24th April 2017 – Danielle Gilroy, Operation Wallacea

Danielle GilroyI am a terrestrial research and operations officer at Operation Wallacea, based in the UK with offices worldwide, and carrying out conservation research in 15 different countries. I oversee of all the forest-based research and am also the Senior Scientist for our largest forest site, Cusuco National Park in Honduras. My main research interests are centred in evolutionary biology and using a combination of molecular and ecological tools to investigate how evolution shapes diversity in populations. I have always strived to carry out research with real conservation applications and I am helping Operation Wallacea’s sister charity, the Operation Wallacea Trust, to make use of our large spatial and temporal datasets from sites around the world to lever funds to best establish conservation practice and work towards protecting particularly vulnerable and highly biodiverse ecosystems.

My PhD at the University of East Anglia focussed on a particular conservation success story, the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). This endemic island passerine was once down to just 25 individuals on a single island in the Seychelles archipelago in the 1980s, but has since recovered due to a combination of science research integrated with effective island management. There are now over 3000 birds across five islands, 115 times what it was over three decades ago and importantly, we have learnt a lot by using this species as a model of evolutionary study. My thesis looked at the causes and consequences of functional variation within the bottlenecked source population of Seychelles warbler. I investigated how variation at genes critical in innate immune defence could influence individual fitness and a bird’s ability to fight disease, mainly avian malaria, and considered the long-term viability of the species by assessing its genetic health and predicting future changes under natural selection.

During my week, I will focus on our work at Operation Wallacea and present to you our ongoing conservation research across our many terrestrial and marine sites. I will also talk about the importance of molecular ecology as a relatively new and quickly-growing field and as an ornithologist, will no doubt mention birds at every opportunity I can. On a similar note, I will no doubt mention my rescue staffy dog Tia who often accompanies me on my birding adventures.

3rd April 2017 – Caroline Bettridge, Manchester Metropolitan University

Caroline BettridgeI’m a senior lecturer in Behavioural Ecology at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK.  My main research interests are in the social behaviours of mammals, including how flexible behaviour is, how animals respond to the environment they are living in and how an animal’s behaviour increases its survival or reproductive success.  My current research focuses on a species of African nocturnal primate – the northern lesser bushbaby, and white rhinoceros. In the past I’ve also used modelling approaches to investigate elements of primate behaviour and human evolution.  I do a lot of fieldwork, mostly in East Africa, and also take project students out to the field each year.  I also teach on a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses related to behavioural biology, and I currently supervise two PhD students.

I’ve always had a passion for wildlife and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to pursue a career in this field.  It hasn’t always been a direct route, and I took a few years after my undergraduate degree in Zoology, to earn some money and gain some field experience before returning to studying.  I completed my DPhil at Oxford University, UK in the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, and then did a short teaching fellowship at Lancaster University before starting at my current department.

During my week on biotweeps I’ll probably chat about my behavioural ecology research, as well as some of the work my students are involved in; fieldwork; and my experience of being in academia – including some of the other elements of my job outside of research and teaching.

Outside of work a lot of my time revolves around my high maintenance dog, Huxley a French bulldog cross, and I generally enjoy exploring the outdoors and new places.  I’m on Twitter @CMBettridge.

6th February 2017 – Amanda Glaze, Georgia Southern University

amanda-glazeHello BioTweeps! My name is Amanda Glaze and I am an Assistant Professor of Middle Grades and Secondary Science Education at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. I am taking over BioTweeps for Darwin Week 2017, one of my favorite weeks of the year and a topic that is on the top of my favorites to research and share.

I study the intersections of science and society, specifically public controversy surrounding topics such as evolution that are seen as “controversial” by the public. I also research and design programs to help other scientists and teachers improve public perceptions of evolution, and science in general, through formal and informal interactions. I have the benefit of walking in two worlds, as both a bench-trained biologist and a science teacher educator and have done research in both fields prior to the blending in which I presently engage. In addition to my present exploration of science, beliefs, and controversy, I have worked on a number of projects across related fields (B. thurengiensis protein, in situ callose biosynthesis in A. thaliana, β-Glucosidase and insulin potentiating factor IPF in Bitter Gourd, M. charantia, proteins) and am working in evolutionary ichthyology over the next year with my colleague Emily Kane as we use Guppy Kits to help students visualize evolutionary change!

