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On a hot, late August afternoon in 2016, an expedition of scientists carefully turned onto a narrow, one-lane, dirt road that ran parallel to the railroad tracks. Their trucks precariously balanced canoes and kayaks as they weaved a short distance marked by deep potholes. In single file, they arrived at the back entrance to the property, property owned by a family from scientist Jeff Garner’s childhood. “The gate’s locked,” shouted Garner to the team. “I know another way in!” Garner grew up in Lauderdale County, Alabama. A biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Garner’s local connections were the team’s key to accessing the more remote portions of Butler Creek, portions that run through private property. The group, led by James Godwin, an aquatic zoologist with the Auburn University Museum of Natural History’s Alabama Natural Heritage Program, was searching for the Eastern Hellbender, the largest and one of the longest living salamanders in North America. A Hellbender can reach more than 2 feet long and can live for decades. Once found abundantly throughout its native range, which extends from northern Alabama and Georgia to New York, Eastern Hellbender populations are experiencing steep declines. In fact, the species was thought to be completely eliminated from the state of Alabama, but unconfirmed sightings in recent years have given scientists new hope that the species still exists in the state.
The National Science Foundation, or NSF, issued more than $2 million in grant funding to COSAM’s Overtoun Jenda, assistant provost for special projects and initiatives and professor of mathematics, for a five-year, multi-institutional, collaborative project titled, “Making to Advance Knowledge, Excellence, and Recognition in STEM,” or “MAKERS.” Co-primary investigators on the project are Auburn’s Asheber Abebe, professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and Alan Wilson, associate professor in the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences.
Herron Taylor, junior in biomedical sciences, has received praise from Auburn fans across the nation for helping capture the man accused of setting fire to one of the Auburn Oaks following the Auburn and LSU football game on Sept. 24. Surveillance footage from Toomer’s Corner shows Taylor confronting the man, now identified as Jochen Wiest, after he allegedly set fire to toilet paper hanging from the Magnolia Avenue tree. “My boyfriend and I were posing in front of the tree for a picture while another person took a photo of us,” said Taylor. “Then my boyfriend said, ‘he just lit the tree on fire!’ So, I turned around and sure enough, there was a guy with a lighter in his hand and flames going up the tree. Then he just casually walked back to his group of friends standing around like nothing had happened.”
Last week, author William Stolzenburg gave a presentation on his book, “Heart of a Lion.” The presentation is now available online at this link: https://youtu.be/0Ab5My-7tQM. Stolzenburg is a 2010 Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellow, has written hundreds of magazine articles about the science and spirit of saving wild creatures, and is also the author of the books “Rat Island” and “Where the Wild Things Were.”
Dr. William Earl Bobo, molecular biology ’92, is a radiation oncologist at the Southeast Radiation Oncology Group in Charlotte, North Carolina. When he began his academic journey at Auburn, Bobo had set out to become a veterinarian. “After meeting with Dr. Lawrence Wit, I determined Auburn was the place for me,” said Bobo. “I was drawn in a different direction and became interested in molecular biology, which was a new degree option at the time.” His advisors, Bill Mason and Marie Wooten, helped guide Bobo into a career path he would soon love. While at Auburn, Bobo was involved with the Beta Beta Beta biology society and was a part of the Wooten Laboratory, researching Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
A team of experts organized by David Steen, biological sciences faculty member in the College of Sciences and Mathematics and researcher with the Auburn University Museum of Natural History’s Alabama Natural Heritage Program, and Blue Aster Studio, a design firm in Bloomington, Indiana, will answer questions about snakes during a special #SnakeTownHall event on Twitter on Wednesday, Sept. 7 from 6-8 p.m. CDT. Steen, who was dubbed the Best Biologist on Twitter by Slate Magazine, regularly engages with the public to advocate on behalf of snakes and prevent their needless killing, particularly when harmless snake species are mistaken for venomous copperheads and cottonmouths.
