Davis Rabosky, with daughter Maya on her back, catching a Ctenophorus isolepis lizard in Western Australia.

EEB is delighted to bring two new tenure-track assistant professors on board: Alison Davis Rabosky and Melissa Duhaime. Davis Rabosky joined the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in September 2016, Duhaime in January 2017.

Davis Rabosky joined the University of Michigan EEB and Museum of Zoology faculty as an assistant research scientist in 2012. “She is a highly talented and innovative behavioral ecologist and evolutionary biologist whose work appears in many leading scientific journals, including Nature Communications, The American Naturalist, Evolution, Proceedings of the Royal Society B and Behavioral Ecology. Her research is unusually integrative and spans a number of distinct sub-fields, including behavioral biology,” said EEB Professor and Chair Diarmaid Ó Foighil.

Davis Rabosky’s research program explores the ecological drivers of trait evolution in nature, primarily using reptilian study systems, although the questions she addresses – e.g., the evolution of sociality and of mimicry amongst others – have relevance across much of the tree of life and are topics of intense interest in biological research. She is making fundamental contributions in her focal topic areas. For instance, her work on desert night lizards discovered a new instance of complex sociality in reptiles that has expanded our definition of what constitutes “sociality” in nature, has been documented in five publications and has been incorporated into the widely used textbook, “Vertebrate Life.”

Davis Rabosky’s work on color polymorphism and mimicry in snakes is also groundbreaking in that it challenges prevailing views that patterns of selection on non-venomous mimetic snakes should be simple and directly correlated with venomous model species and that genetic loci for coloration should be tightly lined into “supergenes.” She has produced a series of high profile publications on this topic area, the most recent of which, her Nature Communications paper, was highlighted in a Nature News & Views article.

Her excellence as an instructor was recognized when she taught the herpetology portion of the fabled Natural History of Vertebrates course at the University of California, Berkeley. Colleagues call her an outstanding mentor of undergraduate and graduate students.

Davis Rabosky’s research, teaching and outreach activities will all incorporate some aspects of the Museum of Zoology’s world-class herpetological collections. She is an assistant curator of reptiles and amphibians for the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

Melissa Duhaime on the Tara Oceans Expedition, traveling the Southern Ocean en route to Easter Island sampling viruses and microbes in 2011. Image credit: Anna Deniaud.

“Duhaime, an extraordinarily gifted virologist and microbiologist, joined the EEB faculty as an assistant research scientist in 2012 with expertise in viral ecology and evolution: a fast-developing research topic in modern biology,” said Ó Foighil. “This is especially the case for marine viruses where new genomic approaches are revealing their unprecedented diversity for the first time and where we are just beginning to understand their central regulatory roles in marine ecosystem functioning. Duhaime is very well positioned to be a leader in this newly prominent subfield: she is one of the very few marine viral researchers that have demonstrated expertise in both genomic/bioinformatics approaches as well as in experimental virology, the latter used to characterize the ecological impact of viruses on host bacterial populations. She has already contributed fundamental new insights in the role of viruses in microbial carbon metabolism and in nitrogen and sulfur cycling in marine environments, and has published in a wide variety of leading journals including Science, Nature, Environmental Microbiology, Virology, ISME Journal, BMC Bioinformatics and more.”

In keeping with the spirit of celebrating daughters in the field: Duhaime's daughter, Aurora, helping to collect water samples from the Huron River.

She has been successful in obtaining grant support, in establishing productive and innovative collaborations with a broad diversity of local and international researchers, in recruiting and mentoring a postdoctoral researcher, a graduate student, a technician and multiple undergraduate students for her multipronged research program. Duhaime has also branched out into new research areas such as the importance of microbes in understanding ecosystem impacts of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes and in the world’s oceans – for which she has received considerable publicity, including through Michigan Radio and NPR. This latter project parallels her ongoing work on marine plastics where she has contributed to International Joint Commission discussions of microplastics as well as to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Action Plan core science advisory team.

As a graduate student, Duhaime taught an award-winning class in bioinformatics at the Max Planck Institute, and at U-M has given successful guest lectures and has some intriguing ideas for new courses in virology and environmental microbiology. Duhaime has distinguished herself as an unusually proficient research mentor of undergraduates and high school students, a number of whom have presented their work at scientific meetings. She has also engaged in multiple educational outreach events to middle school students and the general public.

Read more about Davis Rabosky and Duhaime, who were profiled in EEB’s fall 2016 alumni newsletter, Natural Selections.

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein