Spring 2009 Alumni Newsletter

Dear Alumni and Friends:

Welcome to the newest edition of the Friends of Biology Newsletter, which is aimed at alumni and friends of the former Departments of Biology, Botany and Zoology and the current UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Through this newsletter, we will help you stay in touch with the latest developments in biology. Never before have the biological sciences played such a pressing role in society, ranging from the innovations emerging from genomics and computational biology to the biological changes caused by global climate change and landscape alterations.

We continue to teach a conceptually broad and rigorous undergraduate curriculum for students in the following majors: biology, marine biology, and ecology, behavior and evolution. Many of our biology majors continue on to attain professional degrees. We offer the popular and stimulating Marine Biology Quarter and Field Biology Quarter, which we consider capstone courses. Students study local marine and terrestrial California ecosystems and visit a range of ecosystems around the world in places such as Australia, Ecuador, Kenya, Mexico and Tahiti.

Our graduate program attracts top students from all over, many of whom receive distinguished fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency and many other foundations. Our graduate student dissertations are conceptually based projects, often with field sites around the world, applying the latest tools and techniques. Students often pursue topics at the interface of ecology and evolution, and at the frontiers of other disciplines such as biomathematics, geography and engineering.

Our distinguished faculty members are recipients of many honors and awards for internationally recognized research accomplishments. As teachers, we are proud that members of our faculty have received UCLA's Distinguished Teaching Award for four years in a row.

It may have been a long or short time since you last experienced biology at UCLA. We hope this newsletter will inform you of the exciting new faculty, new research and new developments. As part of our academic community, you will be invited to talks and events. We have a special section on alumni news, so please send us news about you and other UCLA Biology friends or alumni. Updating your contact information is very easy at http://www.eeb.ucla.edu/alumni2.php.

Thank you for reading this newsletter. We hope to hear from you.

Victoria Sork Victoria Sork
Professor and Chair, UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Professor, Institute of the Environment


UCLA Day is May 9th! Come back to UCLA, and join other alumni in celebrating being a Bruin. There will be activities for kids and adults, lunch, a barbeque, affinity groups, and departmental open houses, including ours in front of the Life Sciences Building from 5:30 to 6:30 PM. Meet the chair, faculty, students - find out what's new! The web page for the event is at http://www.ucladay.ucla.edu/2009/Home.aspx.

You are invited to the 12th Annual Biology Research Symposium on May 20, 2009, at the Faculty Center, from 3:00 to 6:00 PM. At the Symposium, faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and alumni meet to see and informally discuss the research that is taking place within the Department. A formal email invitation will follow later - please join us!


Daniel Essin, MD, MA '71 is the chairman, chief technology officer and co-founder of ChartWare. He has been the Director of Medical Informatics at Los Angeles County - USC Medical Center, where he has held several key posts since 1984 in the field of computerized patient information systems, including serving as co-chair of the Medical Records Committee. He has published numerous peer-reviewed research papers and articles related to computerized patient information systems, and has presented papers at conferences around the world. He recently retired from Los Angeles County but will continue on the faculty of the Department of Pediatrics at the USC Keck School of Medicine.

Many of our alumni have gone on to teach in K-12 schools, giving up a significant amount of salary to give others an education. We would like to salute the following alumni who have gone on to become high school teachers, most of them in science or math. These are the ones we know about; there may be many more. Thanks to all of them for their service.

Steven Appier '82, Shawnee Mission High School, Shawnee Mission, KS
Nikki Chambers '81, '82 MA, West High School, Torrance, CA
Simon Constantinides '95, La Cañada High School, La Cañada Flintridge, CA
Oscar Constandse '06, Newport Harbor High School, Newport, CA
Jason Diodati '01, Marc & Eva Stern Math and Science School, Los Angeles, CA
Larry Domoto '79, Sylmar High School, Sylmar, CA
Chrystie Edwards '06, Animo Watts 2, Los Angeles, CA
Blaise Eitner '94 PhD, Harvard-Westlake School, North Hollywood, CA
Steve Engelmann '86, '89 EdM, Palisades Charter High School, Pacific Palisades, CA
Bernice Filerman '66, '68 MA, '77 PhD, Bell Gardens High School, Montebello, CA
Ingo Gaida '88, EdM. '93, MA. '94, Santa Monica High School, Santa Monica, CA
Noehmi Garcia '04, '06 EdM, John C. Fremont High School, Los Angeles, CA
Kathy Griffis '86 PhD, The Buckley School, Sherman Oaks, CA
Juan Jauregui '04, '06 EdM, John C. Fremont High School, Los Angeles, CA
Maureen McDonald '95, Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Rolling Hills Estates, CA
Tyson Sacco '01 PhD, Chadwick School, Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA
Mel Stave '72, U.S. Grant High School, Valley Glen, CA
Domingo Zungri '85, Rosemont High School, Sacramento, CA

Extra credit to Simon Constantinides, who tells us that he is also a coach for JV football, track and basketball, and Nikki Chambers, who teaches not only biology but astrobiology. And Steve Engelmann and Bernice Filerman are Nationally Board Certified Teachers. In our next issue, in the fall, we'll list elementary and middle school teachers.

Noehmi Garcia '04 EdM '06 of John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles writes that teachers are grateful for help from others in biological careers as guest speakers, to provide or lead fieldtrips, and to donate lab materials such spectrophotometers, micropipettes, cuvettes, gel electrophoresis equipment, as well as ordinary school supplies (construction paper, glue, colored pencils, crayons, colored copy paper, paperclips, rubber bands, white school glue, college ruled notebooks, pencil sharpeners, hole punchers, sharpies, markers, butcher paper rolls). If you can make a donation to fellow alums' programs, please contact them at their school website, or email nancyp@lifesci.ucla.edu.

We'd like very much to know what you are doing now, and what you remember from your time in our department. Please let us know - email Dr. Sork directly at chair@eeb.ucla.edu.


Charles Darwin If you would like to read more from the speakers of the sold-out lecture series "Darwin Evolving" this winter and spring, here are recent books from each of them that expand on subjects in their lectures.

Jared Diamond: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Jeremy Jackson: Evolutionary Patterns: Growth, Form, and Tempo in the Fossil Record
David Sloan Wilson: Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives
Alan Walker: The Ape in the Tree: An Intellectual and Natural History of Proconsul
Neil Shubin: Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
Sarah Tishkoff: "Human Origins Within and Out of Africa," in Anthropological Genetics: Theory, Methods and Applications, Michael H. Crawford, editor
Nina Jablonski: Skin: A Natural History


Dr. Dan Blumstein spoke in February on Darwin's 200th birthday, at a symposium at the annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago on an evolutionary analysis of human behavior associated with risk management. Professor Blumstein has observed the behavior of predator defense in mammals, and he extends an evolutionary approach on how to manage risk in human situations. The full article is at http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/what-biology-and-evolution-can- 81452.aspx. Dan has also received an NSF grant to run a workshop in Chile in August on "Intraspecific variation and social systems: explaining variation based on neuroendocrine and genetic mechanisms". He participated in a AAAS symposium in February on Natural Security which has led to an interview on Swedish radio (http://www.sr.se/cgi-bin/p1/program/artikel.asp?ProgramID=406&Nyheter=1 &artikel=2675625), and an article in Science Daily (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090213161123.htm). And, in March, Dan participated in the interdisciplinary Sound and Science Symposium at UCLA (http://artsci.ucla.edu/sound/).

Blaire Van Valkenenburgh

Dr. Blaire Van Valkenburgh is President this year of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, and her work on what tooth breakage in Pleistocene predators tells us has just been featured in an article in the Economist. The article can be found at http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13097683.

Dr. Robert Wayne and graduate student Bridgett vonHoldt were featured in the Feb. 5 online edition of the journal Science, published later in the journal's print column. "Why do nearly half of North American wolves have black coats while European wolves are overwhelmingly gray or white? The surprising answer, according to teams of biologists and molecular geneticists from Stanford University, UCLA, Sweden, Canada and Italy, is that the black coats are the result of historical matings between black dogs and wild gray wolves." The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Cheryl Ann Zimmer and Dr. Richard Zimmer have received a grant from the National Science Foundation from the Program in Biological Oceanography, titled "The sensory basis for ecological paradigms on wave-swept shores." Dr. Richard Zimmer has also received a grant from the NSF Program in Integrative and Organismal Systems on "Chemical Communication and the language of sperm and egg."