If I could have a slogan for what I do it would be #ScienceForAll because, to me, being scientifically literate is one of the most empowering and important tool sets we can foster in the next generation and in others who are not so scientifically minded. We have all had conversations with people who don’t trust scientists or who have misconceptions about what it is that science does and how it gets done. Similarly, many of us are familiar with misinformation that is devastating to the social fabric, things like rejection of climate change, horror at the use of stem cells, and vitriol at the very mention of evolution. While these may not all seem equally meaningful, the key to understanding why the public rejects and, in some cases, fears science and scientists and taking steps to positively impact the communication and connections between the scientific community and the public transcends these topics in many ways.

A large part of what I do involves spending time talking to people about their experiences with science, whether in or out of school as well as their beliefs and how they intersect, diverge, and sometime conflict with scientific ways of knowing and explaining the world. In many ways I am a historian of the publics’ scientific stories. I am also actively engaged in quantitative research and frequently connect back with my roots in collaborations with fellow biologists whose own evolution research leads them to venture into the public and education arenas. My goal is to build relationships that foster understanding of the areas where science and beliefs diverge and develop means to bridge those gaps in ways that are true to science. What I am doing—seeking to meaningfully counter anti-science and anti-evolution mindsets, working with teachers in the United States (and heavily in the South) to more accurately and consistently teach evolution, and supporting outreach and communication with the public—is my personal effort to impact the future of science understanding, trust, funding, and support in the future for all of us!

23rd January 2017 – Lisa Whitenack, Allegheny College

lisa-whitenackI am a biology professor at Allegheny College, a small liberal arts college in northwest Pennsylvania (USA). I teach a wide array of courses, including introductory biology, statistics, evolution, paleobiology (the study of fossil organisms), and research seminars. My research is focused on predator-prey relationships through evolutionary time, encompassing paleobiology and biomechanics (the application of principles from engineering and physics to biological problems). The majority of my research has been on fossil and living sharks, especially focusing on their teeth, as that is what roughly 95% of their fossil record is. I want to know why fossil shark teeth (up to 250 million years ago) are shaped the way they are, and why they are so different than modern sharks. I also study other fishes, crabs, snails, and salamanders.

My students are required to complete a senior thesis in order to graduate. Most of my students study things that are different than my research, as they are passionate about different things, but still use the techniques that I use. My students have examined the prey capture mechanics of venus flytraps, the evolution of trilobites across mass extinctions, the effects of the Endangered Species Act on the shape of wolf skulls, and the biomechanics of sports such as soccer, baseball, and long jump.

My second area of scholarship is on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, from kindergarten through college.  I coordinate partnerships and events between Allegheny College and my local school district to improve STEM education in my community. I am also a member of the Gills Club, an outreach group that gives girls opportunities to engage with projects focused on sharks, nature, and the environment.

My Ph.D. is in biology, with the wonderful Phil Motta at the University of South Florida. I stayed at USF, but moved up to geology for a postdoc with Greg Herbert. Before USF, I earned my M.S. in geology at Michigan State and my B.S. in geology at the University of Illinois. I grew up just outside Chicago, and even though Meadville is now home, sweet home Chicago still has part of my heart.  My husband and kids (3 & 7 years old) help me maintain that whole work-life balance thing. We craft, we play outside, we build Lego, and we embrace our geekery.

You can follow me on Twitter: @WhitenackLab

My blog: https://whitenacklab.wordpress.com/

My website: https://sites.google.com/a/allegheny.edu/whitenack/

21st November 2016 – Lindsey Thurman, Oregon State University

lindsey-thurmanI am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University and a Research Fellow with the Northwest Climate Science Center. I’m in my 5th (and final!) year, which is exciting and slightly terrifying. My research focuses on the link between local (community) and landscape (biogeographic) drivers of biodiversity patterns in an effort to improve predictions about community-level response to climate change. I typically use amphibians as a model system because, not only are they extremely sensitive to environmental change, they exhibit diverse life history strategies, differential plasticity, and complex community dynamics.

