Rafael D’Andrea, an EEB graduate student in the lab of Professor Annette Ostling, was awarded a Rackham Graduate School Predoctoral Fellowship. The fellowship supports outstanding doctoral students who have achieved candidacy and are actively working on dissertation research and writing.

"According to ecological theory, coexisting species minimize competition by differing in life strategies,” said D’Andrea. “For example, species can specialize in rapid growth when resources abound, or in survivorship under low resource. Among approaches to establish the importance of these so-called niche processes in nature, the use of functional traits such as seed mass is attractive for its potential to suggest specific mechanisms. Many studies have looked for evidence of niche differentiation in patterns of trait distribution across species. However, trait patterning theory is still in a stage of development, and even recent empirical efforts still focus on patterning arising in classical simplistic models.

“In my dissertation, I design models to investigate how important biological factors such as non-equilibrium phenomena, trait variation within species, habitat heterogeneity, and limited species dispersal affect expectations of trait patterning. I also explore new pattern-detection metrics based on my models that could add to empiricists’ existing toolkit." D’Andrea’s research seeks a better understanding of the connection between competitive interactions and trait pattern in communities.

D’Andrea will receive a stipend of just over $29,000 over three terms, candidacy tuition and registration fees for fall and winter, and GradCare health coverage and dental insurance.

The award takes into consideration professional papers and presentations, publications, honors, as well as academic standing. An important part of this application process is the submission of the dissertation abstract, dissertation statement, and letters of recommendation from faculty.

Buck CastilloBuck Castillo, a recent graduate of the Frontiers Master’s Program who enters EEB’s Ph.D. program this fall, received a Rackham Merit Fellowship. Castillo studies terrestrial ecology and root dynamics of a temperate forest ecosystem with his advisor, Professor Knute Nadelhoffer.

“I will be looking at what influences a disturbance in northern temperate forest has on fungal and microbial communities and how the alterations in those communities relate to ecosystem functions,” said Castillo. “I am particularly interested in the resilience of fungal/microbial communities post disturbance and their role in carbon and nitrogen cycling. I plan on using the 100 year burn chronosequence at the University of Michigan Biological Station as a study system. (This preliminary plan will happen if there’s an additional burn in 2017). I will use next generation sequencing to study metagenomics of the fungal and microbial communities.”

Two incoming graduate students, Sara Colom and Kathryn Wiles were also awarded Rackham Merit Fellowships. Colom plans to study phylogenetics, statistics, morphometrics, and sustainable agriculture with Professor Gina Baucom. Wiles will study microbial ecology and evolution with co-advisors Professors Vincent Denef and Melissa Duhaime.

The Rackham Merit Fellowship Program helps sustain the academic excellence and inclusiveness of the Michigan graduate community, one that embraces students with diverse experiences and goals, and who come from many educational, cultural, geographic, and familial backgrounds. The RMFP is competitive and recognizes entering students who have outstanding academic qualifications, show exceptional potential for scholarly success in their graduate program, and demonstrate promise for contributing to wider academic, professional, or civic communities. The doctoral fellowship provides up to a five-year funding package in partnership with the graduate program that includes tuition, required fees, stipend, health and dental coverage, during each fall and winter term, with select summer stipend and benefits.