On June 1, 2016, PBS will air "What Are We?" as part of its new series, "Genius by Stephen Hawking." In this episode, Noah Whiteman provides commentary as an expert on evolutionary biology. Noah is thrilled to have been able to participate in this science outreach opportunity that will also air on National Geographic Channel later this summer.
Benjamin Goldman-Huertas received a dissertation improvement grant from the National Science Foundation to study the functional genetics of olfactory evolution in Scaptomyza flava. Congrats Ben!
Kirsten Verster, a Ph.D. student in Integrative Biology at UC-Berkeley, was recently awarded a student research grant from the Animal Behavior Society. Her project is entitled: "Lord of the flies: the evolution of parasitoid resistance in insects through behavioral change." Kirsten will map the genomic architecture associated with heritable variation in tunneling behavior within and among populations of Scaptomyza flava that may have evolved in response to spatially varying natural selection arising from parasitoid pressure. Congratulations Kirsten!
Julieanne Pelaez (a recent graduate of Harvard University) and Nicolas Alexandre (a recent graduate of the University of Arizona) will be joining the lab as Ph.D. students in Integrative Biology at UC-Berkeley in August 2016! Julieanne is interested in interactions between plants, flies and bacteria, and Nic is interested in the genomic basis of adaptation arising from species interactions.
Rebecca Duncan, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Miami, was awarded a Miller Postdoctoral Fellowship from UC-Berkeley to conduct research on the ecological and genetic basis of mustard oil detoxification in gut-dwelling bacteria of Scaptomyza flava. Rebecca, who will be defending her dissertation in a few weeks, will join the lab in summer 2016.
In September we said farewell to postdoc Niels Groen, who recently began a new fellowship in the Purugganan Laboratory at NYU. There he'll continue his work on plant adaptations to stress, turning his attention this time towards rice. So long Niels, we'll miss you!
Visiting MS student Lea Flechon also returned to her native France in September, after having successfully defended her MS over the summer. She is currently considering other opportunities to use her bioinformatic skills to study galling insects. Adieu Lea!
After nearly six years at the University of Arizona, the Whiteman Lab is moving! Dr. Whiteman has accepted a faculty position at UC-Berkeley starting January 2016 in the Department of Integrative Biology. Thus, those Ph.D. students interested in working with Dr. Whiteman should contact the Integrative Biology Department at UC-Berkeley and apply through that program for 2016: https://ib.berkeley.edu/
The decision to move was incredibly difficult: Arizona has been a fantastic place in which to have a research program and we have been able to collaborate with some of the world's best researchers in ecology and evolution. The department, college and university are incredibly supportive of our work, for which we are grateful, and the students with whom we have mentored have been fantastic. The University of Arizona's program in ecology and evolutionary biology is a vibrant one that will continue to thrive in the years to come and we are privileged to have been a part of it.
Our new collaborative paper was published in Nature Communications with former PERT postdoctoral fellow Rick Lapoint and EEB colleague John Wiens:
Across all insects (over 60% of the described species of life on Earth), the evolution of herbivory, wings and complete metamorphosis can explain about 60% of the variation across insect orders in diversification rates. Herbivory alone explains about 25% of the variation among orders. Herbivorous lineages diversify at about twice the rate of non-herbivorous lineages. Within insect orders, it is more complex, and sometimes, as in beetles, surprisingly, herbivory does not explain a significant amount of variation in diversification rates. That's not true for flies, where a significant amount of the variation in diversification rates across fly families is explained by the evolution of herbivory. We used modern phylogenetic methods (where rank is essentially not a factor) and created a database with proportion and number of herbivorous species coded in each order and many insect families or subfamilies (the first, we think, that is linked to the primary literature for each taxon). The study recapitulates a classic and elegant study by Charles Mitter, Brian Farrell, and Brian Wiegmann from 1988 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/2461756), who found a similar result using a sister-group method, but had far fewer taxa and less reliable phylogenetic data. Remarkably, the same pattern is found across the diversity of mammals (http://www.pnas.org/content/109/18/7008.short), so there is *something* about being herbivorous that leads to a species profusion. This is probably driven by a multitude of factors, which is exciting.
The Whiteman Lab welcomes our newest graduate student, Kirsten Verster, who is beginning her PhD in U of A's Entomology and Insect Science program. Welcome to the lab!
Former post-doc Jen Koop opens her lab at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth this fall, where she will continue her work on the evolution of invasive parasites. Congratulations, Jen!
A crop of excellent undergraduates from the Whiteman lab graduated this year. We're lucky enough to have several around for a little while longer, but they will be missed as they move on. Congratulations Amir, Nicolas, Jason, and Mitchell. Also belated congratulations to our Research Technician Erika, who graduated in the fall. Well done everyone!