Fall 2008 Alumni Newsletter

Dear Alumni and Friends:

Welcome to the second 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
Professor and Chair, UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Professor, Institute of the Environment


Mark your calendars now! The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, in conjunction with the Institute of the Environment, the Center for Society and Genetics, and the Cotsen Archeological Institute, will present a series of lectures in January through May of 2008 in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. The series, titled Darwin Evolving, will include the following speakers. More information and a web site will be sent to you soon. Seating for some lectures is extremely limited, so remember to RSVP early when you receive the information. All lectures will begin at 7:00 PM.

January 14, 2009: Jared Diamond, UCLA: "Evolution of Human Societies"
January 28, 2009: Jeremy Jackson, Scripps: Brave New Ocean"
February 18, 2009: David Sloan Wilson, Binghamton University: "Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives"
March 4, 2009: Alan Walker, Pennsylvania State University: "Humans in an Evolutionary Context"
April 22, 2009: Neil Shubin, University of Chicago: "Finding Your Inner Fish"
May 6, 2009: Sarah Tishkoff, University of Maryland, College Park: "Evolution and Adaptation in Africans"
May 20, 2009: Nina Jablonski, Pennsylvania State University (part of the 2009 Biology Research Symposium): "The Evolution of Human Skin Color"


A book by Maddalena Bearzi PhD '03, coauthored with Craig B. Stanford, has recently been published by Harvard University Press, Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins. The publishers comment that the book "explains how and why apes and dolphins are so distantly related yet so cognitively alike and what this teaches us about another large-brained mammal: Homo sapiens."

Ingo Gaida '88, M. Ed '93, MA '94, a biology teacher at Santa Monica High School, coached his team to the national championship of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Science Bowl in May of this year.

Alex Gilman PhD '07 has published a paper in Science on the effects of global warming on tropical species. For more information, see http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/globa-warming-affects-warm-weather-68463.aspx.

Eric Graham PhD '99 of the UCLA Center for Embedded Networked Sensing and Dr. Phil Rundel are working with the Chilean Instituto de Ecologa y Biodiversidad (IEB) to implement new technologies in sensor networks for IEB programs. They attended an IEB workshop in Punta Arenas, Chile in June, and visited field sites on Navarino Island in the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve in southern Patagonia and on Chiloe Island in the austral forest region of Chile.

Jeremy Jacquot Marine Biology '05 is a doctoral student at the University of Southern California studying watershed management and global biogeochemical cycling. He has made several contributions to Discover magazine this year, the latest of which appears in the November 2008 issue.

Jana Johnson PhD. '08, a student of Dr. Henry Hespenheide, is on the faculty of Moorpark College, where she runs a rare butterfly rearing facility. Her work on the rearing and release of endangered species of butterflies has been widely reported in the popular press, on TV, and on the web. A description of her work appears on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife home page at www.fws.gov. Her research was recently featured in a front page article in the California section of the Los Angeles Times (16 March) describing her very successful captive breeding program at Moorpark College for the endangered Palos Verdes blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus palosverdesensis). Her program is especially notable for the involvement of volunteer undergraduate students in rearing the butterflies.

Laura Jordan PhD '08 completed her PhD with Dr. Malcolm Gordon. Her dissertation was on aspects of the anatomy and sensory physiology of both the lateral line and electroreceptor systems in three species of stingrays. She is now in the first year of a postdoctoral position that is joint between the Gordon lab and the lab of Prof. John Dabiri at Caltech.

Erin Marnocha PhD '08 completed her degree with Dr. Tom Smith. Her thesis was entitled "Evolutionary change in human-altered habitats: morphological shifts, differential selection, and environmental drivers of phenotypic plasticity in the lizard Anolis sagrei." She is now Project Manager for Once Upon a Watershed, a watershed education and restoration program based in Ojai, California.

John McCormack PhD '07 has accepted a position as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Lacey Knowles at the University of Michigan.

Borja Milá Valcarcel PhD '05 is now working as a postdoctoral fellow at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales - Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Spain.

