Saturday, July 18, 2015

Note: Live animal display hours at the Oread have changed to be 8:30am-6 pm daily during the confernce, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The KU Biodiversity Institute will celebrate 100 years of amphibian and reptile research this month with an international herpetology conference, exhibitions and a variety of educational public events.

KU will host more than 425 scientists and students for the 58th annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles from July 30–Aug. 2. Single-day and full-conference registration and program information are available on the Biodiversity Institute’s SSAR 2015 meeting website.

Conference highlights include talks by world-famous biologists, including KU alumnus and National Academy of Sciences member David Hillis of the University of Texas at Austin, renowned snake expert Harry Greene of Cornell University, Madagascar explorer Miguel Vences of Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany, and amphibian conservation advocate Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley. There are academic sessions and symposia, a reception honoring distinguished senior herpetologists, a live auction of historical herpetological memorabilia, and tours of the Fitch Reservation at the KU Biological Field Station and herpetological collections of the Natural History Museum.

The conference also offers two events for the community to explore herpetology. One is a live animal exhibition at the Oread Hotel that includes the majority of Kansas’ non-venomous reptile and amphibian species. The exhibit is a Sternberg and Kansas Herpetological Society event presented in conjunction with the SSAR meeting. It will be open to the public daily in Gathering Room 1 during the conference.

Another event consists of two multimedia presentations featuring spectacular wildlife photography and music. The presentations will be offered 9:30-11 p.m. July 31 and 8-9:30 p.m. Aug. 2 at the Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union. Both presentations will feature the renowned herpetological imagery of David Dennis and Eric Juterbock. In one show, viewers will explore the “Amphibians of the Appalachians” through stunning photographs of the region’s spectacular frogs and salamanders. The second show, “Herpetologists Past and Present,” will take readers on a colorful and informative journey through the lives of herpetologists. Both shows are free and open to the public.

Beyond the conference, the Biodiversity Institute will encourage local residents to learn more about and celebrate the ecological role of amphibians and reptiles in Kansas. In that spirit, the Lawrence City Commission’s agenda for July 28 includes a proclamation declaring the week of July 27–Aug. 2 International Amphibian and Reptile Week.

This month the Society for the Study of Reptiles and Amphibians will publish “Herpetology at Kansas: A Centennial History,” by William Duellman, professor emeritus and a former curator of herpetology at KU.

Two new herpetology-focused exhibitions are now on view at the KU Natural History Museum. One is a new live animal display of lizards focused on anole lizards and their ecology. Another recently completed exhibition features student wildlife photography, field journals and maps describing a 2014 Kansas herpetology field course.

Scientists at KU have been studying amphibians and reptiles for more than 100 years. Alumnus Edward Taylor, who first published his research in 1915, helped begin what is now the fifth-largest amphibian and reptile collection in the world at KU. Today the collection includes 340,000 specimens representing 5,000 species from 156 countries, and it includes the largest collection of Kansas specimens in the state. KU herpetology curators and graduate students conduct collections-based research throughout the world, from across Southeast Asia to Africa to Latin America to Kansas. 

Herpetology
Thursday, May 7, 2015

This Mother’s Day, biologists and researchers at KU’s Biodiversity Institute spotlight six exceptional mothers from the natural world as a way of honoring moms everywhere.

Which style of mothering reminds you most of your own mom?


1. Joined at the polyp. A lot of human mothers wish they knew their kids’ whereabouts 24/7. That’s not an issue for one hydrozoan mother that physically melds with its offspring. KU biologist Paulyn Cartwright was first to discover this unique method of rearing wee hydrozoans.

“My former graduate student Annalise Nawrocki and I discovered that the hydrozoan Ectopleura larynx doesn’t form colonies through the typical mode of asexual reproduction — but instead makes its colony by fusing offspring polyps to the mother,” Cartwright said. “Female Ectopleura brood their babies in pouches called gonophores. When babies develop into juvenile polyps, they’re released from the mother to settle on a substrate — frequently it’s the mother polyp.”

Eventually, juveniles fuse their tissues with their mother's, effectively forming a colony of the mother and her offspring polyps.

“Because this colony shares a digestive system, the mother can catch food and the offspring can benefit from the nutrients. In a benthic marine environment, where there is fierce competition for substrate space and food, Ectopleura offspring choose to stay close to home so that their mother can better provide them with these scarce resources.”

Cartwright, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, added, “I’m just now noting the irony of my research, given that I’m about to send my eldest child off to college. I'm feeling a bit envious of the Ectopleura moms that don't have to undergo this separation.”


2. Mom-ausaur. The duckbilled dinosaur Maiasaura would be nominee for Mom of the Year — if that year fell in the Cretaceous Period. According to David Burnham, preparator with the vertebrate paleontology division of the institute, discovery of Maiasaura marked the first instance where scientists could prove dinos fed and looked after their offspring.

“Maiasaura hails from Montana 75,000,000 years ago, and the name means good mother lizard,” Burnham said. “A locality called Egg Mountain is a hillside that preserves the nesting grounds of Maiasaura. Entire nests have been found as well as hatchlings and babies of different ages. After examining the baby bones scientists could determine that their leg joints were too weak to allow them to travel very far from the nests. So scientists believe Maiasaura had to feed her babies for them to survive and probably brought the food to the nestlings until they could be on their own.”

 


3. Saved by the shell. Fossils of the 450 million-year-old crustacean Luprisca incuba are believed to be the oldest verified evidence of ovarian-to-juvenile brood care anywhere. Last year, a research team found a “nursery in the sea” depicting the fossilized scene of a mother ostracod actually carrying her eggs and offspring.

“Some kinds of ostracod lay their eggs into the ocean and hope for the best, but this particular group take care of their young by brooding the embryos under the protection of their shell,” said Úna Farrell, invertebrate paleontology collection manager at the institute.

The ancient Luprisca incuba mother looks to have been a success: today, tens of thousands of species of ostracod live in modern oceans, lakes and rivers — such as common shrimp, lobster and crabs.


4. Helicopter mom. Leaf beetles are usually solitary creatures. But recent research has shown leaf beetles — a huge group of about 40,000 separate species — display self-sacrificing maternal care for their young.

"A leaf beetle mother will keep an eye on the eggs, grooming and guarding them," Chaboo said. "She’ll oversee her herd of larvae as they eat, while she keeps watch for flying attackers, like wasps, and also pedestrian attackers, like ants. She moves between the attacker and the babies and will stamp her foot and try to shoo off the intruder."

The leaf beetle's fierce mothering is critical to the survival of the next generation, according to Chaboo. “If she’s removed or lost, all the babies die," she said. "It’s pretty crucial that she is around to ensure some of the offspring survive and reach adulthood.”

 


5. Built-in baby backpack. The term “marsupial” usually evokes kangaroos, but mother marsupial frogs such as Gastrotheca monticola from northern Peru brood eggs in a pouch on their back, according to William Duellman, curator emeritus with the institute’s division of herpetology.

“During embryonic development gaseous exchange exists between large embryonic gills and maternal tissue, but no energy is provided by the mother,” said Duellman, who has authored a new book on marsupial frogs. “In some species that brood up to 100 eggs, the young are born as tadpoles that complete their development in ponds. However, most marsupial frogs have 20 or so eggs containing a large amount of yolk, which is sufficient to provide nourishment for the embryos to pass through the ‘larval stage’ in the pouch — the froglets emerge from the pouch and begin life on their own.”


6. Her lips are sealed. In many species of fish, mothers safeguard eggs within their mouths until hatching, when the little fish swim free. But in some species such as Geophagus altifrons (aka the Tocantins Eartheater) from the Amazon River in Brazil, mom continues to protect mobile juveniles in their mouths for quite some time after hatching. 