Quality faculty and staff allow the college to build upon the already-stellar reputation and strengths of a COSAM education. Our faculty and staff offer the intellectual capital upon which strong programs, innovative research, and student success are built. As we embark on a new academic year, the college would like to extend a warm welcome to the newest members of the COSAM family.
Auburn University's Davis Arboretum joins the national conservation efforts of the American Public Gardens Association who is partnering with the United States Forestry Service’s Forest Health Protection to establish living gene banks of US threatened tree species, by collecting seed from across its native range to capture broad genetic diversity then distributing propagules to public gardens for safeguarding in ex situ collections. Efforts focus on taxa native to US forests which cannot be conserved through traditional seedbanking methods. Launched in 2015, the Partnership funded four pilot projects leveraging established curatorial groups of the Plant Collections Network.
Jenny Roberts, marine biology ’14, is spending her summer educating a boat of tourists about Hawaiian culture, sea life and ocean conservation.
How did you choose to come to Auburn? Originally I thought, given family finances, that I would attend community college prior to transferring to a four-year university. My family had always been Auburn fans, so I decided to apply to Auburn, just to see what would happen. Not only did I get accepted, but I was also blessed to receive a full-tuition scholarship allowing me to go straight to a four-year university.
Daniel Warner, a research assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, recently published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Bob Boyd, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has received The Gerald and Emily Leischuck Endowed Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching as part of the university’s 2016 Faculty Awards, recognizing some of the institution’s most innovative teachers, researchers and scholars for their unique and distinguished contributions to the university’s mission.
Stephen Dobson, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has been selected as an Alumni Professor as part of the university’s 2016 Faculty Awards, recognizing some of the institution’s most innovative teachers, researchers and scholars for their unique and distinguished contributions to the university’s mission. The Alumni Professorship program recognizes tenured faculty members with direct responsibilities in two or more of the institutional missions of instruction, research and outreach.
COLUMBUS, Ohio, May 23, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- College Rank, a website dedicated to ranking and evaluating college programs, has just announced their list of the 30 Most Beautiful College Arboretums. To generate this list, the team at College Rank looked at hundreds of college arboretums from around the country. Arboretums harbor lavish collections of plants, flowers for visitors and students to enjoy. Arboretums also foster educational and conservation efforts put forth by the university. In generating this ranking, we scored criteria based on total size or acreage of the arboretum, educational resources and community outreach programming, various collections that the arboretum maintains and a total number of species that the arboretum boasts.
Why do some birds have red feathers? Geoffrey Hill, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Auburn University, finally found an answer to this deceptively challenging question. Thanks to modern genomics and a collaborative effort by Hill and an international team of scientists, including colleagues Miguel Carneiro at the University of Porto in Portugal and Joseph Corbo at Washington University in St. Louis, the key gene that enables birds to have red coloring in their feathers and skin is now identified.
Dr. Emily Roarty, molecular biology ’01, is a scientific manager in the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology at MD Anderson in Houston, where she oversees the departmental scientific research program including grants, contracts and the Lung Cancer Moon Shot Program.
COSAM recognized top students and faculty at the annual Honors Convocation, which took place on April 23 in the Auburn University Student Center Ballroom.
Wendy Hood, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is one of six faculty members from across the university to be selected as an Outstanding Graduate Mentor by the Graduate Student Council.
