Congratulations to Rob Massatii and Jingchun Li who were awarded Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants from the  National Science Foundation.

Massatti studies plant systematics, taxonomy and population biology. His project is titled “Tests of parallel divergence processes in montane plants: links between population differentiation and species diversity patterns.” 

“The processes that historically affected species diversification are being exacerbated today as the climate warms, forcing upper montane and alpine species to establish at higher altitudes,” states Massatti’s proposal. “As their habitat disappears, it is foreseeable that species adapted to the coldest and harshest habitats will be extirpated. To maintain diversity, humans will have to reintroduce species into appropriate habitat. Because resources are very limited for these types of activities, conservation practitioners must use the best available information to ensure that their efforts will succeed. This research will inform conservation’s best practices by determining what factors affect the geographic distribution of species’ genetic variation. Fine-tuning species distribution modeling will also provide practical benefits because it will help conservation practitioners narrow down potential areas suitable for reintroduction efforts.

Massatti, whose advisors are Drs.  Lacey Knowles and Tony Reznicek was awarded $20,215 for two years. He was a graduate student curatorial assistant at the U-M Herbarium for the winter semester of 2013.

Li researches speciation, biogeography and marine invertebrate ecology. Her project title is “The role of biotic association in the evolution of a megadiverse marine bivalve clade.”

“Both geographic and ecological factors influence diversification patterns of taxa,” according to Li. “I am interested in how ecological factors, especially biotic associations, affect lineage diversification processes in marine environments. My study system is the hyper-diverse marine bivalve superfamily Galeommatoidea”

Many members in this group have either necessary (obligate) or optional (facultative) associations with other marine invertebrates. These associations are mostly commensal, wherein one organism benefits without affecting the other. Li is testing whether the unique lifestyle of galeommatoideans contributes to their high species diversity and morphological disparity, and if so, seeking possible mechanisms.

"My initial analysis on galeommatoidean lineage diversification showed that the free-living clams exhibit a higher diversification rate compared to the commensal lineages. The proposed DDIG project on analyzing trait evolution of both commensal and free-living species will help me to expand my research scope to include not only the lineage diversification processes but also the morphological evolution of this group. Connecting rates of evolution to the evolution of actual (and possibly functional) phenotypic traits will provide further insights into how biotic vs. abiotic factors influence the radiation of this diverse marine clade."

Li, whose advisor is Professor Diarmaid Ó Foighil, was awarded $18,722 for two years.

The NSF awards DDIGs in selected areas of the biological sciences. These grants provide partial support of doctoral dissertation research to improve the overall quality of research including costs for doctoral candidates to participate in scientific meetings, to conduct research in specialized facilities or field settings, and to expand an existing body of dissertation research.