopoda, comprising some 12,000 described species distributed worldwide in nearly every biome. According to Bond, the group has a deep evolutionary history that includes some of the first terrestrial animals, dating from the mid-Silurian over 400 million years ago. Despite their ecological importance as decomposers in forests, wealth of diversity with an estimated 20,000 to 80,000 species, and prominence as chemical warriors owing to their vast array of defense secretions, the group is woefully understudied. Bond and his team will revise the current ordinal and family-level classification systems using a modern phylogenomic framework based on next-generation sequence data and then employ these data to explore the evolution of chemical defense secretions and their precursors.

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Singh receives Fulbright grant

Narendra Singh, professor of biological sciences, has been awarded a Fulbright grant to teach and conduct research in India from August to December 2013 at SRM University. Singh's research and teaching involves the molecular biology of stress tolerance in plants, genetic manipulation of higher fungi, and edible vaccines that can be mixed with feed to ward off diseases that cause massive damage to the poultry industry. In India, he will teach and co-teach graduate courses in plant molecular biology and biotechnology, and offer a senior seminar course for undergraduate students. He plans to focus his research on the elucidation of mechanism of action of a plant protein he discovered in 1985 and named osmotin.

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Arboretum honored for sustainability at first annual Spirit of Sustainability Awards

The Donald E. Davis Arboretum received a Spirit of Sustainability Award from the Auburn University Office of Sustainability. Winners were announced at the first annual Spirit of Sustainability Awards ceremony on April 16. The campus-wide awards program was established to recognize Auburn University students, faculty, staff and alumni that exemplify the Auburn spirit by demonstrating accomplishments promoting sustainability on campus or in the community at large. Over the past several years, the arboretum has committed to educating the campus community and the public about the relationship between land use, land cover and the impacts of stormwater runoff. The arboretum implemented numerous low-impact development practices, including an integrated system of pervious parking and walkways, small- and large-scale rainwater harvesting systems, rain gardens, an innovative network of underground stormwater detention, and a self-guided Water Tour of these innovations.

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COSAM opens Biodiversity Learning Center

On Friday, April 19, the College of Sciences and Mathematics hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony commemorating the opening of the new Biodiversity Learning Center. Construction of the Biodiversity Learning Center was made possible by a $3.5 million bond, and the 15,000 square-foot facility is located between Funchess Hall and Rouse Life Sciences Building on campus. The Biodiversity Learning Center is the new home of Auburn University's Museum of Natural History. The museum includes hundreds of thousands of specimens representing the rich history of Alabama, the Southeast and beyond. For more than 25 years the museum collection was located in Funchess Hall and the Physiology Building on campus, and Auburn has maintained natural history collections for more than 50 years. The Biodiversity Learning Center represents years of dedication and planning by supporters of COSAM, including faculty, staff, administration and alumni.

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Davis Arboretum receives 2013 Spirit of Sustainability Award

The Arboretum staff was honored at the Spirit of Sustainability Awards ceremony on Tuesday April 16, where they were recognized for their many activities and programs that promote sustainability. Curator Dee Smith (on right in photo) and staff members Patrick Thompson (on left in photo) and Teri Briggs (center) received a custom-designed ceramic bowl from Office of Sustainability Director Mike Kensler and Program Manager Matt Williams. Among other programs, the Arboretum has been involved with stormwater management demonstrations and collaborative projects over a number of years and with a wide range of campus partners.

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Night Swamp Walk taken by SCB

Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) took a nighttime stroll in swamps at Tuskegee National Forest after our last meeting of the semester (April 8). Led by Ecology Lab Coordinator Shawn “Gator” Jacobsen and DBS faculty member Debbie Folkerts, 16 members identified frog calls, observed the eyeshine of spiders, found a variety of other invertebrate species both aquatic and terrestrial, and otherwise explored the nocturnal world for several hours on a warm spring evening.

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COSAM postpones Celebrating Biodiversity with E.O. Wilson

Due to an unforeseen emergency, it is with deepest regrets that COSAM must postpone the Celebrating Biodiversity with E.O. Wilson event that was scheduled for the evening of April 10th at the Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center.

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SCB February meeting features Anima-Palooza by Jimmy and Sierra Stiles

Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) held its February meeting on the 28th, and the 27 members in attendance were treated to a display of animals by DBS graduate students Jimmy and Sierra Stiles. The Stiles use their collection of animals for conservation education, and brought an assortment of salamanders, frogs/toads, turtles, lizards and snakes (plus a baby alligator) to the meeting. Jimmy and Sierra regaled the group with stories about the conservation significance of the collection, and we discussed our plans to for a workday weekend in March at Conecuh National Forest.

