Alexa White on a coffee farm in Utuado, Puerto Rico, where she was studying the impact of Anolis lizards on farm pests in 2018.

EEB graduate student Alexa White is the winner of the second-annual World Wildlife Fund-US Conservation Leadership Award. This award aims to give the next generation of conservation leaders access to a global platform and experts as well as a financial award that can be used to further recipients’ professional or educational goals related to their conservation work.

White is an agroecologist and climate advocate. Her work revolves around the relationship between international governance, food security, and food sovereignty, or the right of people to healthy, culturally appropriate food that was produced in ecologically sound ways. In particular, White’s dissertation examines the ways that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2 “Zero Hunger” impacts biodiversity on small-scale farms and how those farms are managed. White serves as co-director of Climate Blue, a student-led organization that aims to educate and empower the University of Michigan community to make informed choices regarding climate science, policy, and the impacts of the climate crisis.

In addition to helping with her dissertation research, the award “will also provide me with a platform, as an African-American woman, in particular, to speak about the importance of food sovereignty, and what it means for farmers to participate in international environmental governance systems,” White said.

Read WWF article, the current WWF website homepage feature>>

U-M doctoral student Giorgia Auteri inspects the wing of a healthy big brown bat, one of the species known to be affected by white-nose syndrome. Image credit: Heather Adams.

EEB graduate students Giorgia Auteri and Henry Ertl were selected for the competitive 2020 Rosemary Grant Advanced Award by The Society for the Study of Evolution. These awards are part of the society’s Graduate Research Excellence Grants awards program.

"We are very proud that two of the 13 award winners this year are members of our department,” noted EEB Professor and Chair Patricia Wittkopp.

The goal of these grants is to identify and support innovative and potentially high-impact research by graduate students that have advanced to candidacy, according to the SSE website. The awards are a strong recognition of the potential of the projects and researchers.

Auteri researches genetic changes in bats as they evolve in response to the disease white-nose syndrome. “This can help us better understand how rapid adaptation occurs in animals and how bats cope with the disease.” Auteri and her colleagues recently published the first genetic evidence of resistance in some bats to white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease that has decimated some North American bat populations. The study involved northern Michigan populations of the little brown bat, one of the most common bats in eastern North America prior to the arrival of white-nose syndrome in 2006. Since then, some populations of the small, insect-eating bat have experienced declines of more than 90 percent. (Read more in previous web news.)

Henry Ertl at the microscope doing "fly work."

With the ultimate goal of understanding the genetic basis of phenotypic evolution, Ertl’s research aims to test the extent to which less-studied molecular mechanisms relate to gene expression evolution. “More specifically, I will be integrating multiple functional genomic techniques to survey the natural variation existing at the level of chromatin accessibility (i.e., how open/closed the genome is) and then integrate this with gene expression variation information at multiple divergence timescales. These experiments will help to further connect evolutionary biology with the forefront of molecular/developmental biology.” 

Read more about the Rosemary Grant Advanced Awards on the SSE website>>

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein