9th January 2017 – Kelsey Byers, University of Zürich

kelsey-byers-2Hi everyone!  My name is Kelsey Byers; I’m currently finishing up my first postdoc at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

I grew up in the northeastern United States near Boston and did my undergraduate degree in biology; the program was focused on molecular and cellular biology.  I decided after four years of that and a fifth year as a technician working on transcription factors that I wanted to shift to a more evolutionary focus, while maintaining molecular biology & genetics in my toolkit.  I moved out west to Seattle for a PhD at the University of Washington in the Department of Biology in evolutionary genetics and speciation with my PhD advisors H.D. “Toby” Bradshaw, Jr. and Jeff Riffell.

In my PhD I worked with flowers in the genus Mimulus (the monkeyflowers, family Phrymaceae) and their pollinators.  Two species of Mimulus, Mimulus lewisii and M. cardinalis, are in sympatry (grow together) in the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.  Where they grow together, the main factor keeping them from hybridizing (the main reproductive isolation barrier) is pollinator choice – M. lewisii is pollinated by bumblebees, M. cardinalis by hummingbirds.  I was able to show with some experiments with hawkmoths that Mimulus lewisii produces floral scent, even though we can’t smell it (humans have very poor noses, as it happens, despite our response to coffee!).  It turns out that bumblebees respond very strongly to these weak scent compounds both neurologically and behaviorally.  I was able to work out the genetic basis of the species’ differences in floral scent compounds, and using transgenic plants in the greenhouse, I demonstrated that if you remove the most critical compound from M. lewisii, its bumblebee pollinators are less likely to visit it.

In August of 2014 I moved to Switzerland to work with Florian Schiestl and Philipp Schlueter on two species of alpine orchids in the genus Gymnadenia that are native to the Alps.  The two species are pretty closely related but look – and smell – really different!  Here I’m working less with speciation and am looking more at adaptation, focusing on two main projects. First, I’m looking at species differences in selection (including pollinator-mediated selection) on a large variety of floral traits in the field.  Second, I’m looking at the patterns of floral trait inheritance in hybrids in Gymnadenia – are they inherited as discrete ‘blocks’ of traits, or do hybrids align more closely to one parent or the other?

In the next few months I’ll be moving to the University of Cambridge to work on a postdoc with Chris Jiggins on speciation and reproductive isolation in Heliconius butterflies in Panama.  Although it’s a bit of a departure from my previous focus on plant-pollinator interactions, the broader concepts of chemical ecology, speciation genetics, and insect olfaction are very much at the center of my research work, so I’m very excited!

Feel free to ask anything and everything!  I’m excited to be here with Biotweeps!

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16th May 2016 – Kelly Ksiazek, Northwestern University and The Chicago Botanic Garden

Kelly KsiazekKelly Ksiazek (@GreenCityGal) is a fifth year PhD candidate and Presidential Fellow in Plant Biology and Conservation at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. She believes that the complexity and beauty of nature can be found all around us, including in our plentiful urban habitats. Biodiversity conservation could be better supported in cities if more was known about how communities respond to the harsh conditions of the so-called “concrete jungle.” She sees particular potential in the vegetated or green roof; a type of increasingly common habitat that incorporates a layer of growing media and plants into buildings. Her research looks at the possibility of using urban green roofs as habitat for native plant and pollinator conservation. Most of her experiments take place in and around her hometown of Chicago, IL USA where she is discovering how to incorporate various components of biodiversity into green roof designs that mimic local shortgrass prairies.

As a former high school science teacher, Kelly also enjoys finding opportunities to engage in science communication such as through her research blog (https://GreenRoofResearch.wordpress.com), a recently published activity book for children (www.greeningUPthecity.com) and various school and community presentations (for example, this week at the Laurie Garden in downtown Chicago: http://www.luriegarden.org/education-events).

When she’s not collecting data on green roofs, writing, analyzing data or performing experiments in the lab, she likes traveling to visit friends and discover new places, gardening with edible and native plants, exploring new restaurants and breweries in Chicago and experimenting in the kitchen.

May 18th 2015 – Andrew Lucas, Natural Resources Wales, Swansea University and the National Botanic Garden of Wales

Andrew LucasI studied ecology at UEA, and after a series of short contracts, joined the Countryside Council for Wales (now Natural Resources Wales) in 1992.  Since then, I have worked in Carmarthenshire, Meirionnydd and Swansea, mainly on Sites of Special Scientific Interest, their designation, management and monitoring, as well as liaising with landowners.

In 2011, I went part-time to start a PhD at Swansea University, studying hoverflies in grassland habitats (many of which are SSSIs) and their role as pollinators.  This has involved field studies, as well as DNA barcoding of Welsh hoverfly species, and using metabarcoding to study pollen loads carried by hoverflies.  I am jointly supervised by Dr Dan Forman and Dr Penny Neyland (Swansea University) and Dr Natasha De Vere (National Botanic Garden of Wales and Aberystwyth University)  I aim to finish some time in 2016.