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Biodiversity Blog


Announcing the 2023 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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Priscila Moura is a biologist particularly interested in integrating behavioral ecology and neurosciences to help understand the spatial dynamics of neotropical butterflies. She conducted her doctoral research at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, where she used a combination of field and laboratory experiments to study various aspects of spatial memory in Heliconius butterflies. As a Stengl-Wyer Scholar, Priscila will work with Dr. Lawrence Gilbert, Dr. Felicity Muth and Dr. Kristen Harris to investigate landmark use in foraging behavior and the impact of the foraging experience on Heliconius butterflies’ brain plasticity.

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Edmund Basham is an amphibian ecologist who completed his Masters in Environmental Science at the University of Sheffield and his PhD in Ecology at the University of Florida. His PhD research explored the vertical stratification patterns of tropical rainforest frogs which inhabit the towering trees of pristine rainforests, with his work comprising field seasons in Madagascar, Costa Rica, Panama, and Gabon. As a Stengl-Wyer Scholar, Edmund will work with Dr. Kelly Zamudio, Dr. David Cannatella, and Dr. Timothy Keitt, to assess the threats of climate change and chytrid fungus disease to rainforest frogs occupying different forest strata from ground to canopy.



Korin Rex Jones is a microbial community ecology researcher fascinated by the role the microbiome can play in health and development across a wide variety of host organisms. More specifically, he seeks to understand how community assembly processes can impact microbiome community structure, leading to differences in microbiome function. During his PhD research at Virginia Tech, he combined field and lab research to develop an understanding of the processes driving the assembly of amphibian bacterial communities and how these communities change over time. As a Stengl-Wyer Scholar, he will work with Dr. Nancy Moran and Dr. Jeffrey Barrick to understand how the colonization order of gut bacteria can affect the composition and spatial organization of bacteria within the honeybee gut microbiome using a combination of fluorescent microscopy and metagenomics.


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Kristina Black is a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Misha Matz, and has an M.S. in wildlife ecology from UW-Madison. She currently studies genetic adaptation for coral restoration in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her research finds genotype-environment associations to understand how corals adapt to various environmental gradients. During the annual coral spawn, she crosses genotypes from disparate environments and conducts reciprocal transplants on the offspring to determine local adaptations. As a Stengl-Wyer Fellow, she will explore parental effects in a coral species with high conservation concern to identify genotypes that produce offspring with the highest chance of survival in a national park, which can hopefully improve the strategy of breeding efforts in coral restoration.

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Jeffrey Coleman uses diverse tools—including genetics and genomics, chemical ecology, and neurobiology—to characterize the biology and shed light on the biodiversity of tropical ecosystems. Specifically, Jeff works with advisor Dr. David Cannatella to investigate poison frogs of the Neotropics, which sequester skin toxins from an arthropod diet. The current thrust of the work is to disentangle whether diet or genetic ability to sequester contributes more to differences in chemical defense levels between species with strong defenses and bright colors (bright colors are used to advertise the defenses to predators) and species with weak defenses that rely on camouflage for predator avoidance. A native Midwesterner (from Chicago), Jeff received his B.A. in Biology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he completed an honors thesis on comparative dental morphology in Neotropical monkeys. Before starting his doctorate, Jeff also spent three years at the Field Museum of Natural History studying population genetics of Neotropical toucans and immunogenomics of West Nile virus-resistant crows.

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Sarah Ortiz is a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr. Amy Wolf. She is broadly interested in the stoichiometric, ecological, and biogeochemical ramifications of different nutrient acquisition strategies in plants, particularly those involving facilitative soil microbes and other belowground interactions with the goal of understanding how these effects are mediated by plant traits as well as the abiotic environment. As a Stengl-Wyer Fellow, she plans on exploring these ideas using N-fixing plants to understand the physiological and stoichiometric constraints of N-fixation using a combination of greenhouse and theoretical methodologies.

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Xinyi Yan is a PhD candidate co-advised by Dr. Caroline Farrior and Dr. Amy Wolf. She studies the role of plant-soil microbe interactions in mediating plant coexistence and community assembly. As a Stengl-Wyer Fellow, she will utilize a multi-year biodiversity-ecosystem functioning experiment at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory to study the link between plant diversity/composition and soil fungal diversity/composition, and how precipitation and herbivory may further modify this link. This project aims to disentangle the feedback between aboveground and belowground biodiversity and can provide insights on plant and soil restoration.




Project Title: Enhancing Genomic Resources Infrastructure to Support UT Biodiversity Research

PI Name: David Cannatella (Integrative Biology)

Co-Investigators: Travis LaDuc and Thomas Devitt


Project Title: Creating a new Experimental Research Area and research infrastructure for UT faculty and students at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

PI Name: Sean Griffin (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Co-Investigators: Shalene Jha, Matt O'Toole, and Lee Clippard


Project Title: Putting the Texas Field Station Network on the map: Ecological metabolomics brings a new dimension to fundamental questions about climate-diversity gradients

PI Name: Brian Sedio (Integrative Biology)

Learning about Central Texas Salamanders through e...
Commemorating Black Agency at UT

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