Auburn Professor Jonathan Armbruster has been named the new director of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History in the College of Sciences and Mathematics. His term began April 1. Armbruster joined Auburn in 1998 as an assistant professor. He was named an associate professor in 2003, and an alumni professor in 2007. He has served as curator of the museum’s fish collection where he has grown the collection from 25,000 jars to 65,000, obtained a specimen from every continent and developed online searching capabilities through a database system. His area of research involves the systematics, ecology and functional morphology of fishes, particularly suckermouth armored catfishes, or Loricariidae, the largest family of catfishes in the world, also known as plecos in the aquarium trade. He is also involved in survey work of several regions of South America including Guyana and Venezuela, and also works on local projects involving ecology, behavior and systematics of fishes. Recently, Armbruster has begun collaborative work in a worldwide project, “All Cypriniformes Species Inventory,” which facilitates taxonomic work on minnows. His lab is particularly interested in the barbs of Africa, and relationships of taxa worldwide. As part of this study, he has built a global database of minnow morphology, and will use the information to explore aspects of the evolution of cypriniform ecology and functional diversity. “I have been striving to make the collections at Auburn University into a museum since I arrived in 1998,” said Armbruster. “Now that Dr. (Jason) Bond has ushered us into a new building and upped our community presence, the question becomes what to do next. I hope to begin series of initiatives in teaching and outreach over the next couple of years to further cement the museum’s position in the Auburn University community and beyond.” Armbruster received his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Illinois. Before his time at Auburn, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution. Throughout his career, Armbruster has secured a number of research grants from the National Science Foundation, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and National Geographic, among many others. Aside from his extensive research, Armbruster has instructed many undergraduate and graduate-level courses including comparative anatomy, evolution and systematics, and systematic ichthyology. Armbruster has guided many graduate students to make new discoveries and publish their own work. Armbruster has given a number of lectures, received numerous awards for teaching and research, participated in many outreach events and has authored dozens of publications. He garnered international media attention in 2015 after naming a previously unknown species of catfish in honor of the Star Wars character, Greedo.
Auburn University is brimming with tradition. Our popular mascot, Aubie, our “War Eagle” battle cry, rolling Toomer’s Corner, the eagle’s flight at football games, and the Auburn Creed are, perhaps, the most widely celebrated traditions at Auburn. But each spring as delicious shades of orange, yellow, purple, red and pink appear throughout campus, one can be reminded of a lesser-known university tradition with roots extending many decades into the past – the tradition of preserving and hybridizing our native azaleas for future generations to enjoy. The native beauties are scattered around campus and represent the tireless dedication of Auburn scientists, faculty and staff. As such, many of the native hybrid azaleas planted at the university are included in the new Auburn Azalea series, which is now available to the public through the College of Sciences and Mathematics Donald E. Davis Arboretum. The series includes spectacular cultivars such as ‘Samford Sorbet,’ ‘Tiger,’ ‘Aubie,’ ‘War Eagle,’ ‘Plainsman’ and more.
Take your best shot, and get it ready for the Arboretum’s annual Arbor Day Photo Contest! The entries will be on display in Biggin Hall from April 17th – April 26th. The awards will be announced on our website and hung on the photos on Friday, April 24th.
Crayfish, crawfish, crawdad, mudbug – for most people, these names refer to a delectable crustacean commonly served boiled. For two Auburn University scientists, a crayfish is an enigmatic creature with a genetic heritage that is as much mysterious as it is fascinating.
A team of researchers, led by Chris Hamilton, former doctoral student in the Department of Biological Sciences at Auburn University, has discovered a previously unknown species of tarantula and named it after legendary singer-songwriter Johnny Cash.
Auburn University unveiled a new $1 million supercomputer that will enhance research across campus, from microscopic gene sequencing to huge engineering tasks. The university is also initiating a plan to purchase a new one every few years as research needs evolve and expand. The College of Sciences and Mathematics’ Dean Nicholas Giordano, along with Bliss Bailey, chief information officer in the Office of Information Technology, led the effort to bring the new supercomputer to the university.
A team led by Auburn University biologist David Steen is participating in the 2016 Python Challenge in south Florida. The event, sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, is geared toward eradicating the Burmese Python from the region and raising awareness of the serious consequences posed to the environment by the invasive predators.
Stephanie Campbell, a double major in animal sciences and microbial, molecular and cellular biology, has been nominated for the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.
Auburn Professor Jason Bond was named the new chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. His term begins January 1, 2016. Bond received a bachelor of science in biology from Western Carolina University, and both his master of science in biology and his doctor of philosophy in evolutionary systematics and genetics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He was a postdoc at The Field Museum in Chicago and a professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., prior to coming to Auburn.
Mark Liles, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is one of two Auburn University professors who have been awarded Alabama Innovation Fund grants through the Alabama Department of Commerce for research involving efficient energy systems and catfish vaccines.
