Teresa Pegan, sequencing DNA in the lab. Photo credit: Teresa Pegan

Congratulations to EEB graduate students Emily Laub and Teresa Pegan who were awarded the prestigious and competitive Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship from the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School.

Pegan studies how seasonal migration in birds influences their evolution. "Most birds that live at northern latitudes migrate south to escape winter conditions. Migration distances vary a lot: if you consider bird species that breed at the University of Michigan Biological Station, for example, you will find some species that spend the winter in South America and some species that spend the winter in Ann Arbor!" Pegan said. "A bird’s migratory strategy involves a lot of tradeoffs that influence evolutionarily-relevant processes, such as how far the bird moves away from its birthplace to breed, and how much time and energy it spends raising offspring vs migrating. Time and energy spent migrating long distances take away from the time a bird can spend raising young, but it’s also probably a lot easier for a bird to survive the winter in South America than it is in Ann Arbor."

"I use comparisons between bird species breeding in the boreal forest (a region including the UP and the UMBS) to understand how different migratory strategies influence the species’ evolution."


Emily Laub videorecording nesting wasps. Photo credit: Fatime Jomaa

Laub studies social group formation in paper wasps and the relationship between social group formation and the evolution of cooperation. “Paper wasp nest founding queens spend a lot of time searching for appropriate social partners to build a nest. This gives us an amazing opportunity to investigate how and why some individuals form groups together and the outcome of these partnerships,” Laub said. “Social groups are not equally effective, and I research how individual characteristics shape who individuals choose and how they access social partners. There are trade-offs between building a nest alone or together, and we are trying to understand why individuals make these choices. It has been a pleasure to work in a field site at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens! Who knows what the paper wasps in your own backyard are getting up to!”

Of her field of research, Laub said, "Assortment of specific cooperators has been theorized to play an important role in the evolution of cooperation. However, what traits make individuals “better” cooperators and how cooperators are evaluated remains understudied." She added, "I evaluate social group formation in paper wasps to examine what characteristics contribute to specific groups joined, how early social interactions shape group choices, how facial recognition contributes to social group formation, and how group choices may impact group and individual fitness outcomes. Paper wasps provide an ideal opportunity to study the relationship between social group formation and cooperation as nest founding queens synchronously engaging in “shopping” for social partners at the beginning of the summer. My research will forward our understanding of how cooperation evolves and the role group formation may play in maintaining cooperative behavior."

The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship supports outstanding doctoral students who have achieved candidacy and are actively working on dissertation research and writing in support of students working on dissertations that are unusually creative, ambitious, and impactful. The fellowship provides three terms of support including a stipend of over $34,000, candidacy tuition and required fees for 12 months, and GradCare health and dental insurance during the fellowship period.

For previous EEB winners, click here.