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Tom B web


Thomas Bytnerowicz studies the feedbacks between global change and nitrogen and carbon cycling. His work uses a combination of empirical and theoretical approaches, encompassing experiments, forest inventory analysis, simple theoretical models, and terrestrial biosphere models. His goals are to use a mechanistic understanding of nitrogen fixation to predict patterns of nitrogen and carbon cycling across temporal and spatial scales. Understanding these processes is critical to assess the future of the land carbon sink and its effect on climate.

As a Stengl-Wyer Scholar, Thomas will conduct experimental work at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory, which will be paired with forest dynamics modeling to understand the processes that control the abundance and activity of nitrogen fixing trees across tropical and subtropical biomes and how they may be affected by climate change. He will be mentored by Drs. Amelia Wolf and Caroline Farrior. Thomas completed his PhD at Columbia University, under the supervision of Dr. Duncan Menge. His dissertation examined some of the mechanisms that determine latitudinal patterns of symbiotic nitrogen fixation and nitrogen fixing tree abundance. This includes quantifying the role that a species evolutionary history and the environment play on the timescales over which nitrogen fixation is regulated and the temperature response of nitrogen fixation.



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Shana Caro is an evolutionary biologist interested in how conflicts create and shape social behavior. She studies birds, focusing on the effects of sibling-sibling, parent-offspring, and male-female conflict on parental care and parent-offspring communication. As a Stengl-Wyer Scholar, she will utilize the Brackenridge Field Laboratory (BFL) and Stengl Lost Pines Biological Station (SLP) to establish a field study on European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). This research will identify sources of evolutionary conflict, investigate how that conflict creates different parental and offspring behaviors, and determine the physiological mechanisms translating that conflict into behavioral change. She will be working in collaboration with her mentors Professor Hans Hofmann and Professor Mark Kirkpatrick.

Shana received her A.B. in human evolutionary biology from Harvard University and her D.Phil. in zoology from the University of Oxford, supervised by Professors Ashleigh Griffin and Stu West. During her DPhil, she found that variation in signalling systems across bird species could be explained by a combination of ecological and life history traits. In her first postdoctoral position as a Simons Fellow based at Columbia University, with Professor Dustin Rubenstein, she explored how environmental harshness and unpredictability modulates parental investment and communication in the cooperatively breeding superb starling (Lamprotornis superbus). 

CLICK HERE TO Read an interview with Shana.

Chase S


Chase Smith's research focuses on resolving the evolution of freshwater mussels, an aquatic group of bivalves with approximately 300 species in the United States. Though mainly sessile as adults, these mollusks have one of the most peculiar life histories within the animal kingdom which involves a parasitic larval stage (glochidia) that must attach to fishhosts to complete metamorphosis. This life cycle creates a remarkable evolutionary system, as select pressures for successful parasitism has led to the development of highly specialized life history characters to attract specific host fish. Concomitant to the compelling life history, Bivalves, including freshwater mussels, are the only known exception among Bilaterian animals to strictly maternal inheritance of mitochondria and have a unique mode of mitochondrial inheritance called doubly uniparental inheritance (DUI). This phenomenon involves the transmission of two mitochondrial genomes, one of which is passed by females to all offspring, and a second that is passed by males only to their sons. The origin of DUI has been hypothesized to be a critical component of sex determination in bivalves, however, it is still uncertain how sex is determined and the role of DUI. 

As a Stengl-Wyer fellow, Chase will investigate the mitochondrial and nuclear mechanisms involved with sex determination in freshwater mussels and the contribution sex determining genes play in the origins of morphological traits involved with specialized parasitism. Further, he will be working with the Biodiversity Center to create tissue repositories for freshwater mussels in Texas to facilitate future research and museum exhibits to highlight the unique life cycle of freshwater mussels. 

CLICK HERE TO Read an interview with Chase.