Tony Moss, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has been selected to receive the 2015 Magic Touch award by Invitrogen, a company known for its genetic engineering products.
Auburn University ornithologist Geoffrey Hill is the recipient of the inaugural Research Advisory Board Advancement of Research and Scholarship Achievement Award for his accomplishments and innovative research during his 22 year career.
Auburn University is coordinating an effort to reestablish the eastern indigo snake in its native habitat in south Alabama. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources produced a video about the project.
Scientists from the Auburn University Museum of Natural History and the Natural Heritage Program released nine threatened indigo snakes into Conecuh National Forest in south Alabama on July 24.
Students from the Department of Biological Sciences have teamed up with Tigers for Tigers, a national coalition that joins academic institutions that have a tiger mascot to help spread awareness of the survival challenges tigers face, including habitat destruction, poaching and pet trade.
Justin Havird, a 2014 doctoral graduate of the Department of Biological Sciences, has been selected as a winner of the Graduate School’s Distinguished Dissertation Awards.
Jack Feminella, professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, was appointed to succeed Vince Cammarata as COSAM's associate dean for academic affairs.
Assistant Professor Wendy Hood of the Department of Biological Sciences received a five-year, $1,032,465 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for her proposal, “Effects of mitohormesis on reproduction and longevity.” The Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, Program is a foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.
COSAM awarded top students and faculty at the annual Honors Convocation on April 25. This year, the convocation was held in honor of Howard Hargis, former head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Hargis retired in 2004 after 34 years as a professor at Auburn. During the ceremony, students were recognized for outstanding academic achievement for the 2014-2015 academic year.
Auburn University's College of Sciences and Mathematics is "flipping the classroom" as part of an innovative way to teach Auburn students through a newly constructed Engaged in Active Student Learning, or EASL, classroom. Working with the Office of the Provost, the college is leading Auburn's effort on the unusual design since all Auburn students must take core classes in the college prior to graduating. "In contrast to traditional classrooms where faculty teach 'at' students, often in stadium-style rooms, this room was designed to encourage teacher-student interactions, and student-student collaborations, two aspects which are known to lead to improved learning outcomes," said COSAM Dean Nicholas Giordano. "COSAM faculty spent many months preparing to use the EASL classroom as effectively as possible in their teaching, and the new space was ready to use at the beginning of the fall 2014 semester."
SCB and Honors Biology hold night swamp walk
Microbiology Club hosts Cheese and Wine Field Trip!
Jonathan Armbruster, biological sciences professor and curator of fishes for the Auburn University Museum of Natural History, has named a previously unknown species of catfish in honor of the enigmatic Star Wars fan favorite, Greedo. The suckermouth armored catfish, Peckoltia greedoi, was found along the Gurupi River in Brazil and is known physically for its large, dark eyes, sucker mouth and protruding bristles. Armbruster, along with David Werneke, Milton Tan and Chris Hamilton, all of the Department of Biological Sciences, were examining the specimen for characteristics when they made the connection.
The Auburn University Museum of Natural History and the Department of Biological Sciences have a new annual scholarship program, Excellence in Environmental Sciences.
A small but mighty combined force of 5 students from our AU Society for Conservation Biology chapter and Honors Biology (BIOL 1037) traveled to Haines Island Park (Monroe Co. AL) to help the Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance control invasive plants. The event took place on March 14 (3/14/15), National Pi Day, when the date and time shortly following 9:26:53 would represent the value of Pi. We commemorated that moment by taking a group photo with everyone holding a photo of a Pi pie! Besides interesting biological findings, we helped control much invasive privet at the park. And of course during lunch we enjoyed some pie for dessert!
Once again it’s time to start thinking about your entries for the annual Davis Arboretum Photo Contest! It’s your photographs that give us the amazing selection of images to choose from for our Arboretum calendar. The entries will be on display in Biggin Hall from April 17th – April 26th. The awards will be announced on our website and hung on the photos on Friday, April 24th.