Amy Rogers PhD '08, a student of Tom Smith, filed a dissertation entitled "Regeneration pattern and process in tropical secondary forest: how recruitment dynamics limit succession." She will be continuing her conservation work in Ecuador's northwest Esmeraldas Province as a full-time Research Fellow for the Pinchot Institute for Conservation. Her work is directed at implementing an integrated conservation management plan in the Mache-Chindul Ecological Reserve, one of three remaining expanses of the Choc coastal rainforest in Ecuador.

Shannon Thomas Marine Biology '98, who works at SeaWorld San Diego, writes: "Not only do I work with bottlenose dolphins, presenting shows to the public, but I also work with the only two performing pilot whales in the world (short-finned pacific pilot whales). They are pretty amazing!"

Did you know that there have been at least five Olympic athletes who were UCLA Biology graduates? They are John Godina '96, shot put 1996 and 2000, "the most decorated shot putter in U.S. history"; Nada Kawar '98, shot put 1996 and 2000; Nicholas Mastromatteo '58, luge 1964; Nicolle Payne '05, water polo 2000 and 2004, one of the first three women admitted to the New York Athletic Club Hall of Fame; and Kevin Still '83, rowing 1984 and 1988.


Dr. Paul Barber has joined our faculty as an Associate Professor. "Our laboratory integrates genetics, ecology, oceanography and geology to understand the processes that promote speciation in marine environments, creating marine biodiversity hotspots. For the past decade, we have focused on the fish and invertebrates of the coral reefs of the Coral Triangle, the global epicenter of marine biodiversity. Through a comparative approach, we are examining the relative importance of tectonic history, physical oceanography, and organismal ecologies in limiting genetic connectivity and promoting evolution and lineage diversification. Our recent work focuses on integrating empirical models of connectivity with predictions from geographically explicit models of contemporary and historical ocean currents. We work closely with conservation organizations such as Conservation International to translate our basic science into information that can help guide conservation planning, protecting these endangered reef ecosystems. We are also interested in the role of natural selection and adaptation in shaping population genetic patterns, particularly the role of the genetic basis of energetic performance of mitochondrial in size selective mortality of marine larvae." Dr. Barber received his PhD in integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley. http://www.eeb.ucla.edu/Faculty/Barber

Dr. James Lloyd Smith has joined our faculty as an Assistant Professor. "I study the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of infectious disease in animal and human populations, and at the animal-human interface where novel human pathogens such as SARS or pandemic influenza can emerge. By combining theoretical models with data, I aim to deepen our understanding of fundamental principles of disease transmission and adaptation, and apply those principles to interpret observed patterns, uncover driving mechanisms, and design effective control policies. I work on a diverse range of host-pathogen systems, including leptospirosis in California sea lions, SARS and other emerging diseases in human populations, and HIV and its impacts on other infectious diseases." Dr. Lloyd-Smith received his PhD in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. http://www.eeb.ucla.edu/indivfaculty.php?FacultyKey=10440

Dr. Barney Schlinger, a long-term professor at UCLA, has joined our faculty in a joint appointment with the Department of Physiological Sciences, after serving many years on the faculty of that department. http://www.physci.ucla.edu/research/schlinger


Dr. Michael Alfaro's lab received two awards from the National Science Foundation this summer. The Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences funded their study of phylogeography and character evolution in neotropical primates (PI Jessica Lynch Alfaro, Co-PI Michael Alfaro). The Division of Integrative and Organismal Systems funded a study of the relationship between feeding ecology and cranial diversification in eels (PI Rita Mehta, UC Davis, Co-PI Michael Alfaro). In addition, the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center awarded Dr. Alfaro a short term visitors award to develop new methods that integrate fossil and molecular data in studies of diversification. Dr. Alfaro has also been invited to participate in a NESCent working group on the evolution of floral traits. Dr. Alfaro's lab has also just received word that their proposed symposium (co-organized with Dan Rabosky at Cornell and Luke Harmon at University of Idaho) has been accepted for the 2009 SSB/SSE meetings. In addition, Dr Alfaro will be co-hosting this year's "Phylogenetics for Dummies" workshop at the 2009 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Meetings, which will provide organismal biologists with an introduction to comparative analysis in R.

