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Biodiversity Blog


Announcing the 2022 Stengl-Wyer Scholars, Fellows and Grant Awardees

Funded by the Stengl-Wyer Endowment, the Stengl-Wyer Scholars Program provides up to three years of independent support for talented postdoctoral researchers in the broad area of the diversity of life and/or organisms in their natural environments. The endowment also supports the Stengl-Wyer Fellowship Program, year-long fellowships for doctoral candidates pursuing dissertation research in the same area.

Read below to learn more about this year's Scholars, Fellows and grant-funded projects. Congratulations to everyone!


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Guillaume Dury is an evolutionary biologist who did his M.Sc. research at McGill University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on building a molecular phylogeny of neotropical leaf beetles and their evolutionary history of maternal care and host plant use. For his Ph.D. research at Indiana University Bloomington, he studied the evolutionary consequences of maternal effects using a mix of field and lab experiments and modelling. As a Stengl-Wyer Scholar he will work with Brian Sedio using a combination of transcriptomics, phylogenomics, and metabolomics to study whether evolving new defensive compounds allowed tropical trees to better escape pathogens and herbivores, and in turn led to more diversification.

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Christopher Hemingson is an evolutionary ecologist who studies the visual world that surrounds us. Specifically, he is fascinated with coral reef ecosystems and seeks to understand how they evolved to be the incredibly diverse and colorful systems we recognise today. He conducted his doctoral research at James Cook University in Australia working on the Great Barrier Reef. As a Stengl-Wyer Scholar, Christopher will work with Simon J. Brandl, who is based at the Marine Science Institute, to understand how reefs came to be such colorful ecosystems and how this is threatened by global environmental change.



Chatura Vaidya is an ecologist broadly interested in the ecological and eco-evolutionary impacts of global environmental change on plant-insect interactions, with a particular focus on plant-pollinator interactions. Chatura is finishing her PhD (Dec 2022) at the University of Michigan, where she is studying how habitat modification, driven by agriculture and urbanization, affects plant-pollinator interactions, specifically on plant and pollinator reproductive success. As a Stengl-Wyer scholar, she will work with Shalene Jha and Amelia Wolf to investigate how multiple global environmental change factors, interactively affect plant traits, and how this in turn influences pollinator health and plant reproduction.  



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Kathryn Appler is a Marine Science Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Brett Baker's Lab, studying the diversity and ecological role of Asgard archaea. This microbial group contains the closest known extant relative to the archaeal host in eukaryogenesis. The origin of eukaryotes is a longstanding mystery that remains unresolved. As a Stengl-Wyer Fellow, she will begin unraveling this puzzle by identifying eukaryotic-like proteins from novel branches of this superphylum. This study will update current eukaryogenesis models by doubling the number of Asgard genomes and untangling encoded markers of higher complexity, providing clues for the origin of multicellularity.

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Erik Iverson studies the influence of mitochondrial genetics and physiology on many aspects of biodiversity and conservation. Using montane birds, freshwater fishes, and other organisms as study systems, Erik works with his mentor Justin Havird to investigate how coevolution between the nucleus and mitochondria affects climatic adaptation, speciation, and hybridization. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Erik received his B.S. and M.S. from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. He serves as Vice President of the local Pines and Prairies Land Trust, as well as on the scientific advisory board of the Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon in Peru.

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Samantha Smith studies rodent vocal mechanisms in Steven Phelps' lab. In her dissertation research, she uses anatomical, physiological, and genomic methods to examine how one rodent species, singing mice, make their unique calls. As a Stengl-Wyer Fellow, she will use tag-based RNA-sequencing to understand how differences in throat musculature contribute to vocal differences among mouse species found across the southwestern US and central America.

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Philip Souza is a Ph.D. candidate in the Simon Brandl - Fish and Functions Lab where he studies estuarine soundscapes. As a Stengl-Wyer Fellow, Philip will analyze underwater sound recordings to investigate spatiotemporal trends in soniferous (i.e., sound-producing) organism biodiversity and monitor the health of critical habitats in the Mission-Aransas Estuary in Texas. This research will inform the conservation of local biodiversity by providing valuable insight into the response of biological communities to natural and anthropogenic disturbances.



Research-driven enhancements of collections

Alex Wild: "A Pipeline to Accession UT Faculty Research Materials to the Biodiversity Center Insect Collection"

Research-driven enhancements of field stations

Amy Wolf: "Integrating UT field stations into long-term, globally distributed ecological networks"

Educational support

Brian Sedio: "Integrating metabolomics in graduate student research in the life sciences"

Research grants

Jeffrey Chen: "Molecular and Ecological Studies on Enhanced Adaptation in Plant Polyploids"

Chris Law: "The evolution of mammalian body plans: a case study in squirrels"

A Chat with Botanist Domingos Cardoso
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