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New SBE Assistant Professor of Neurobiology: Dr. Kristy Townsend

The School of Biology & Ecology is pleased to welcome Dr. Kristy Townsend, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology.  Townsend arrived at the University of Maine at the beginning of November, but will not be teaching until the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year.  She will be spending the rest of this year setting up her laboratory and planning her future curriculum. She will be teaching Intro to Neurobiology in the fall of 2015, and Cellular Biology in the spring of 2016.

Townsend recently moved to Bangor with her family, but this isn’t her first experience with Maine’s beautiful landscapes.  She attended high school in Orono, and received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Maine.  During her time at UMaine, she did her honors thesis with Alan Rosenwasser, professor of psychology, studying changes in the brain due to weight loss and gain in mouse and bat models.

“I’ve always wanted this type of position,” said Townsend. “My previous position was purely research, but at night I taught for the Harvard extension school.  I wasn’t required to do that, but I did it because I enjoy teaching.  I’ve always wanted a job that I could do both.”

Townsend received her Ph.D. in neuroscience from Boston University in 2007. During her time at Boston University, she began her research on energy balance, body weight regulation, and obesity, working with bat and mice models.  The main focus of her research was comparing and contrasting how the brains of these animals change during the process of body weight regulation.  She also looked at the role leptin, a hormone secreted from fat tissue, plays on the brain of mice when they are fed a high fat diet. After receiving her Ph.D., she spent three years at King’s College in London, performing post-doctoral research. This research opportunity exposed her to working more with cell culture, using mouse models that had immune-deficiencies in order to see how immunity is involved with metabolism.

For the past five years, Townsend has been working at Harvard Medical School in the Joslin Diabetes Center.  She worked as a postdoctoral researcher and a junior faculty member, working on a variety of projects focusing on how the brain communicates with peripheral tissues to control energy balance within the body.  A major aspect of her research explored the role of brown adipose cells, looking at how they develop and are activated, what effect they have on the brain, and how growth factors act to increase metabolism.

She will be continuing some of her research projects from previous institutions, but is excited to start some new ones.  Her research will be looking at how specific growth factors affect appetite and how the brain talks to brain tissue.  Some of her new research projects will be looking at changes in neurogenesis and neuropathy.

Townsend said she is thrilled to be in charge of what she wants to research.  “It’s a lot of responsibility to make sure everything is running smoothly. I want to be able to decide what I think is interesting, and study that. To me that is the most exciting part. There are endless possibilities to what research questions I can ask.”

 

SBE Professor Jacquelyn Gill Leads Research in South America

Jacquelyn Gill, assistant professor of paleoecology and plant ecology, will be leading a research project in the Falkland Islands, a remote group of islands east of South America,  from Dec. 4-22.  Gill will be joined by two SBE graduate students- Kit Hamley and Dulcinea Groff.  The researchers will study the island’s environmental history throughout the last 20,000 years in order to establish a baseline for further research.  The team hopes to facilitate conservation efforts based on their data, and to understand the effects climate change has on the area’s biodiversity.

The research team hopes to learn more about the first human inhabitants of the island, and what the ecosystem looked like before humans arrived.  They aim to help residents of the island develop sustainable practices in sheep grazing, eco-tourism and fishing that would benefit the economy, as well as the wildlife.

Groff’s research will focus on the sensitivity of native grasses that provide habitat for penguins and other seabirds.  When in the Falkland Islands, Groff will collect sediment cores from several locations, as well as environmental samples in order to look at environmental changes.

“The overall theme of my project is what I call a marine-terrestrial linkage,” Groff says. “This is the connection of nutrients originating in the marine ecosystem that are transferred to the terrestrial ecosystem. The soil in the region is very nutrient poor, which makes nutrients coming from the marine ecosystem very important.”

Hamley’s research will focus on the Falkland Island wolf, looking into whether indigenous people brought the wolf to the Falklands before Europeans arrived. She will visit sites where wolf bones have been found to look for human artifacts.

To help fund the $20,000 trip, Hamley and Groff have created and launched a crowd-funding campaign through Experiment.com. The students hope to raise $10,000 in 35 days.

For more information on the story click here

The Evolutionary Neuroscience of Musical Beat Perception

This past Friday, the School of Biology and Ecology welcomed Dr. Aniruddh Patel, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Tufts University, to give a talk as part of the SBE seminar series. The presentation, titled  “The evolutionary neuroscience of musical beat perception,” sparked the interest of many individuals across campus, drawing members from the Music, Psychology, and Biology departments.   Dr. Patel’s work focuses on music cognition, which is the mental processes involved in making, perceiving, and responding to music.  Specifically, he explores the relationship between music and language, and the neurological processing of musical rhythm.

Patel’s research suggests that musical beat perception is a complex brain function relying on the coordinated interaction of auditory regions and motor planning regions of the cerebral cortex.  His research also shows an intimate link between perception, action and emotion.  Interested in finding other species capable of beat perception, Patel observed a male Eleonora cockatoo named Snowball, after stumbling upon a YouTube video of Snowball dancing, shown above.  He began to experiment in order to determine whether or not Snowball was, in fact truly synchronizing his body movements to the music, opposed to mimicking his movements to that of humans.

 In order to see this, Snowball’s favorite piece of music was played to him at several different tempos and his reactions were recorded on video for later analysis. The results, published in the paper “Investigating the human-specificity of synchronization to music,” showed that Snowball was capable of spontaneously dancing to human music, as well as being able to adjust his movements to match the tempo of the music, a behavior previously thought only to occur in humans.

New Course! EES 397-Biophysical and Ecological Economics

Need another course for this spring semester? Take EES 397- Biophysical and Ecological Economics!

Taught by Dr. Steve Coghlan, Associate Professor of Freshwater Fisheries Ecology, the course will be a three-credit lecture/discussion course that will provide students with the biophysical framework necessary for understanding how real economics operates as metabolic systems on planet Earth. The course will also challenge the institutionalized dogma that promotes economic growth at the expense of ecological integrity and sustainability.

Instructional Objectives: Assigned readings and subsequent class lectures / discussion are designed to strengthen student understanding of the following topics:

  • Historical development of economic theories in the context of human capacity to transform nature to meet their needs and desires
  • Subjecting economic hypotheses to scientific testing
  • Importance of energy, thermodynamics, and entropy in the economic process
  • Biophysical basis of wealth and affluence
  • Limits to growth on a finite planet
  • Ecological, economic, and societal collapse

Student Learning Outcomes: Upon completion of EES 397 / 550, successful students can:

  • Identify the main tenets of classical and neoclassical economic theories and discuss them in the historic context of relations between humans and the environment
  • Describe fatal flaws associated with the circular-flow model of economic activity
  • Provide an alternate perspective of economies as metabolic systems embedded within the ecosphere and subject to natural biophysical laws
  • Explain the importance of energy surplus, energy return on investment, and power in shaping major trends in human history
  • Evaluate implications of current economic policy on the ability of the ecosphere to support complex human civilizations sustainably

 For more information, contact Dr. Steve Coghlan at stephen.coghlan@umit.maine.edu

SBE Professors Hamish Greig & Jacquelyn Gill receive media coverage on joined research project

Professor Hamish Greig and student in the field.

Hamish Greig, assistant professor of stream ecology, and Jacquelyn Gill, assistant professor of terrestrial paleoecology at the Climate Change Institute, have joined forces in order to study the impact that hemlock tree die-offs have on freshwater forest ecosystems.  The importance of this research is rooted in the great impact these trees have on the ecosystem.  Hemlock trees are considered a foundation species; a species that has a strong role in structuring a community.  Hemlock trees in Maine have been found to influence site soil, vegetation, and stream characteristics.

The research project has been picked up by a variety of media outlets including The Associated Press and WVII(Channel 7), The RepublicSun JournalSFGate andWABI (Channel 5).

In order to better understand the impact these hemlock trees have, the research team set up an experiment with 36 livestock water tanks in which they added hemlock needles, rhododendron, and maple leaves in order to emulate a freshwater forest ecosystem.  The team will observe these tanks as they develop over time. In order to peer into the past, Gill and Robert Northington, a research assistant in biology and lake ecology, will study radiocarbon-dated records from various lakes and bogs in Maine in order to see how aquatic systems were affected by hemlock die-offs in the past.

The implications of this research is especially important in Maine, where hemlocks are on the decline from the introduction of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an aphid-like insect from Asia that attacks eastern hemlocks.

“When you change one thing in an ecosystem, everything is connected. Killing off all the hemlock trees doesn’t just change the forests. This change has impacts all the way, it trickles through the whole system,” Gill told WVII.

The research team also includes Krista Capps, MS students Jack McLachlan and Jess Haghkerdar, PhD. Students Thomas Parr, Laura Podzikowski, and visiting PhD. student, Amanda Klemmer.

For full story click here.

SBE Professor Dr. Michael Kinnison featured in Science Magazine

The study of evolution is not only the study of our past, but also the study of our future.  Dr. Michael Kinnison, an applied evolutionary biologist at the University of Maine, believes that many evolutionary principles and applications could provide potential solutions for many major challenges our world faces today. In a paper published in Science Magazine, Kinnison and coauthors explain how applied evolutionary biology can provide strategies to address global challenges that threaten human health, food security, biodiversity, and many other issues that can be anticipated in the future. “So how does applied evolution help solve issues…it helps identify possible costly or disastrous outcomes and it gives tools to both slow the onset of those problems or facilitate new solutions,” said Kinnison.