Biology Clubs hold the 2nd Biology Trivia Night!
From May 11-15, the Department of Biological Sciences will offer a "Bioinformatics Bootcamp" where instructors Scott Santos, Les Goertzen and Ken Halanych will introduce participants to bioinformatic tools and computational biology workflows.
Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) continued its involvement with the Alabama Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project on Saturday, February 14, 2015. The hope was that we could find some snakes basking around the gopher tortoise burrows that they use as homes in winter. We were especially hoping to find juvenile snakes, as that would indicate the reintroduced population is starting to reproduce. SCB members were joined by some students from the Honors Organismal Biology class so that we had a good sized crowd of 10 students.
Jonathan Armbruster, of the Department of Biological Sciences, received a grant from the Coypu Foundation Trust to study the fish fauna of the upper Ireng River in Guyana, a country in Northern South America formerly known as British Guiana. Armbruster is currently studying when fishes moved into or became isolated within the high Pakaraima Mountains and the diversity of fishes there.
The February meeting of the AU Society for Conservation Biology featured Jim Godwin talking about the indigo snake reintroduction project. Members got to meet a 6 foot long snake and are invited to participate in field work at Conecuh National Forest on Feb. 14 and Mar. 3 (both Saturdays). We also heard about plans to restart our Tigers 4 Tigers Committee, as well as plans for other Spring Semester activities.
Richard Mariita, a graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences, won 2nd place at the National Science Foundation's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Science and Technology Open House in Montgomery. Mariita presented his poster, "Seasonal Variability in the Diversity of Microbial Assemblages and Antibiotic Resistance Determinants of an Estuary System."
Two ornithologists familiar to readers of BirdWatching magazine received high honors from the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) recently. One of them is AU DBS's Dr. Geoff Hill.
The Donald E. Davis Arboretum was recently listed in as one of the “50 Most Stunning University Gardens and Arboretums.” Listed at number 35, the Davis Arboretum is home to more than 650 species of plants native to the Southeastern United States. Auburn’s geographic position at the Fall Line, where the rocky uplands of Alabama meet the sandy coastal plains, allows the Davis Arboretum to display a diverse collection of plants that flourish both north and south of the Fall Line.
AUBURN UNIVERSITY – The results are in on Deepwater Horizon oil spill research conducted by an Auburn University postdoctoral researcher, and her study indicates microscopic animals at the base of the food web that were harmed during the 2010 oil spill have recovered. The researcher, Pamela Brannock of the Department of Biological Sciences in Auburn’s College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM, together with a team from Auburn Professor Kenneth Halanych’s lab and the University of Texas San Antonio, gathered and analyzed sediment samples taken before and after the oil reached Dauphin Island. The samples provided a basis for comparison to assess how the microscopic communities of marine invertebrates that live between the sand grains, or meiofauna, fared the oil spill.
AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Alabama could potentially be the new home of the Argentine Black and White Tegu, a large predatory lizard reaching 4 feet in length and more than 10 pounds. The tegus, native to South America, have made their way to southern Florida where they are rapidly flourishing. The lizards are known to eat small mammals, birds and most importantly, other reptile eggs, which presents a threat to alligators and the rare gopher tortoise, both native to the Southeast.
The Auburn University Museum of Natural History held an open house on Saturday, Nov. 8, providing an opportunity for the community to meet the curators and explore the more than 1 million specimens found in the museum’s eight collections.
Researchers from the Molette Biology Laboratory for Environmental and Climate Change Studies recently published a paper in Current Biology. The paper, titled “Phylogenomic Resolution of the Hemichordate and Echinoderm Clade,” includes work by authors Scott Santos, associate professor of Biological Sciences, Damien Waits, a graduate student in biological sciences, and Kenneth Halanych, the Stewart Schneller Endowed Chair in the Department of Biological Sciences.
