Eric Gulson-Castillo and Teresa Pegan

Congratulations to graduate students Teresa Pegan and Eric Gulson-Castillo who received Graduate Student Research Awards from the Society for Systematic Biologists.

Gulson-Castillo’s project is titled "Comparative evolution of magnetoreception across passerine birds." Birds are capable of navigating over thousands of kilometers during migration and they use Earth’s magnetic field to help them do this, he explained. However, studies on how they use magnetic fields are limited to a handful of European birds. “I want to measure how migratory songbirds detect magnetic fields in comparison to non-migratory birds (we do not know if they can detect these fields at all) and whether migratory songbirds all detect magnetic fields in the same way,” Gulson-Castillo said. “With this grant, I will measure what brain regions are stimulated by magnetic fields in different species of bird and compare these across different species.”

Pegan’s project is titled "Does dispersal predict the evolution of migration?" Her research investigates the evolution of migration in North American birds. Bird species that live in both the tropics — where migration is unnecessary — and the temperate zone — where migration is used to escape harsh winters — are called "partial migrants,” Pegan explained. In Mexico, near where the climate switches from tropical to temperate, some bird species are partial migrants while others are restricted to tropical areas and do not migrate. “What lets some birds evolve migration and not others? I will use genetic methods to test the long-standing idea that partial migrants evolve from species that are more mobile, whereas their more-sedentary relatives remain restricted to the tropics.”

Benjamin Winger, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and assistant curator of birds, Museum of Zoology, is the advisor for Gulson-Castillo and Pegan.

The Society of Systematic Biologists Graduate Student Research Awards assist graduate students conducting research in systematics. Systematics is interpreted broadly to include questions below and above the species level, molecular and morphological approaches, and issues of pattern and process. These grants are for collection of preliminary data or to enhance dissertation research, for example, by visiting additional field collection sites or museums.