My dissertation research aims to provide a diverse assessment of amphibian species vulnerability and adaptive capacity to climate change. The experimental portion of my research has involved the quantification of complex direct and indirect interactions among co-occurring amphibian species under natural and novel environmental conditions (e.g. climate warming and rapid pond drying). I examine how shifts in these conditions alter individual species sensitivity and the strength and direction of species interactions, and conversely, how coevolved interactions mediate the effects of climate change factors. Within this context, I examine the costs vs. benefits of behavioral and physiological plasticity as a mechanism for rapid adaptation.
I am also particularly interested in how species respond to climate change as a complex network of interacting species and how these inter-dependencies affect the footprint of amphibians on the landscape. You may see me tweeting about the use (and often misuse) of co-occurrence data as a method for incorporating biotic interactions into species distribution models.
I got my M.Sc. at Oregon State, but before coming to the great Pacific Northwest I did my undergrad at the University of Florida (Go Gators!). I hail from the flatlands of Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast and grew up in Gulf Breeze (a tiny peninsula town near Pensacola Beach). When I’m balancing work with life, I like to do most anything outdoors like salmon fishing, duck hunting, hiking and playing with my youthful 8 year old Lab, Sierra.
Looking forward to talking with my fellow Biotweeps! In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @ectothurm, check out my personal website www.lindseythurman.com, or join us at the Early Career Climate Forum (@ECCForumwww.eccforum.org

5th of August 2016 – Claire Asher, Freelance science communicator / Innovation officer for the London NERC DTP

Claire AsherI am a science communicator with a background in biology, ecology and evolution. I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Sussex, where I discovered a passion for evolutionary biology and animal behaviour. This led me to study for my masters in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology at the University of Exeter before beginning my PhD at the University of Leeds in 2009. There I spent a fascinating, exciting and testing four years studying the behaviour and genetics of the giant Brazillian ant, Dinoponera quadriceps, also known as dinosaur ants. This project took me out to remote field sites in Brazil, and also into the lab and the incredibly fast-paced world of gene expression and sequencing.

During my PhD I discovered another passion – for communicating science. By getting involved in public engagement events, writing my own science blog (Curious Meerkat), and working on the BBC4 documentary, ‘Planet Ant’, I realised my real vocation in life is sharing the scientific world with others. I think my interests are too broad to work as a professional scientist, which requires you to focus so intensely on one small area. After my thesis was finally printed and bound, with nearly 5 years of blogging and unpaid writing experience, I felt ready to dive into the world of freelance science communication.

Or, wade in as far as the waist, at least. Since completing my PhD I’ve been splitting my time between freelance science writing, and a part-time job at University College London – first as Knowledge Transfer Officer for the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER), and now as Innovation and Impact Officer for the London NERC DTP. These roles involve communicating science to a broad range of audiences, from the public to business, industry and policy-makers. Working closely with the PhD students of the DTP has been a particularly rewarding experience.

Although I spent years training to be a scientist, I’ve found that I’m much happier being ‘science adjacent’ – working as a science communicator allows me to learn about a huge variety of different topics, speak to lots of interesting people, and feed my insatiable curiosity about the natural world.

23rd May 2016 – Sarah Knutie, University of South Florida

Sarah KnutieMy research spans both basic and applied ideas in conservation ecology, particularly with host-parasite systems.  My PhD dissertation was on the effect of an introduced parasitic nest fly on birds in the Galapagos and how birds defend themselves against this novel parasite.  I also established a method (‘self-fumigation’) for controlling the fly in bird nests. I am currently a post-doc in Jason Rohr’s lab at the University of South Florida where I am exploring the importance of the frog gut microbiota in the development of the immune system and subsequent parasite susceptibility.  Specifically, I am determining how the host microbiota mediates the effect of environmental stressors, such as pollution, on disease risk.  I am also working at Itasca Biological Station in northern Minnesota where I am exploring fundamental questions on the evolution of bird defenses against their parasites using a box-nesting bird-parasitic fly system.