Professor Robert Boyd of the Department of Biological Sciences is co-editor of a new book that was recently published, “Plant Ecology and Evolution in Harsh Environments.” The book provides updated coverage on how plants respond to stressful environments and includes chapters on challenges such as climate change and how plants can be used to clean up pollutants. The 426-page book is for botanists and ecologists who are studying how plants evolve and adapt to stress, and provides some full-color photographs and illustrations, as well as the most up-to-date field research. In total, the book has 16 chapters with 46 contributing authors and was written primarily by teams of international experts.
SCB gets behind-the-scenes tour of AU Raptor Center
Nine SCB members and faculty advisor Dr. Bob Boyd traveled to southern Alabama from Friday October 31, 2014 to Sunday, November 2, 2014. After traveling down to Splinter Hill Bog on Friday night to get us close to the coast for the next day, our first stop Saturday morning was at the Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores. We began with a short formal animal show put on by a zoo education specialist, and then AU alum and former SCB member Jessica Larson (who has worked at the zoo for the past 2 years) met us and gave us a guided tour of the zoo and its inhabitants (including a chance to meet up-close some young lemurs and young Eurasian lynx). She also told us about internships at the zoo and how interested students can obtain these to get experience in the field.
Dr. James Barbaree (AU DBS) in USA Today and NY Times on disease transmission
On the warm night of September 16, 18 students and 4 DBS faculty and staff explored a wetland in Tuskegee National Forest. Led by Ecology Coordinator Shawn Jacobsen, we found reptiles, amphibians, fish, spiders, and many other invertebrates during our several-hour exploration of a bottomland forest and associated ponds. Black-lighting arranged by Entomology M.S. student (and former SCB President) Scott Clem brought in a large number of insects: during the trip representatives from over 30 insect families were found. Overall a great learning experience for students interested in Alabama’s biodiversity!
AUBURN UNIVERSITY – A group of Auburn researchers has published a study that could overturn some long-held paradigms regarding spider web evolution. Because of similarities in behaviors associated with web construction and the complicated nature of the webs, it has long been thought that all orb-weaving spiders shared a common ancestor. The study shows that spiders that weave orb-shaped webs are not all closely related and that the orb web was likely not the pinnacle of web evolution.
An Auburn graduate student and former "Gator Boy" who wrestled with alligators in Eufaula continues his research in Costa Rica; this time, with crocodiles. "In terms of behavior, crocodiles seem to be a lot gnarlier than alligators," said Chris Murray, a member of the Craig Guyer lab in the Department of Biological Sciences at Auburn University, who is investigating the physiological and ecological factors that affect crocodilians within that country. "They're larger, and don't tire out nearly as fast, if ever, in some instances. They have a lot of fight and they're more nimble and flexible than your average alligator." He is seeking solutions for crocodile population issues identified by a Costa Rican commission that studies the animals.
The "AU in Swazilnad" program takes students to Swaziland and South Africa. Students live and work at camps in some the region’s best nature reserves. The purpose of the course is to provide students with an opportunity for hands-on learning in one of the most diverse and complex ecosystems on the planet.
Biological Sciences Professor Troy Best co-authored a new book titled, "Mammals of Alabama." Best wrote the book with the late Auburn University Professor of Biological Sciences Julian Dusi, and it is the first and only exhaustive guidebook to Alabama's diverse mammalian fauna. Written for anyone with an interest in mammalian diversity within the state, the book serves as a guide to species identification and includes hundreds of photos and fun facts.
Dr. Wendy Hood’s research on the milk composition in the naked-rat and Hood and Dr. Amy Skibiel’s research on evolution of milk composition were recently featured in Science News, Smithsonian Magazine, SPLASH! Milk Science Update, and the blog Mammals Suck…Milk!
For more than a century, researchers have believed that sponges represented the earliest living lineages of the animal tree. Thanks to modern genomic sequencing techniques, scientists in Auburn's College of Sciences and Mathematics discovered that ctenophores, or comb jellies, are actually at the base of the animal kingdom. The research results have been published in the journal Nature and can be read at this link. "The placement of comb jellies at the base of the animal tree rewrites some of our very basic understanding of how animals first evolved on this planet," said Kenneth Halanych, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Auburn. "The new genomic data overturns 150 years of scientific theories about the early evolution of animals." Halanych and the team of scientists, including Kevin Kocot, postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Biological Sciences at Auburn, along with an international team of scientists led by Leonid Moroz, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Florida, have studied the complete genome of a comb jelly, Pleurobrachia bachei, known as the "Pacific sea gooseberry." They were able to show that the species is remarkably distinct from other animals in that the genetic mechanisms used in ctenophore nerves and muscles are different from those seen in other animals.
From May 19-23 Auburn will host 31 researchers representing nine institutions in the U.S., Canada and Germany participating in a genomic analysis workshop or “Bioinformatics Bootcamp”. Initiated by the NSF-funded WormNet2 grant, the workshop will train participants in various aspects of next-generation DNA sequencing data manipulation including genome mapping, assembly, annotation and phylogenomic analyses.
The Georgia and Alabama Plant Conservation Alliances met jointly for the first time May 1-2, on the Auburn campus. The meeting highlighted local efforts toward addressing plant conservation issues in both Alabama and Georgia and featured guest speakers from Atlanta Botanical Gardens, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, the Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance and the Auburn University Donald E. Davis Arboretum.
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.
Our department’s Marine Biology Club, Microbiology Club, and Society for Conservation Biology Chapter collaborated on a 3-club overnight field trip to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. Faculty advisors, Tony Moss, Mark Liles, and Bob Boyd (along with faculty member Sharon Roberts) arranged for a unique field trip.
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.
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.
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.
On November 9-10 four SCB members and faculty advisor Dr. Bob Boyd traveled to Conecuh National Forest to assist with the Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project. This collaborative project (involving AU and a number of partners) seeks to re-establish this snake into Alabama after a 50-year absence.
In a reprise of last year’s successful Gulf Coast Field Trip, 7 SCB members traveled to the Gulf Shores area Oct. 18-20. Leaving in the late afternoon on Friday, we spent the night in The Nature Conservancy’s Splinter Hill Bog house in South Alabama. On Saturday morning, we drove to Gulf Shores to visit the Gulf Coast Zoo, hosted by former AU student and SCB member Jessica Larson who now works at the zoo as a keeper.
“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.
A four credit hour course in Plant Gene Expression (BIOL 5320/ 6320) will be offered during 2014 spring semester on Tue and Thu afternoon from 3.30 to 4.45 PM . This is a an undergraduate / graduate level course that will be offered every alternate year. This course does not have a laboratory component associated with it.
On a beautiful Fall Saturday (September 28), 4 SCB student members traveled to Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain Georgia accompanied by advisor Bob Boyd and DBS faculty member and SCB supporter Sharon Roberts.
On Saturday, September 21, BioSci’s own Dr. Sharon Hermann led a tour of campus sites that are being used as demonstration areas for restoration of longleaf pine forests. Two hardy students braved the rainy conditions to learn from her expertise as a Restoration Ecologist.
Under an almost full moon, Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) took a nighttime stroll in swamps at Tuskegee National Forest after our second meeting of the semester (September 17).
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. 28, 2013 to help advertise our group and its activities. Safari staff brought a serval, a young hyena, a blue and gold macaw, a hedgehog, two lizards (a gecko native to New Caledonia and a lizard from Australia), and a baby pig to the event.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 3 academic clubs in the Department of Biological Sciences, Marine Biology Club, Microbiology Club, and the Society for Conservation Biology, recently held a Biology Trivia Contest! Seen here are the winners of the trivia contest holding up their prizes. The grand prize awarded was a “Volcano Shrimp Ecocube” donated by Professor Scott R. Santos. Six teams participated in two evenings and competed in answering questions in 10 subject categories. Further events that combine the interests of all 3 academic clubs in Biology are planned for future years.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) continued its involvement with the Alabama Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project on Saturday, May 5, 2012. Eight members traveled to Conecuh National Forest to be present at the release of 33 snakes into the study area. We were met by Jim Godwin, a zoologist with the Alabama Natural Heritage Program and member of the indigo snake recovery team.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.