Jacob Allgeier. Image credit: Dale Austin

University of Michigan marine ecologist Jacob Allgeier is among 22 early career scientists and engineers named today as 2019 recipients of the Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The fellows will each receive $875,000 over five years to pursue their research.

Allgeier uses artificial reefs, mathematical modeling and community-based conservation programs to understand how an unlikely but renewable source of fertilizer – fish excretion – can be used to stimulate fish production and improve food security in tropical ecosystems.

Over the past decade, Allgeier has glued together thousands of cinder blocks to create 38 artificial reefs in a shallow bay on Abaco Island in the northern Bahamas. He will use some of the Packard Foundation funding to radio-track about 500 fish living on those reefs to learn more about their feeding behavior.

“It is a tremendous honor to have been selected for a Packard Fellowship, especially given the exceptional competition,” said Allgeier, an assistant professor who joined the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology faculty in 2017.

“This opportunity will further our ability to conduct science that I hope will ultimately benefit the conservation and sustainability of coastal ecosystems and the communities that depend on them,” said Allgeier, who runs a small research station on Abaco Island that includes two garages used for equipment storage. While much of the island was devastated last month by Hurricane Dorian, the two garages are still standing.

The 38 artificial reefs attract high densities of fish—snapper, grouper, damselfish, butterfly fish, grunts and other common Caribbean reef species—because the structures provide shelter from predators and food from invertebrates living in crevices between the blocks: snails, shrimp, crabs, worms and other creatures.

“This project has the potential to generate a novel understanding of marine productivity that can be used to improve fisheries management in tropical coastal ecosystems,” Allgeier said.

“Jake richly deserves this prestigious award,” said Diarmaid Ó Foighil, chair of the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “He is an extraordinary scientist who is taking on one of the most challenging and important questions in marine ecology. We are very fortunate to have him as a colleague.”

EEB has one other Packard Fellow, Dan Rabosky (2014), associate professor and associate curator, Museum of Zoology. Among this year’s awardees, there is another with an EEB connection, Jingchun Li (EEB Ph.D. 2014), now an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The Packard Fellowships in Science and Engineering are among the nation’s largest nongovernmental fellowships, designed to allow maximum flexibility in how the funding is used. Since 1988, the program has supported the “blue-sky thinking” of scientists and engineers with the belief that their research over time will lead to new discoveries that improve people’s lives and enhance our understanding of the universe.

The Fellowships program was inspired by David Packard’s commitment to strengthen university-based science and engineering programs in the United States. He recognized that the success of the Hewlett-Packard Company, which he co-founded, was derived in large measure from research and development in university laboratories. Since 1988, the Packard Foundation has awarded $429 million to support 617 scientists and engineers from 54 national universities. This year’s Fellowships are also supported in part by the Ross M. Brown Family Foundation.

Read full Michigan News press release

Allgeier’s website: Coastal Ecology and Conservation Lab

Packard Foundation news release