A Different Kind of March Madness: "Suppose you find yourself in an unfamiliar environment where you don't know how to get food, avoid predators, or travel from A to B. Would you invest time working out what to do on your own, or observe other individuals and copy them? If you copy, who would you copy? The first individual you see? The most common behaviour? Do you always copy, or do so selectively? What would you do? These questions lie at the centre of a scientific challenge with important implications for the evolution of learning and culture: What is the best way to learn in a complex, changing world? We are looking for the best answer to this question by organizing an international tournament, open to everyone. Entries consist of a set of rules specifying how and when to learn. All of the entered rules are being pitted against each other in a computer simulation and the winner will be awarded a 10,000 euro prize."

And so began the announcement from the Cultaptation Research Program, a European multinational and multidisciplinary program for the study of human cultural evolution (http://www.intercult.su.se/cultaptation/index.php). We at UCLA decided the challenge would form a wonderful basis for a graduate class on social learning. Thus, in the Spring Quarter of 2008, Dr. Peter Nonacs and eight students (seven EEB grad students, plus an undergraduate) set out to write a computer program for entry. Their program, called: We Prey Clan was submitted in June, 2008. The program's name came from an anagram of the first letter of the last name of each student in the class: Thea Wang (from the Nonacs lab), Dent Earl(Jacobs lab), Kim Pollard (Blumstein lab), Ben Rossi (Nonacs lab), Brittany Enzmann (Nonacs lab), Gilene Young (Nonacs lab), Ryan Courtin (an undergrad student), Neil Losin (Grether lab), and Peter Nonacs.

On March 20th, the final results were announced. We Prey Clan ranked 4th out of 104 entries. Although our program finished out of the money, this was an amazing showing for a group of behavioral ecologists competing against internationally renowned mathematicians, engineers, computer scientists, and all manors of social scientists. In total, we can be very proud of our EEB students and their developing mathematical, computing, and theoretical biology skills.


Elma L. Gonzalez, professor emeritus of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, has been named a 2009 Distinguished Alumni by Texas Woman's University and the TWU Former Students Association. Gonzalez has been actively involved throughout her career in increasing the participation of minority and female students in the sciences. She founded UCLA's Center for Academic and Research Excellence and was director of the Minority Access to Research Careers program. Gonzalez was named 2005 Pioneer Woman by the Los Angeles City Council and received the 2004 Distinguished Scientist award from the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

Harlan Lewis

Professor Emeritus Harlan Lewis, one of the truly outstanding evolutionary biologists of his generation and former Dean of Life Sciences at UCLA, died at home on December 12, 2009, a month short of his 90th birthday. From his home in Pacific Palisades, he never stopped his research on plant systematics, and remained active in horticultural circles right up to his unexpected passing. The campus has lost another eminent scientist.

Dr. Ken Nagy will receive funding from The Department of Defense for another five years of field research at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Combat Center in the Mojave Desert. A hatchery/nursery facility for the Threatened Desert Tortoise was built there in 2005-6, and is serving as a place to study the best ways to head-start young tortoises so they can eventually be released into the wild population with a good chance of surviving to reach breeding size and age. The ultimate goal is to reverse the declining population densities, and assist this desert reptile along the road to recovery in California.

Although retired, this has been a busy book time for Dr. Park Nobel. The seventh version in a textbook series that he began in 1970 was published in March 2009; it is the fourth edition of Physicochemical and Environmental Plant Physiology (Academic Press/Elsevier, San Diego), which includes improvements based on feedback from students in recent courses that he taught in EEB plus many more figures than in previous versions. In addition, he was honored with a festschrift that also was published in March 2009: Perspectives in Biophysical Plant Ecophysiology: A Tribute to Park S. Nobel, edited by his first graduate student in that field, William K. Smith '77 PhD of Wake Forest University, and his last student, Erick De la Barrera '03 PhD of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Morelia Campus (published by Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexcio City). Currently he is working on another book dealing with cacti, agaves, and climate change!

Bernard Phinney

We regret to announce that Dr. Bernard Phinney passed away on April 22, 2009 at the age of 92. Bernie was most recently an emeritus faculty member of the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, but before the formation of MCDB, he taught in the Biology Department for many years, beginning in 1947. Everyone who knew Bernie will miss him very much.

A list of our emeriti can be found at our Web site, along with a departmental history and some photographs of current and former faculty as you may remember them. http://www.eeb.ucla.edu/alumni_emeriti.php


Brian Smith has completed his PhD in the Blumstein lab with a dissertation titled: Individuality in animals: consistent behavioral differences from an adaptive and conservation perspective.

