EEB graduate student Marcella Baiz is the 2019 recipient of the Donald W. Tinkle Scholarship from the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology. UMMZ’s most prestigious student award is a special recognition of research excellence and is intended to assist students in completing their doctoral research.

Baiz’s research on the interbreeding between two species of howler monkeys in Mexico is yielding insights into the forces that drive the evolution of new species. She was first author on a study, published Dec. 24, 2018, in the journal Molecular Ecology, in which the researchers use the primate hybrid zone in Tabasco, Mexico, to identify parts of the genome that are likely to contain genes underlying speciation and to test for signatures of selection that shaped them.

“We observed patterns in the genetic data suggesting that hybridization is playing a direct role in completing the speciation process by enhancing genetic differences between species,” Baiz said.

“We found a signal for multiple forms of natural selection driving species differences, including reinforcement, a process that has been highly debated,” Baiz said. “This result is particularly notable because empirical evidence for reinforcement is extremely rare, especially genetic evidence.”

Baiz’s coauthors are her advisors, Professors Liliana Cortés Ortiz and Priscilla Tucker.

Marcella Baiz on a birding trip in Colima, Mexico.

The Tinkle Scholarship is awarded in Professor Tinkle’s memory. Fittingly, the award committee considers nominees in light of Tinkle’s life and special qualities as an evolutionary biologist. He was an inspiration to his contemporaries.

Donald W. Tinkle joined the University of Michigan in 1965 as Professor and Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians. At Michigan he taught Comparative Anatomy, and two new courses that he designed with colleagues: Evolutionary Biology of the Vertebrates and Evolutionary Ecology. He became Director of the Museum of Zoology in 1975 and served until his death in 1980.

Though his scientific career was short, he received many honors. He was elected a fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science and Herpetologist’s League. He received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 1979, and in 1980 was awarded the eminent Ecologist Award of the Ecological Society of America.

He was the author of more than 80 scholarly papers. His published research demonstrated a unique and valuable balance of empirical and theoretical approaches to critical problems in ecology and evolutionary biology. He pioneered life history studies of reptiles and was one of the first to accomplish detailed, long-term experiments on natural populations.”

Professor Tinkle was also an exceptionally talented teacher, who excelled in undergraduate courses. He was devoted to serving students by demonstrating to them the importance of locating, understanding, and employing substantive explanations of all biological observations. He had a great facility for presenting a complicated subject in a way that was easily grasped by all students. “Don’s most important legacy is the group of students and colleagues he inspired.” In the field, especially, he was known for his enthusiasm, endurance, and sense of humor.

Read more about Baiz’s research: U-M howler monkey study examines mechanisms of new species formation

Read more about Dr. Donald W. Tinkle

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein