Three cheers to three EEB graduate students who were selected for the coveted National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program: Briana Sealey, Morgan Lindback and Emily Laub.

The students are researching predator-prey interactions in bats and frogs, how ocean microbes drive global biogeochemical processes, and how social group formation contributes to the evolution of cooperation in paper wasps. Their research is underway from as near as the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor to Gamboa, Panama, to the exploration of oceans worldwide.

Briana Sealey measuring Salmo trutta, brown trout, from the west branch of the Maple River at the U-M Biological Station. She was assessing fish species that were already present in the east and west branch of the river for levels of niche overlap and habitat quality.

Sealey recently graduated from EEB’s Frontiers Master’s Program where her advisor was Professor Alison Davis Rabosky. She evaluated drivers for anti-predator displays in South American Calico snakes (Oxyrhopus).

For her doctorate, she’s going to the University of Texas at Austin to work with Professor Michael J Ryan. She will study an interesting and unusual predator-prey dynamic in Gamboa, Panama, where fringed-lipped/frog-eating bats (Trachops cirrhosus) eavesdrop on male túngara frog calls (Physalaemus pustulosus) in order to capture them. Male frogs call to female frogs, the bats hear the frequency of the calls and can therefore swoop down to catch and eat them, she described. “I will be evaluating whether the presence of bat's predators deter them from attacking calling frogs nearby.” Some potential avian bat predators are hawks, falcons and owls.

Morgan Lindback is using epifluorescent microscopy to observe bacteria and viruses from infection experiments.

Lindback researches how microbes in the ocean drive global biogeochemical processes. “They produce about half of oxygen we breathe, can make clouds, and play vital roles in nutrient cycling,” she said. “At any given time, approximately 50 percent of these microbes in the surface ocean are infected by viruses. During infection, viruses can take over their host’s metabolism and change how the host interacts with the surrounding water. For example, an infected host might take in more phosphorus from the water column or fix more carbon dioxide. We know little about viral infection plays out in the entire ocean and how it might be altering carbon and nutrient cycling.

“My project will study bacteria and viruses in different nutrients to determine how viruses influence host metabolism and what effect infection has on the surrounding water column. By using DNA and RNA sequencing technologies (metagenomics and metatranscriptomics, respectively), I will capture how host metabolism changes when infected by a virus under different conditions. This will build a foundation for understanding how viruses influence biogeochemical cycling in different parts of the ocean.”

Their samples span the global oceans. “We especially like to work in polar oceans (the Arctic, North Atlantic and Southern Oceans) because they are the sites of deep water formation, which drives ocean currents and moves nutrients between the surface and the deep.” 

The data generated from Lindback’s work will be publicly available and will be used to make lesson plans for educational programs that aid in developing programming skills for STEM. Lindback’s advisor is Professor Melissa Duhaime.

Emily Laub building the vespiary (wasps' nest) at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens where she observes wasps.

Laub uses northern paper wasps (Polistes fuscatus) to investigate how social group formation contributes to the evolution of cooperation. The founding queens join together at the beginning of the spring to build nests, where they will then compete for dominance and cooperatively raise offspring, she explained. “As northern paper wasps only have one season to reproduce, choice in nest mates is of vital importance to their fitness. However, what makes a good cooperator on an individual level is still unclear,” Laub said.

She uses observational and experimental approaches to determine how three traits – competitive ability, relatedness and personality – interact in the selection of social partners and cooperation of groups. “Understanding how individuals prioritize their own needs and individual qualities through social group formation could reconcile the fitness costs and benefits of cooperation. I am very grateful to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens for providing the space to conduct my experiments in a large naturalistic wasp enclosure.” Laub’s advisor is Professor Elizabeth Tibbetts.

In addition to the new fellows, these students were on NSF Graduate Research Fellowships for the 2018 - 2019 academic year (or will be starting their fellowships in the coming year):  

Michael Grundler
Eric Gulson
Katherine McLean
Jess Millar
Teresa Pegan
Imani Russell
Kristel Sanchez
Taylor West