Dr. Priyanga Amarasekare has received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation for a project titled "Diversity maintenance in multi-trophic communities: the role of multiple coexistence mechanisms."

Dr. Dan Blumstein has received two grants from the National Science Foundation: NSF-IDBR VoxNet: A deployable bioacoustic sensor network with Chuck Taylor and collaborators in Engineering at at MIT and the University of Arizona, and NSF-IDBR, Bioacoustic monitoring in the terrestrial environment: a workshop at the UCR James Reserve with Chuck Taylor and collaborators in Engineering. Dr. Blumstein's published research on dik-diks with students from the Kenya Field Biology Quarter of Fall 2007 was highlighted in the October 2008 issue of Natural History magazine and on the AAAS radio show, Science Update, on September 18, 2008.

In July 2008, Dr. Malcolm Gordon received a one year Small Grant for Exploratory Research from the National Science Foundation, for work relating to the hydrodynamics of aquatic animals swimming under natural conditions.

Dr. Henry Hespenheide's final two PhD candidates have filed their dissertations: Jana Johnson in June 08 (see above) and Tom Huggins in Sept. 08.

Dr. Peter Narins reports that "in 2008 we had a paper in Nature reporting the extraordinary localization ability of the Chinese frog, Odorrana tormota, due to its use of ultrasonic calls, and another paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reporting our discovery of a novel middle ear mechanism in this same frog which shifts the hearing sensitivity up into the ultrasonic range."

Dr. John Novembre has published an article in Nature (Aug. 31, 2008), in which he and his colleagues use genomic information available through the analysis of over 500,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to identify the geographic origin of Europeans. Although genetic differentiation among European groups is extremely low, the analysis of SNPs is so sensitive that they can separate French-speaking, Italian-speaking, and German-speaking Swiss. For links to his article, a map, and news reports, see www.newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/researchers-locate-geographic-57904.aspx.

Dr. Phil Rundel, Rasoul Sharifi and Barry Prigge have received funding for a three-year project, "Community dynamics and soil seedbank ecology of Lane Mountain milkvetch (Astragalus jaegerianus Munz)" from the U.S. Army Research Office to develop a demographic model useful for the conservation of rare and endangered plant species. Dr. Rundel and Eric Graham, together with Jose Luis Andrade-Torres PhD '95 from the Centro de Investigacion Cientifica in Yucatan, have received funding from UC MEXUS for a project, "Vascular epiphytes as sensitive indicators of climate change in dry forests of Yucatan, Mexico."


Dr. Franz Engelmann presented a paper entitled "Withdrawal of Juvenile Hormone during mid Vitellogenesis in Leucophaea maderae" at the Ninth International Conference on Juvenile Hormone' August 5th to 10th, 2007, in York, UK. In addition, as a product of his research on the second generation of expressionists (his second hobby for some years), an essay entitled 'Thrown into the Bend of Fate - the Expressionist Georg Birnbacher,"appears in Artists Off the Rails, published by the Prinzhorn Museum, Heidelberg, Germany. (The Prinzhorn Museum has a large collection of art produced by institutionalized artists from the late 1800s and early 1900s to about 1933).

Dr. J. Lee Kavanau has largely recovered from the consequences of a bad fall suffered last January, as evidenced by the following publications, which are in press: a letter to the Editor in Science, "Sleep Not Essential," which explains that many fishes never sleep, and why they need no sleep (October 08); two roughly 2,700-word entries, "Sleep" and "Dreams," in the Sage Encyclopedia of Time (Dec. 08.-Jan. 09); and Schooling by Continuously Active Fishes Illuminates Sleep's Ultimate Function in The Evolution of Sleep: Phylogenetic and Functional Perspectives, P. McNamara, R. Barton and C. Nunn, Eds. (Cambridge University Press, Dec. 08.-Jan. 09).

