2015 Biodiversity Institute Research Grant Winners Announced

Apr 13, 2015

liz_bigsandy_bxl.JPGLiz Mandeville

Liz is pursuing a Ph.D in Dr. Alex Buerkle’s Lab

Summary of Liz’s proposal and her research

The ecological context for hybridization and the maintenance of species diversity in Catostomus fishes

Interspecific hybridization is common in nature, especially following species introductions that bring closely related species into secondary contact. In some cases, hybridization could cause biodiversity loss if two related species collapse back into a single lineage. My previous work has shown extreme heterogeneity in genomic outcomes of secondary contact and hybridization between native and introduced Catostomus fish species across different rivers in the Upper Colorado River basin. These heterogeneous outcomes of secondary contact represent variable threats to native fish biodiversity. It is unclear why different outcomes of hybridization occur when the same species come into contact in different locations. One possible cause is that ecological factors (e.g., habitat, food availability) might differ across rivers. To better understand ecological relationships, I will compare hybrid diets to parental diets using stable isotopes. This will reveal to what extent hybrids compete with their parents for resources. To determine whether hybrids are more or less ecologically successful than their parents, I will calculate body condition metrics for all fish. By combining genetic, isotopic, and fish body condition data, I will improve our understanding of how hybridization among Catostomus species is likely to affect persistence of native fish biodiversity in Wyoming and Colorado.


cgabrielsen.jpgCharlotte Gabrielsen

Charlotte is pursuing a Ph.D in Dr. Melanie Murphy’s Lab

Summary of Charlotte’s proposal and her research

Implications of Wetland Ephemerality for Primary Productivity and Biodiversity

Wetlands are productive ecosystems that support high biodiversity, especially in semi-arid regions where water availability is a crucial concern. Wetlands benefit biodiversity and human health by providing critical ecosystem services, including water filtration, groundwater recharge, and flood mitigation. Small wetlands are particularly valuable, providing distributed water storage capacity, enhancing the suitability of adjacent large wetlands, contributing to landscape-wide primary production, and offering diverse breeding and forage habitat for avian and amphibian species. Wetland ephemerality, or persistence across the growing season, influences the provision of these services. Climate change is predicted to alter temperature and precipitation (amount and timing), thereby affecting ephemerality and compromising wetland habitat function. Finally, climate-induced changes to ephemerality can have cascading effects on diverse wetland-dependent species, and differentially affect microbial, plant, and animal diversity. Given anticipated climate changes, a novel and interdisciplinary approach considering current and future ephemerality is required to understand climatic effects on wetland ecosystem services. By combining remote sensing, field observations, and model-building, the proposed research will facilitate large-scale, cost-effective wetland monitoring and conservation. Additionally, by evaluating contributions of ephemeral wetlands to primary productivity and biodiversity, my research promotes understanding of how these important metrics may interact and be altered by climate change.


taylor-crow.jpgTaylor Crow

Taylor is pursuing a Ph.D. in Dr. Kristina Hufford’s Lab

Summary of Taylor’s proposal and research

Alternative methods for delineating seed transfer zones: comparisons of genetic and common garden data 

Ecological restoration requires the establishment of self-sustaining plant communities from seed for wildlife habitat, ecosystem services, and conservation of genetic resources. The geographic origin of seed sources is an important factor for revegetation success, as local seed sources are better adapted to regional environmental conditions. Restoration practitioners use seed transfer zones to ensure that seed sources are adapted to specific restoration sites; however, few species have been studied in depth to produce seed source guidelines. I propose to compare traditional and novel techniques used to create seed transfer zones for the keystone rocky mountain shrub Cercocarpus montanus,true mountain mahogany.


lbarrett.jpgLisa Barrett

Lisa is pursuing a Ph.D. in Dr. Sarah Benson-Amram’s Lab

Summary of Lisa’s proposal and research

Comparing Captive and Wild Asian Elephant Personality and Problem Solving

Human-induced, rapid environmental change threatens the existence of a diversity of species. Species vary in their response to such change, allowing some species to thrive while others decline. Problem-solving tasks reveal interspecific and intraspecific variation in behavioral flexibility to environmental change, and individual variation in novel task interaction may be related to the individual’s behavioral type, or personality. The endangered Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) suffers from habitat loss and human-elephant conflict. For example, some elephants have learned to exploit farmland through crop raiding. This behavior is considered risky, because it often results in elephant and human deaths. The continued decline of the elephant, a keystone species, would result in a substantial loss of biodiversity. The proposed comparative study will contribute to our understanding of personality, cognition, and the subsequent impact on conservation4 in Asian elephants. Results from this study could determine which individuals are more likely to engage in crop raiding and could lead to development of early intervention to reduce its spread. Additionally, this work will determine whether captive research is ecologically relevant for elephants and will elucidate intraspecific variance in behavioral flexibility.


Eddy.jpgDoug Eddy

Doug is pursuing a Masters in Dr. Matt Carling’s Lab

Summary of Doug’s proposal and research

Testing models of energy cost and trade-offs for avian malaria in a high elevation passerine

Taken separately, both mounting an immune response and maintaining internal body heat during very cold conditions incur large energetic costs. What remains unclear in avian physiology is the nature of the response in terms of metabolic output and whether or not these dual costs can be bared by a small passerine with a chronic parasite infection. I propose to test physiological costs to high elevation resident Dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis spp.) that are infected with avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.) against non-infected individuals to assess the costs and tradeoffs associated with thermogenesis and immune response. The findings of my study will increase our understanding of impacts to native populations as avian malaria and similar diseases are likely to spread under most future climate change projections.


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