Congratulations to two Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Ph.D. students, Alden Dirks and John David Curlis, on receiving a 2023 Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship from the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School! 

The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship supports outstanding doctoral students who have achieved candidacy and are actively working on dissertation research, with support for students working on dissertations that are exceptionally creative, ambitious, and impactful. The fellowship provides three terms of support.

His dissertation, under the guidance of Associate Professor and Associate Curator Alison Davis Rabosky, focuses on the evolution of colorful signals, which many animals use to communicate with each other. Specifically, Curlis works with the Panamanian slender anole, a lizard species in which males signal to one another using a large throat fan that can be entirely orange or mostly white.

“My research seeks to understand why both of these color morphs might evolve and persist in a single population, as well as how the light environment in which the lizards live may impact which of the two colors is more effective for signaling,” said Curlis. “More broadly, my work has important implications for explaining the enormous amount of variation in colors that can be observed across the animal kingdom.”

Dirks, also an ecology and evolutionary biology Ph.D. student, primarily focuses his work on fungi. His advisor is Timothy James, professor and curator of Fungi, ecology and evolutionary biology. His love of fungi came about through a love of food and spending time in the grocery store. 

“They (mushrooms) just blew my mind. And I learned that you could forage for them outside. It was different and challenging, so that motivated me to learn more. The biological aspects of fungi became really interesting to me,” said Dirks. “I now work with Tim James. I'm interested in the genetic makeup, evolution, and biodiversity of fungi.”

Click here to read more from Dirk's work in our Student Spotlight Feature