“A number of different cichlid species are famous for their mouth brooding where the mother will take care of the eggs and free swimming fry for upwards of one month,” said William Leo Smith, assistant curator with the institute. “While mouth-brooding the eggs, the mother will not take any chances with losing an egg. She will go several weeks without eating, spending all of her energy making sure the eggs are protected. After they hatch she will continue to mouth-brood them, but instead of keeping them in her mouth, she will keep them near, using different signals to communicate to her children that it is time to come home… to her mouth.”  - Brendan Lynch, KU News

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The recent cold and lean months are responsible for an increased coyote presence within Lawrence city limits, local ecology officials say. However, Lawrencians need not be afraid of the more active canines. Robert Timm of the KU Biodiversity Institute said there probably hasn't been an increase in the local coyote population, nor have the creatures been displaced by construction. Most likely, he said, the animals are more active simply because of the season.

Published in the Lawrence Journal-World
 

Mammalogy
Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Andrès Lira Noriega, who has been mentored by Jorge Soberón and A. Townsend Peterson, defended and graduated with honors this week. His dissertation title was “Scale and Ecological and Historical Determinants of a Species’ Geographic range: The Case of the Vector-borne Plant Parasite Phoradendron californicum Nutt. (Viscaceae).” He is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher with Carlos Martínez del Rio at the University of Wyoming.

Biodiversity Modeling
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Delegates are invited to register for the 21st meeting of the GBIF Governing Board (GB21), taking place at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi from 16-18 September 2014.

Official delegates and invited observers may register for the Governing Board meeting and associated events.

A symposium entitled Innovation and Impact through GBIF will be held on 17 September, and is open to the public and media, following free registration. Speakers at the symposium will present GBIF achievements in the last year, projects, policy-relevant applications and innovative uses of data accessed through GBIF. All presentations will also be available online for those unable to attend the symposium in person. Details will be given closer to the time.

Further information on the venue, programme and logistics are available here.  

Biodiversity Modeling
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mycetoma, a mysterious illness largely unknown in developed nations, has wreaked havoc on the health of farmers, herdsmen, children and others in close contact with the land in tropical and subtropical regions of our planet.

It’s thought the disease is contracted by coming into contact with a microorganism that lives in the soil or on a thorn from an Acacia tree.

“Two forms of mycetoma are recognized — actinomycetoma caused by a group of filamentous bacteria, and eumycetoma caused by any of 30–50 species of hyaline and pigmented fungi,” said Abdallah Samy, a Fulbright scholar and doctoral student at the University of Kansas’ Biodiversity Institute.

Recently, for his research comparing known cases of mycetoma with Acacia tree distribution in the Sudan, using a technique dubbed “ecological niche modelling,” Samy won the Young Investigator Award at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and he met billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates in the process.

Gates“A few days before the meeting, I received an email informing me I was a Young Investigator Award candidate,” Samy said. “I presented my information on mycetoma in a poster session, and then they asked for an oral presentation — and I was named the winner for the 2014 Young Investigator Award. Bill Gates was the keynote speaker of the ASTMH meeting, where he gave a talk about dealing with future epidemics like Ebola. He’s contributed a lot to the challenge of combating neglected tropical diseases around the world through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Before we knew who won the competition, I asked to take a picture with him, and he accepted.”

Samy, who is from Cairo, plans a career studying disease ecology and researching new skills to understand disease transmission and control. Working with mentor A. Townsend Peterson, University Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Samy hopes his scholarly work will improve human health around the world.

Peterson said the Young Investigator Award was a reflection of the hard work and detailed insights of his protégé.

“I was extremely pleased to hear of this recognition of Abdallah’s work and abilities, and I would say that this honor was very well-deserved,” he said. “Abdallah is an extremely promising young academic from Ain Shams University in Egypt, where he expects to return after finishing his doctoral studies at KU. He is one of a small but very effective and efficient research group working in disease ecology and biogeography at KU, and it is more than a privilege to be working with him.”