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


Alex Kirschel , who has completed his PhD with Dr. Dan Blumstein, received aUCLA Dissertation Year Fellowship for 2008, and a NSF DDIG grant in April. His thesis was on "How ecology shapes bird song in tropical rainforests: the importance of song in generating biodiversity and structuring communities." In Fall 2008, he accepted a position as a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of Dr. Charles Taylor where he will continue his work in bioacoustics. Tina Wey and Kim Pollard, also of Dr. Blumstein's lab, were invited to participate in symposia at the International Society for Behavioral Ecology meeting at Cornell in August.

Brian Kot of Dr. Malcolm Gordon's lab has received a Dissertation Year Fellowship from the Graduate Division. Brian is studying feeding behavior and mechanisms in baleen whales.

Kenichi Okamoto of Dr. Priyanga Amarasekare's lab has received a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant for his project titled "Harvest-induced changes in life history traits: insights from the brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)."

From Dr. Tom Smith's lab: Raul Sedano is spending six months in Latin America studying evolutionary processes and investigating the distribution of Neotropical birds in the Northern Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. He will also collect bioclimatic and paleoecological data to model spatial shifts in habitat suitability that will provide a historical baseline to evaluate how climate change is affecting avian species in the Neotropics. Jaime Chaves traveled to the Galapagos Islands for six weeks in July and August to study phylogeographic associations between Yellow Warbler populations on different islands. He studied genetic, morphologic, plumage, and song variation. Hilton Oyamaguchi began a three-month field season in Brazil in September where he will be conducting research for his dissertation project, "Exploring the mechanisms of diversification in frogs in the Amazon rainforest." He is examining the role of ecology resulting in divergence in vocalization and morphology traits in frog species in the transition area between the Amazon rainforest and the Brazilian Cerrado. He recently spent two weeks at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. and the American Museum of Natural History in New York measuring specimens from different populations in this transition zone to help determine his target species. Allison Alvarado received a Lida Scott Brown Conference Travel Award from the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology to attend the American Ornithologists' Union Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon, August 4-8, 2008. She also received a Lida Scott Brown Research Award for the 2008-09 academic year.


Twenty-four students went to Moorea, French Polynesia, in Spring 2008 for the Marine Biology Quarter, which was a great success. Some of the students are continuing with the research that they began during the MBQ with the faculty and hope to get their work published.

Three students in our department were recipients of the 2008 Whitcome Summer Research Fellowship: Sarah Joy Bittick/Marine Biology (Fong); Amanda Lea/EBE (Blumstein); and Felicia Van Stolk/EBE (Jacobs). A fourth recipient, Christina Phung , a Physiological Science major, is one of Dr. Peggy Fong's students.

The Fall 2008 MBQ to Bodega Bay is under way. Students arrived at Bodega Marine Laboratory on Sunday, September 28, and will be there until the end of the quarter, December 11. They are currently working with Drs. Don Buth and Malcolm Gordon; Drs. Cheryl Anne Zimmer and Richard Zimmer arrive the weekend of November 1.

On Sunday, June 15, 2008, the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Institute of the Environment had their first joint commencement celebration to commemorate the graduating Class of 2008. Over 1800 family members and loved ones were in attendance to see 257 graduating seniors celebrate the culmination of their undergraduate studies in both departments. We were fortunate to have as a keynote speaker Steven J. McCormick, President and Board of Trustee member of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy from 2001 to 2007. 20 faculty from both departments lined the stage to congratulate the undergraduates personally for their extraordinary accomplishment.


Recent doctorates in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology:

Thomas Huggins (Hespenheide)
Jana Johnson (Hespenheide)
Laura Jordan (Gordon)
Rachel Kennison (Fong)
Alex Kirschel (Blumstein)
Erin Marnocha (Smith)
Julie Meachen-Samuels (Van Valkenburgh)
Amy Rogers (Smith)
Ilonka von Lippke (Grether)

Master's degrees were awarded to:

Dent Earl (Jacobs)
Sylvia Major (Nonacs)
Yonghong Ren (Rundel)
Judi Tamasi (Rundel)
Kelly Walters (Blumstein)


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.

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