Message from the chair
Greetings from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. This is my fourth Natural Selections chair column and I would like to take the opportunity to share with you a snapshot of our department at a major inflexion point in its history. We are a department on the move, both physically and programmatically!
This academic year is significant not just for it being the University of Michigan’s Bicentennial. As the University enters its third century, the EEB department is about to relocate from the Kraus Natural Sciences Building, the home of the biology program since 1916, to a spectacular new $260m Biological Sciences Building, currently in the final phase of construction just north of the Ruthven Building. We will move in by the summer of 2018 and it will allow us to co-locate our entire faculty for the first time in the department’s history. Meantime, our fabled Museum of Zoology collections are completing their migration from the Ruthven building to join the Herbarium, Museum of Paleontology and Museum of Anthropological Archaeology in a renovated Research Museums Center on Varsity Drive – see lead article in this issue.
In addition to massive investment in our infrastructure, we are currently experiencing a major pulse of faculty recruitment. Over the past year, we have hired, or made commitments to hire a total of nine talented new faculty members. It is no exaggeration to say that the EEB department that makes its home in the new Biological Science Building will be a substantially new department. Two of our new hires are featured in this issue. Assistant Professor Jake Allgeier is an ecosystems ecologist whose research program is giving us new insights, both empirical and conceptual, into the role that consumer-derived nutrient cycling, and fish behavior, play in the functioning of coastal marine ecosystems. Assistant Professor and Curator of Birds Ben Winger is an evolutionary ecologist and ornithologist and the major theme of his research is the influence of dispersal and migration on the evolution of biogeographic ranges, speciation and community assembly.
Our department has an outstanding faculty. That's not just my opinion; it’s corroborated by the prestigious awards they regularly win, many of them in the face of intense competition with their U-M peers. For instance, just this year, EEB faculty have won (amongst others) a Distinguished University Professorship (Mark Hunter), Collegiate Professorship (Trisha Wittkopp), Thurnau Professorship (Deborah Goldberg), Henry Russel Award (Dan Rabosky), John Dewey Award (Catherine Badgley) and the inaugural President’s Award for Public Impact (Meghan Duffy). The Thurnau Professorship recognizes extraordinary contributions to undergraduate teaching and this is the second year in a row that an EEB faculty member has won, bringing our total to three. See profiles of our remarkable Thurnau Professors – Goldberg, Wittkopp and Vandermeer – in this issue.
If you are in need of inspiration or hope for the future, you must read the article profiling two of our recent doctoral graduates, Theresa Ong and Senay Yitbarek. These impressive young scientists joined the department through our NSF-funded Frontiers Master's Program. Its goal is to act as a stepping-stone for students from a non-traditional background interested in obtaining a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology. Drs. Ong and Yitbarek were the first Frontiers students to obtain their doctorates through EEB and both have now embarked on exciting postdoctoral studies – read all about it.
There’s always something of interest happening in our department. Keep in touch via our webpage and social media and do come and pay us a visit when you are next on campus, either in Kraus and Ruthven (before May 2018) or in the new Biological Sciences Building and Research Museum Center. You are most welcome to drop in!
Diarmaid Ó Foighil
Professor & Chair