Indeed, Samy’s work on mycetoma could eventually help health workers to suppress the disease, which is not well-understood but can have devastating effects on people.

Dr. Ahmed Fahal, who treats Sudanese patients with mycetoma in his role as director of the Mycetoma Research Centre at Soba University Hospital in Khartoum, worked personally with Samy during his investigation there. Fahal underscored the seriousness of the disease to those who suffer its effects.

“It’s still challenging and hard to treat patients with mycetoma, for which the available antifungal therapy is still not optimal,” said Fahal. “In order to treat this infection, both extensive and destructive surgery and prolonged antifungal treatment are necessary. The treatment outcome is disappointing, characterized by low cure rate and frequent amputation, high patient followup dropout and high recurrence rates.”‎

Samy said he hopes his experience modeling occurrences of mycetoma in Sudan will inform his future research on other diseases through the world. Currently, with his mentor Peterson and colleagues from Sudan, Mexico and the Netherlands, he’s developing extensions of the Sudan work across Latin America and Asia. 

“Public health problems are my field of interest,” said the KU doctoral student. “I’m always intending to help people. Such work has the potential to change lives.”

-Brendan Lynch, KU News 

Photos, from top: Acacia tree (WikiCommons); Abdallah Samy with Bill Gates.

Biodiversity Modeling
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mycetoma, a mysterious illness largely unknown in developed nations, has wreaked havoc on the health of farmers, herdsmen, children and others in close contact with the land in tropical and subtropical regions of our planet.

It’s thought the disease is contracted by coming into contact with a microorganism that lives in the soil or on a thorn from an Acacia tree.

“Two forms of mycetoma are recognized — actinomycetoma caused by a group of filamentous bacteria, and eumycetoma caused by any of 30–50 species of hyaline and pigmented fungi,” said Abdallah Samy, a Fulbright scholar and doctoral student at the University of Kansas’ Biodiversity Institute.

Recently, for his research comparing known cases of mycetoma with Acacia tree distribution in the Sudan, using a technique dubbed “ecological niche modelling,” Samy won the Young Investigator Award at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and he met billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates in the process.

Gates“A few days before the meeting, I received an email informing me I was a Young Investigator Award candidate,” Samy said. “I presented my information on mycetoma in a poster session, and then they asked for an oral presentation — and I was named the winner for the 2014 Young Investigator Award. Bill Gates was the keynote speaker of the ASTMH meeting, where he gave a talk about dealing with future epidemics like Ebola. He’s contributed a lot to the challenge of combating neglected tropical diseases around the world through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Before we knew who won the competition, I asked to take a picture with him, and he accepted.”

Samy, who is from Cairo, plans a career studying disease ecology and researching new skills to understand disease transmission and control. Working with mentor A. Townsend Peterson, University Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Samy hopes his scholarly work will improve human health around the world.

Peterson said the Young Investigator Award was a reflection of the hard work and detailed insights of his protégé.

“I was extremely pleased to hear of this recognition of Abdallah’s work and abilities, and I would say that this honor was very well-deserved,” he said. “Abdallah is an extremely promising young academic from Ain Shams University in Egypt, where he expects to return after finishing his doctoral studies at KU. He is one of a small but very effective and efficient research group working in disease ecology and biogeography at KU, and it is more than a privilege to be working with him.”

Indeed, Samy’s work on mycetoma could eventually help health workers to suppress the disease, which is not well-understood but can have devastating effects on people.

Dr. Ahmed Fahal, who treats Sudanese patients with mycetoma in his role as director of the Mycetoma Research Centre at Soba University Hospital in Khartoum, worked personally with Samy during his investigation there. Fahal underscored the seriousness of the disease to those who suffer its effects.

