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Alumni and Friends

Message from the chair

Dear Friends,

Greetings from the University of Michigan’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology! A few weeks ago, I witnessed the cutting down of a large American Elm tree, likely planted by History Professor Andrew Dickson White in the 1850s, on the U-M’s historic Diag, directly south of the EEB chair’s office in Kraus. It had been fatally weakened by Dutch Elm Disease, an invasive fungal pathogen, and represented a serious safety hazard that could no longer be ignored. Yet the overall canopy shading the Diag pathways remains largely intact, due to the presence of numerous younger shade trees, immune to the pathogen, that were planted over the intervening 160 years and are rapidly achieving maturity.

Change and renewal is very much a current theme in our department and its associated museum units: the University of Michigan Herbarium and Museum of Zoology. Just north of the Ruthven Museums Building, a spectacular new Biological Sciences Building is approaching the halfway point of its construction cycle – one can monitor its progress via live webcams that give north, south and west views: Representing an investment of a quarter billion dollars by the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the BSB will be our purpose-built new home, starting in fall 2018, together with our sister department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, the U-M Museum of Paleontology and the public-access Museum of Natural History. For the first time, all of EEB’s tenure-track faculty will be housed in one building. Meantime, our world-class UMMZ collections are moving south to join the Herbarium at Varsity Drive within a newly renovated Research Museums Center that will also include the paleontology and anthropological archaeology collections. Exciting times indeed!

I am pleased to report that significant investment and growth in personnel is also occurring within our academic program. This term, we are conducting searches for three new tenure-track assistant professors in ecology, a strategic priority area within our program, with targeted hires in ecosystem ecology, population and community ecology and theoretical ecology.  If we are successful, the resulting three new ecologists will join three newly hired EEB tenure-track colleagues: Alison Davis Rabosky (started September 2016), Melissa Duhaime (starts January 2017) and Ben Winger (starts September 2017).  Davis Rabosky and Duhaime are profiled within this issue of Natural Selections. Winger, currently a Michigan Fellow, is an ornithologist whose research foci include speciation and community assembly in Andean birds, geographic range evolution in migratory birds, and the relationship between seasonal migration and dispersal and its influence on speciation. Our success in hiring Dr. Winger has instantly renewed our prestigious program in ornithology, long associated with the UMMZ’s world-class bird collection.

How many of you envisage coming in to work (with effect) at the age of 97? I’m especially delighted that we can profile the extraordinary life of U-M Herbarium research scientist and fern specialist Florence Wagner, and her deceased but unforgettable husband Warren “Herb” Wagner (1920-2000), in this issue. Their story is one of the great partnerships in botanical research and teaching at the U-M in the latter half of the 20th century.

It is a pleasure to profile two members of our outstanding student body: Nicholas Medina and Callie Chappell. Nicholas is in the first year of his doctoral degree, having graduated last year from our Frontiers Master’s Program. As an undergraduate in Brandeis, he became interested in ecosystem ecology and built on that significantly during his master’s work at the U-M Biological Station (under the mentorship of EEB faculty member Knute Nadelhoffer, UMBS director.) His excellent work on carbon and nitrogen cycling in forest soils is not only of intense academic interest, it has important implications for our understanding of climate change dynamics going forward. Nicholas plays an active role in the broader life of the department: he currently hosts our informal Tuesday EEB Lunch seminar series, is an influential voice in ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion discussions within our department and is one of our many graduate students who give me great hope for the future of our discipline.

If you are in the need for inspiration, then you must read the profile of Callie Chappell, one of our recent star undergraduates. She graduated with a Biology BSc Honors degree and a GPA of 3.969, garnering multiple prizes for her extraordinary thesis research and superlatives from her advisor EEB faculty member Mark Hunter.

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 ( and other channels (see this page).  If you are visiting Ann Arbor, feel free to drop in to see me at Kraus 2019.

With my best wishes for a peaceful holiday season and a happy and prosperous new year!





Read the fall 2016 issue of Natural Selections online