Anat Belasen volunteers at the reptiles and amphibians table during ID Day for the Museum of Zoology.

Congratulations to the following ecology and evolutionary biology graduate students on their competitive and prestigious awards from the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School. Anat Belasen and Caroline Parins-Fukuchi were awarded Rackham Predoctoral Fellowships. Gordon Fitch was received a Rackham International Research Award.

Belasen, who researches tropical frogs, said “I am using Next Generation Sequencing techniques to examine the consequences of widespread human-caused fragmentation of native forests in southeastern Brazil. This information, combined with data on pathogen infection rates among frog populations, will allow me to assess whether habitat fragmentation is compromising the health and stability of frog populations. Amphibians are in global decline and are an integral part of wild ecosystems, so this research will provide important insights into conservation of biodiversity.” Belasen’s advisor is Professor Tim James.

Caroline Parins-Fukuchi in Ise, Japan, where she was visiting family.

Parins-Fukuchi explained, “throughout the history of evolutionary biology, observations and inferences drawn separately from fossil and living taxa have been synthesized to improve the understanding of evolutionary forces at a broad scale. However, the emergence of genomic data has reshaped the landscape of evolutionary biology among extant species, while fossil taxa, known only from morphology, have lagged behind. My research aims to contribute to an updated synthesis of the unique views generated from living and fossil taxa by developing new approaches to phylogenetic inference and comparative analysis that harness information displayed by datasets constructed from unconventional sources.

“To gauge their potential to improve understanding of evolutionary history, I frequently apply new approaches to taxonomically diverse empirical datasets that range from great apes (Hominidae) to angiosperm lineages, such as fossil and living members of the grape family (Vitaceae).” Parins-Fukuchi’s advisor is Professor Chris Dick.

The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowships support outstanding doctoral students who have achieved candidacy and are actively working on dissertation research and writing in support of students working on dissertations that are unusually creative, ambitious and impactful. The fellowship provides three terms of support including a stipend of just over $32,000, candidacy tuition and required fees for 12 months and GradCare health and dental insurance during the fellowship period.

Fitch studies the effects of environmental change on the outcome of interactions between plants and insects. “My dissertation research focuses on the effect of agricultural management practices on interactions between stingless bees and plants – both crop and non-crop – in coffee agroecosystems in Chiapas, Mexico.  Stingless bees – a diverse subfamily of bees found across the tropics – are important pollinators of coffee as well as many other coffee-associated plants, but can also act as nectar robbers, extracting nectar from flowers without pollinating and thereby reducing plants’ reproductive success. Whether individual bees act as nectar robbers or pollinators depends on a variety of factors.

“I am investigating how farm management practices affect bees’ propensity to rob rather than pollinate flowers, and the extent to which management-induced behavioral changes affect the fitness of both the plant being robbed and the colonies of stingless bees engaged in robbing. In addition, I am examining the extent to which plants can respond to variation in nectar robbing intensity in ways that reduce the negative impact of robbers on their reproduction. This research has important implications for the management of agricultural landscapes for stingless bees, which are in decline in some areas, including southern Mexico.” Fitch, whose advisor is Professor John Vandermeer. was awarded $6,000.

The Rackham International Research Awards support doctoral and master’s students conducting degree-related research outside the United States and Puerto Rico.