“It’s still challenging and hard to treat patients with mycetoma, for which the available antifungal therapy is still not optimal,” said Fahal. “In order to treat this infection, both extensive and destructive surgery and prolonged antifungal treatment are necessary. The treatment outcome is disappointing, characterized by low cure rate and frequent amputation, high patient followup dropout and high recurrence rates.”‎

Samy said he hopes his experience modeling occurrences of mycetoma in Sudan will inform his future research on other diseases through the world. Currently, with his mentor Peterson and colleagues from Sudan, Mexico and the Netherlands, he’s developing extensions of the Sudan work across Latin America and Asia. 

“Public health problems are my field of interest,” said the KU doctoral student. “I’m always intending to help people. Such work has the potential to change lives.”

-Brendan Lynch, KU News 

Photos, from top: Acacia tree (WikiCommons); Abdallah Samy with Bill Gates.

Biodiversity Modeling
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mycetoma, a mysterious illness largely unknown in developed nations, has wreaked havoc on the health of farmers, herdsmen, children and others in close contact with the land in tropical and subtropical regions of our planet.

It’s thought the disease is contracted by coming into contact with a microorganism that lives in the soil or on a thorn from an Acacia tree.

“Two forms of mycetoma are recognized — actinomycetoma caused by a group of filamentous bacteria, and eumycetoma caused by any of 30–50 species of hyaline and pigmented fungi,” said Abdallah Samy, a Fulbright scholar and doctoral student at the University of Kansas’ Biodiversity Institute.

Recently, for his research comparing known cases of mycetoma with Acacia tree distribution in the Sudan, using a technique dubbed “ecological niche modelling,” Samy won the Young Investigator Award at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and he met billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates in the process.

Gates“A few days before the meeting, I received an email informing me I was a Young Investigator Award candidate,” Samy said. “I presented my information on mycetoma in a poster session, and then they asked for an oral presentation — and I was named the winner for the 2014 Young Investigator Award. Bill Gates was the keynote speaker of the ASTMH meeting, where he gave a talk about dealing with future epidemics like Ebola. He’s contributed a lot to the challenge of combating neglected tropical diseases around the world through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Before we knew who won the competition, I asked to take a picture with him, and he accepted.”

Samy, who is from Cairo, plans a career studying disease ecology and researching new skills to understand disease transmission and control. Working with mentor A. Townsend Peterson, University Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Samy hopes his scholarly work will improve human health around the world.

Peterson said the Young Investigator Award was a reflection of the hard work and detailed insights of his protégé.

“I was extremely pleased to hear of this recognition of Abdallah’s work and abilities, and I would say that this honor was very well-deserved,” he said. “Abdallah is an extremely promising young academic from Ain Shams University in Egypt, where he expects to return after finishing his doctoral studies at KU. He is one of a small but very effective and efficient research group working in disease ecology and biogeography at KU, and it is more than a privilege to be working with him.”

Indeed, Samy’s work on mycetoma could eventually help health workers to suppress the disease, which is not well-understood but can have devastating effects on people.

Dr. Ahmed Fahal, who treats Sudanese patients with mycetoma in his role as director of the Mycetoma Research Centre at Soba University Hospital in Khartoum, worked personally with Samy during his investigation there. Fahal underscored the seriousness of the disease to those who suffer its effects.

“It’s still challenging and hard to treat patients with mycetoma, for which the available antifungal therapy is still not optimal,” said Fahal. “In order to treat this infection, both extensive and destructive surgery and prolonged antifungal treatment are necessary. The treatment outcome is disappointing, characterized by low cure rate and frequent amputation, high patient followup dropout and high recurrence rates.”‎

Samy said he hopes his experience modeling occurrences of mycetoma in Sudan will inform his future research on other diseases through the world. Currently, with his mentor Peterson and colleagues from Sudan, Mexico and the Netherlands, he’s developing extensions of the Sudan work across Latin America and Asia. 

“Public health problems are my field of interest,” said the KU doctoral student. “I’m always intending to help people. Such work has the potential to change lives.”

-Brendan Lynch, KU News 

Photos, from top: Acacia tree (WikiCommons); Abdallah Samy with Bill Gates.