The idea for the article was conceived at a meeting in Heron Island Australia back in 2010, which was the first meeting to bring together individuals working on applied evolution issues, many of which are addressed in the article.

The major theme of the paper is how evolution is occurring in response to pressures created by humans.  “Many species will probably not be able to evolve fast enough to keep pace with global change, which brings about its own set of challenges,” said Kinnison. “The goal of our paper, and applied evolution in general, is to apply evolutionary insights to help slow unwanted evolution or facilitate adaptive potential and match where needed.”

The paper, published online on September 11th, discusses proposed themes to the international sustainable development goals such as the importance of sustainable food security, sustainable sources of water, and universal clean energy.

The next step for the authors is the formation of a Society for Applied Evolution. “This society would build upon our message that scientists, policy makers and practitioners working on challenges in food, health and the environment need to interact more with one another to share solutions and address challenges that span traditional disciplinary boundaries,” explains Kinnison.

 

Join the Teaching and Learning Journal Club!

This semester SBE will be having a bi-weekly teaching and learning journal club. All faculty, staff, postdocs, and students are invited to join.

We will meet for one hour and discuss one journal article on a topic picked by attendees. A list of potential articles will be provided.

Our meeting dates for the fall semester are: 9/18, 10/2, 10/16, 10/30, 11/13, and 12/11. We will meet from 10-10:50am in Murray Hall room 104.

Regardless of whether you have read the papers or attended before, please come and join our discussion!

Please contact Mindi Summers (mindi.summers@maine.edu) for more information.
Fall 2014 Seminar Series Schedule

The School of Biology & Ecology is please to present this years Seminar Series schedule! The purpose of these seminars is to highlight an array of research fields and interests from professors and researchers  across the country. Seminars will be held on Fridays at 3:10 pm in Murray Hall, Room 102 unless otherwise noted.  Light refreshments served at 3:00 pm.  All are welcome to attend!

 

Sept. 12          Dr. Andrew Tanentzap, University of Cambridge

“Extending freshwater conservation beyond shorelines by linking aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.”


Host by: Dr. Gill

Sept. 19      Dr. Bobbi Peckarsky, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Potential effects of climate change on stream organisms.”

Hosted by:  Dr. Greig; Cosponsors: Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions

Sept. 26      Dr. Erik Blomberg, University of Maine

“Landscapes, life histories, and populations: The challenge of conserving greater sage-grouse in a changing climate.”


Hosted by: Dr. Greig

Oct. 3         Dr. Mindi Summers, University of Maine

“Untangling the evolutionary history of a marine symbiosis: Diversity and relationships among crinoids and myzostomes.”


Hosted by: Dr. Smith

Oct.10        Dr. Elizabeth Crone, Tufts University

“Resource depletion, pollen limitation and synchronous mast-seeding in trees and wildflowers.”


Hosted by:  Dr. Drummond; Cosponsors: School of Food and Agriculture

Oct. 17       Dr. Jennifer Roecklein-Canfield, Simmons College

“Undergraduate Laboratory Renaissance: A research based curriculum that builds and encourages persistence of underrepresented students in the science pipeline.”


Hosted by: Dr. Maginnis; Cosponsors: Department of Molecular & Biomedical Sciences

Oct. 24       Dr. Aniruddh Patel, Tufts University

“The evolutionary neuroscience of musical beat perception.”


Hosted by: Dr. Rosenwasser; Cosponsors: School of Performing Arts & Psychology Dept.

Oct. 31.      Dr. John Anderson, College of the Atlantic

“The importance of natural history and its role in teaching biology.”


Hosted by: Dr. Gill

Nov. 7        Dr. Jennifer Marlon, Yale University,

TBA


Hosted by: Dr. Gill; Cosponsors: Climate Change Institute

Nov. 14      Dr. Will Clyde, University of New Hampshire

“Biological impacts of abrupt global warming events in the geological past.”


Hosted by: TBA

Nov. 21      Dr. Robert Steneck, University of Maine Darling Marine Center

“Ecosystem flips, locks, and feedbacks: The lasting effects of fisheries on Maine’s kelp forest ecosystem.”


Hosted by: Dr. McGill

Dec. 5        Dr. Christine Maher, University of Southern Maine

“Individual variation in behavior: do woodchucks have distinct personalities?”


Hosted by: TBA

Dec. 12      Dr. Julia Dallman, Miami University

TBA

Hosted by: Dr. Henry