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SCB participates in Conecuh National Forest work weekend on Indigo Snake Project

Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) continued to volunteer to aid the Indigo Snake reintroduction effort in Conecuh National Forest. A small but dedicated band (4 students plus faculty advisor Boyd) helped Dr. Craig Guyer and his lab group remove snake pens that had been installed several years ago on the national forest for experimental purposes but had now outlived their usefulness. Despite very cool weather, during the 2 days on the site we almost completely removed hundreds of t-posts and hundreds of meters of hardware cloth fencing to help prepare the site for a prescribed burn during the coming months.

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SCB pitches in to clear out invasive plants along Parkerson Mill Creek

Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) joined in the Parkerson Mill Creek Showdown on the morning of Saturday, February 23. The event combined our 8 SCB members (see photo) with volunteers from the Davis Arboretum staff, Facilities Management, the Department of Horticulture, the AU Office of Sustainability, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, and the Alabama Invasive Plant Council. We spent several hours clearing invasive plants from the banks of Parkerson Mill Creek behind the McWhorter Center, and then enjoyed a chili lunch provided by the sponsoring groups.

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Dinner held in honor of Stewart W. Schneller chair

Kenneth Halanych, alumni professor and former coordinator of the marine biology program in the Department of Biological Sciences, is the inaugural recipient of the Stewart W. Schneller Chair, which was established by friends, alumni, students and colleagues in honor of Schneller. A dinner was held recognizing Halanych and Stewart Schneller, former dean of COSAM, on Nov. 5, 2012.

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Auburn University Scientists to embark on six-week Antarctic cruise

On Jan. 1, a team of scientists from Auburn University's College of Sciences and Mathematics will embark on a research cruise to one of the world's most secluded and mysterious places, Antarctica. The voyage will last approximately six weeks, during which time the team will explore the genetic diversity of marine organisms found in the waters surrounding Earth's southernmost continent.

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SCB visits caves in North Alabama

Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) visited caves in Jackson County Alabama for the third year in a row October 20-21, 2012. Led by Jim Godwin of the Alabama Natural Heritage Program, 9 members visited 5 caves on Saturday, seeing cave salamanders, cave crayfish, cave crickets, bats, and Allegheny woodrats (among other sights). On Sunday, we visited the Nature Conservancy’s Keel Mountain Preserve to see the federally endangered plant, Morefield’s Leatherflower, before returning to Auburn via the Talladega Scenic Drive to enjoy the fall foliage.

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SCB visits Gulf Coast Zoo, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, and Splinter Hill Bog

Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) had its first-ever two-night field trip Sept. 28-30, 2012. Ten members left Auburn late Friday afternoon and drove to the Nature Conservancy’s Splinter Hill Bog, where we spent the night in their house located right on the Preserve. The next morning we drove to Gulf Shores to visit the Gulf Coast Zoo (where AU alum and former SCB member Jessica Larson now works). After lunch, we met with Dr. Mike Wooten of our department at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge to tour the beach and dunes, which are habitat for the federally-endangered Alabama Beach Mouse (found nowhere else in the world). We returned to the Splinter Hill house to spend the night, and then spent Sunday morning touring the pitcher plant bogs of the reserve to round out a very full weekend of conservation-oriented activities!

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SCB hosts Wild Animal Safari at COSAM 2012 Open House

Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) invited Wild Animal Safari (of Pine Mountain, GA) to bring some animals to COSAM’s Open House on Aug. 29, 2012 to help advertise our group and its activities. Safari staff brought a serval, a Burmese python, a tarantula, a blue and gold macaw, a spiny-tailed lizard, and a baby pygmy goat to the event. There was great interest from staff and students, and even Aubie posed (or played in the case of the serval) with some of the animals. Anyone interested in joining SCB can contact our President, Scott Clem (csc0013@tigermail.auburn.edu).

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Consequences of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast environment revealed

Two researchers in Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics have delivered preliminary results of ongoing research into the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and results indicate potentially serious consequences for the environment. The researchers, Ming-Kuo Lee, Robert B. Cook professor of geology, and Ken Halanych, alumni professor of biological sciences, carried out two separate projects surveying different regions in the gulf, and in each location, effects of the oil spill are persistent. The research suggests the oil spill may have caused massive harm to the environment at a microscopic level, which in turn could have serious repercussions on the food chain in the long term.

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SCB completes workday on Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project

SCB completes workday on Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project

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The Auburn Tiger Trapdoor Spider – A new species discovered from a college town backyard

Researchers at Auburn University reported the discovery a new trapdoor spider species from a well-developed housing subdivision in the heart of the city of Auburn, Ala. Myrmekiaphila tigris, affectionately referred to as the Auburn Tiger Trapdoor spider, is named in honor of Auburn University’s costumed Tiger mascot, Aubie.