Biodiversity Modeling
Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Graduate student Sarah Gibson's DDIG Proposal, "DISSERTATION RESEARCH: The Evolution of Specialized Teeth and Jaws in Early Mesozoic Ray-Finned Fishes and Their Impact on Widespread Niche Differentiation,” has been funded by the National Science Foundation. The PI for the grant is Hans-Peter Schultze, and co-PIs are Sarah Gibson and Paul Selden.

The ray-finned fishes (e.g., trout, clownfish, seahorse, bass) are the most diverse group of vertebrates on Earth today and display a vast array of physical differences with regard to body shape, skull and jaw morphology, and tooth specializations. Ray-finned fishes have a long evolutionary history, and this study focuses on two extinct groups of fishes that lived during the Early Mesozoic (250-190 million years ago): the disc-shaped, deep-bodied dapediids and the torpedo-shaped, primitive redfieldiids. These two groups of fishes provide an ideal contrast (e.g., deep body versus narrow body, differences in jaws) for testing hypotheses of the impact of specialization of tooth and jaw anatomy and morphology. The researches will compare this body shape contrast with the diet, habitat preference, behavior, and niche specialization of the fish. The project will study fossils from the Early Mesozoic, a volatile time in Earth's history with global tectonic events changing the geography of the planet and shaping the diversity of organisms in different ecosystems. This research will increase our understanding of how these two groups of extinct fishes have adapted to occupy different ecological spaces and exploit different food sources. 

The research will utilize state-of-the-art two- and three-dimensional digital imaging techniques, such as micro-computed tomography (CT) scanning. These tools will measure jaw and cranial anatomy and morphology as well as tooth microwear, in well-preserved redfieldiid and dapediid fossils. Using these data the investigators of this project will be able to address hypotheses about how tooth and jaw morphology relate to ecological niche space and evolutionary history. This project will provide graduate and undergraduate training in morphological and morphometric techniques, and data obtained from this study will be catalogued in online data repositories.

Ichthyology
Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Graduate student Sarah Gibson's DDIG Proposal, "DISSERTATION RESEARCH: The Evolution of Specialized Teeth and Jaws in Early Mesozoic Ray-Finned Fishes and Their Impact on Widespread Niche Differentiation,” has been funded by the National Science Foundation. The PI for the grant is Hans-Peter Schultze, and co-PIs are Sarah Gibson and Paul Selden.

The ray-finned fishes (e.g., trout, clownfish, seahorse, bass) are the most diverse group of vertebrates on Earth today and display a vast array of physical differences with regard to body shape, skull and jaw morphology, and tooth specializations. Ray-finned fishes have a long evolutionary history, and this study focuses on two extinct groups of fishes that lived during the Early Mesozoic (250-190 million years ago): the disc-shaped, deep-bodied dapediids and the torpedo-shaped, primitive redfieldiids. These two groups of fishes provide an ideal contrast (e.g., deep body versus narrow body, differences in jaws) for testing hypotheses of the impact of specialization of tooth and jaw anatomy and morphology. The researches will compare this body shape contrast with the diet, habitat preference, behavior, and niche specialization of the fish. The project will study fossils from the Early Mesozoic, a volatile time in Earth's history with global tectonic events changing the geography of the planet and shaping the diversity of organisms in different ecosystems. This research will increase our understanding of how these two groups of extinct fishes have adapted to occupy different ecological spaces and exploit different food sources. 

The research will utilize state-of-the-art two- and three-dimensional digital imaging techniques, such as micro-computed tomography (CT) scanning. These tools will measure jaw and cranial anatomy and morphology as well as tooth microwear, in well-preserved redfieldiid and dapediid fossils. Using these data the investigators of this project will be able to address hypotheses about how tooth and jaw morphology relate to ecological niche space and evolutionary history. This project will provide graduate and undergraduate training in morphological and morphometric techniques, and data obtained from this study will be catalogued in online data repositories.

Ichthyology