Rachel Clausen, Keith Gaddis, and Stephanie Steele have received Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation. These three-year awards pay an annual stipend of $  30,000 plus tuition and fees. Rachel will study the impact of changes in nutrient levels in species composition and community structure in marine intertidal ecosystems of New Zealand and California. Rachel also recently received a Fulbright award to support the New Zealand work. Keith will investigate gene flow and pollinator communities of Acacia senegal populations among oases of Mauritania, Africa, that are becoming increasingly isolated by desertification. Keith worked in Mauritania as a Peace Corp volunteer. Stephanie's research explores the impact of lekking species of Manikins on seed dispersal and seedling fitness of tropical forests of Ecuador, integrating behavioral, ecological, and genetic techniques.

Ranjan Muthukrishanan Ranjan Muthukrishnan of the Fong lab has just returned from a research trip: "I study the effects of anthropogenic stresses on coral reefs and their role in coral declines. From August 2008 to March 2009 I was living and working on Isla Contadora off the Pacific coast of Panama. Isla Contadora is a small island in Pearl Islands archipelago, approximately half the size of UCLA's main campus in Westwood. There I conducted a long-term experiment manipulating levels of nutrient loading and sedimentation as well as mimicking over fishing (all common results of human usage of coastal areas) and monitored transitions of the reefs from their initial high coral state to a more degraded and algal dominated state. While these stresses were detrimental to reef health, the results showed a surprising amount of resilience of the reefs, especially when there are only single stressors. Hopefully this in turn will inform management strategies and help convince people of the need for more conservation and management of these important and beautiful ecosystems." Ranjan Muthukrishnan

Two students who will be joining Dr. Grether's lab in Fall 2009 have received fellowships. Kathryn Peiman was awarded a three year fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Andrea Gonzalez Karlsson was awarded a two year Cota Robles fellowship from the UCLA Graduate Division.


Dr. Lillian Gelberg The speaker at the 2009 Commencement for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology this spring will be Dr. Lillian Gelberg. Dr. Gelberg is the George F. Kneller Professor of Family Medicine in the UCLA School of Medicine. She is a health services researcher and family physician who conducts community-based research on the health (physical health, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse), access to care, and quality of care of homeless and other vulnerable populations. Gelberg's work has been recognized by election to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and by receipt of the Association for Health Services Research 1995 Young Investigator Award and the 1997 Article of the Year Award, and the first recipient of the Family Practice Excellence in Research Award from the California Academy of Family Physicians (2001).

Seventeen students went to Bodega Bay in Northern California in Fall Quarter 2008 for the Marine Biology Quarter, with instructors Drs. Don Buth, Malcolm Gordon, Cheryl Anne Zimmer and Richard Zimmer.

Kibale National Park, Uganda In Winter Quarter 2009, the Field Biology Quarter took place in Kibale National Park, Uganda, with instructors Drs. Greg Grether and Debra Shier. Drs. Grether and Shier led a group of 15 UCLA undergraduates and two graduate student teaching assistants. Students worked in groups of two or three and carried out conservation and behavioral ecology projects of their own devising on plants, insects, lizards, birds, and monkeys. The comfortable facilities, extensive trail system, and stunning diversity of rainforest fauna and flora at Kibale makes this an ideal location for Field Biology Quarter courses.

An added bonus for conservation-oriented projects is that Kibale has a well documented history of human disturbance (logging). A side trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park - a beautiful savanna site that also is recovering well from decades of exploitation - topped off the adventure.


Recent doctorates in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology have been awarded to Todd Haney (Jacobs), Brian Smith (Blumstein), Benjamin Wang (Smith), and Yuan Yao (Taylor).


If you are interested in giving to the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, please visit http://www.eeb.ucla.edu/giving/index.html.

Alumni interested in making a gift to the Department by endowing a scholarship, supporting a faculty member, making a planned gift or other gift, should contact Wendi Morner, Director of Development, Life Sciences, at 310-206-8578 or wmorner@support.ucla.edu.

Alumni and friends who are, or wish to become, Chancellor's Associates may now direct their annual gifts to the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and retain all the benefits that have traditionally been given to Chancellor's Associates. For information, visit http://www.uclafund.ucla.edu/leadership/index.html?.

Thank you for supporting the work and many achievements of the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology!

UCLA Alumni Association
James West Alumni Center
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1397