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SCB members help remove alien plants for Earth Day 2012

Eight members of Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) joined Dr. Sharon Hermann of DBS and Dr. John Kush from Forestry and Wildlife Sciences for several hours of alien plant removal on Sunday April 22 (Earth Day 2012). The group enjoyed surprisingly cool weather and got a lot of plant removal done on a site on campus that is being restored to its native longleaf pine habitat type.

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Long-time faculty member recognized for excellence

Lawrence Wit, associate dean for academic affairs for the College of Sciences and Mathematics, has been selected to receive one of two, 2012 Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award is a prestigious honor which recognizes those faculty members who demonstrate effective and innovative teaching methods, and a continuing commitment to student success through advising and mentoring inside and outside the classroom. The award carries a $10,000 stipend for each recipient. Emeritus senior administrators, Gerald and Emily Leischuck, established the endowment in 2005 to recognize the university’s teachers, and Auburn presented the first Leischuck Endowed Presidential Awards the same year.

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NSF graduate research fellowships awarded to DBS students


Department of Biological sciences graduate students Alex Bentz, Nicole Garrison and Rebecca Koch each won a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowship is the oldest fellowship of its kind and has a long history of recipients achieving high academic and professional success. GRFP fellows often become life-long scientific leaders and educators. Bentz's mentor is assistant professor Wendy Hood; Garrison is being mentored by professor Jason Bond; Koch's mentor is professor Geoff Hill.

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Halanych awarded NSF grant

Ken Halanych, professor of biological sciences, has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant along with his collaborator, Craig Smith of the University of Hawaii. The combined $800,576 of funding will begin in September of 2012 and allow Halanych and Smith, along with collaborators from five different countries, to continue their research on the diversity of deep-sea organisms.

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Auburn University senior awarded Fulbright Scholarship to study in Germany

Paul Bergen, a senior in COSAM double majoring in microbiology and German, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Germany for the 2012-13 academic year. At the Technical University of Munich, he will continue to pursue his research in microbiology."Paul is an inquisitive and engaging young man with a range of interests and activities that go well beyond the lab and range from the study of German politics, culture and language to being an active member of Auburn's nationally recognized mock trial team," said Paul Harris, associate director of the Auburn Honors College. "He will gain so much from his classes and interactions with German students and faculty and he will represent himself, Auburn University and the United States with distinction.

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Auburn researchers: climate change plays major role in decline of blackbird species

Populations of the rusty blackbird, a once-abundant North American species, have declined drastically in recent years, and Auburn University researchers say climate change is to blame. That’s the finding of graduate students Chris McClure, Brian Rolek and Kenneth McDonald published recently in the scientific journal Ecology and Evolution. Under the direction of ornithology professor Geoffrey Hill, McClure, Rolek and McDonald studied the blackbird decline and wrote the paper “Climate change and the decline of a once common bird.” The group analyzed rusty blackbird breeding data and climate indices and examined temperature oscillations in the Pacific Ocean, and concluded that climate change does in fact play a major role in the recent decline of the population.

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Ph.D. candidate explores remote Guiana Shield

For the past several years, Lesley de Souza has focused her research efforts in a place so remote, it's nearly impossible to access: the Guiana Shield. A mountainous, forested region just north of Brazil, the Shield has no cities, cold drinks or showers. Instead, it welcomes visitors with attractions such as anacondas, piranhas, jaguars, venomous snakes and a tiny fish called a candiru that is rumored to invade humans by swimming up the urethra. de Souza knows that should she ever receive a poisonous snake or spider bite in the field, not much could be done; there is no medic standing by. But for her, the dangers are worth the rewards of researching the area's rich biodiversity.

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Auburn University working to restore threatened species to native Alabama habitat

The copperhead is responsible for more venomous snake bites in the Southeastern U.S. than any other snake, and their populations are increasing. In south Alabama population growth of the copperhead may be due in part to the absence of the once-prevalent eastern indigo snake. “Copperheads used to be a very rare snake to see in south Alabama,” said Professor and Herpetologist with Auburn’s Department of Biological Sciences Craig Guyer. “Now copperheads are the most commonly occurring snake in the region. Eastern indigo snakes eat other snakes, including venomous snakes like copperheads, and the decline of the eastern indigo snake has corresponded to an increase in copperheads.”

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The Society for Conservation Biology gets a behind-the-scenes tour of the Birmingham Zoo

The Birmingham Zoo's Indo-Chinese tiger, Kumar, weighs 230 lbs. As a means of monitoring the tiger's overall health, Kumar gets weighed twice a month by trained zoo keepers utilizing a strategic series of hallways and barriers, or holding area, connected to his exhibit. Indeed, all of the Birmingham Zoo's big cats are monitored in this fashion, and the Society for Conservation Biology, or SCB, got a behind-the-scenes look at how the system works.

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