Message from the chair
Season’s greetings from Ann Arbor! This is the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology’s 16th volume of Natural Selections and it differs from its predecessors in being a single-topic edition. Its focus is on our remarkable new home, the Biological Sciences Building (BSB), built over the past three years just north of Ruthven on the footprints of the former North Hall and Museums Annex buildings. I hope you enjoy reading about the BSB and its many attributes, as well as how we are settling in and adapting to our shiny, light-filled new work environment.
For those of you who remember taking classes and/or doing research in Kraus (built in 1915, the future home of the School of Kinesiology) or in Ruthven (built in the 1928, the future home of the U-M’s central administration), the small number of BSB photographs included in this edition will give you some inkling of the scale of the change. Experiencing it in person, it feels as if we have passed through a radical metamorphosis – the building equivalent of transitioning from a caterpillar to a monarch butterfly. We are just emerging from our equivalent of a pupal stage (the unglamorous and somewhat fraught process of lab downsizing, moving and setup) into a wholly-changed work environment that will enable our program to take flight.
One of the more immediate benefits of the BSB is enhanced programmatic integration. For the first time in the history of our department all our faculty and their labs are in the same building and this is paying dividends. Many personnel report much higher levels of interaction and cooperation, a process facilitated by the predominance of shared lab spaces. I see this play out also in our shared administrative space where we interact daily with members of the other units moving into the BSB: our sister Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, the Museum of Paleontology, the Museum of Natural History and the Biological Station.
Many people have worked hard on BSB planning over the years but none more than Deborah Goldberg, who is quoted extensively throughout the newsletter. As our founding and long-time chair, Deborah was centrally involved in the initial planning and, as our associate chair for research and facilities for the past three years, she oversaw every aspect of construction and the highly complicated process of moving our program. Thank you Deborah!
I want to briefly touch on a few other notable departmental happenings. The multi-year move of the Museum of Zoology collections to the Research Museums Center on Varsity Drive (home of the Herbarium since 2001) is finally complete. This has involved a significant upgrade in facilities (e.g., new shared molecular lab, enhanced cryopreservation facility, new micro-CT and X-ray instruments). Our graduate program is performing well, based on 2018 U.S. News & World Report rankings. We were ranked joint-sixth among the nation’s top “Ecology and Evolutionary Biology” programs by peer assessment. The last time they released comparable evaluations for a biology specialty was in 2014 when the U-M placed 12th, so we seem to be heading in the right direction.
We are in the middle of a wave of change in faculty composition and our most recent recruits are Assistant Professor Fernanda Valdovinos and Associate Professor Hernán López-Fernández. Dr. Valdovinos is a theoretical ecologist whose work links next-generation models of ecological complexity with data from a variety of field and experimental systems. Dr. López-Fernández is an expert in Neotropical fish biodiversity and serves as our UMMZ curator of fishes. We also had three retirements involving long-serving faculty members: Paul Berry, Robyn Burnham and Paul Dunlap, but note that Berry and Burnham remain curators emeriti in the Herbarium.
I am sad to report the passing of Professor and Curator Emeritus Richard “Dick” Alexander on August 20, aged 88. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and former UMMZ director, Dick joined the U-M faculty in 1957. Trained as an entomologist, he contributed to many areas of evolutionary biology and introduced the first ever course in evolution and/or behavior at the U-M with his popular “Animal Evolution and Behavior.” A prolific and influential writer and thinker, Dick was involved in developing the field of sociobiology. Together with his students, he studied the evolution of eusociality in insects and, famously, developed naked mole rats as a vertebrate model system for studies of social evolution. A rich and productive academic life lived to the full!
I invite you to stay in touch over the coming year using the many electronic portals to our departmental news and events, including our website (lsa.umich.edu/eeb), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, EEBlog, YouTube channel and enewsletter. If you are visiting Ann Arbor, feel free to drop in to see me at BSB 2244.
With my best wishes for a peaceful holiday season and a happy and prosperous new year!
Diarmaid Ó Foighil
Professor & Chair