Science Workshop, 19 April – Forest invasions of Eastern North America: a case of pre-adaptation?

Jason Fridley

Dr. Jason Fridley (Bennington class of ’97), Associate Prof. in the Biology Department at Syracuse University, has quickly established himself as an influential researcher on several of the ‘hot’ questions in ecological science, including the effects of biodiversity on ecosystem function, interactions between successional dynamics and climate change, and the ecology and biogeography of invasive species.  He’ll be presenting recent work on this last theme in his workshop talk at 1:00 pm, 19 April, in Dickinson 225.  You can find background material  here in an about-to-be-published article for the Annals of the New York Academy of Science.

Common garden experiment, with native and invasive shrubs, at Syracuse University — photo by Jason Fridley

Jason is a 2012 recipient of the Academy’s Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists). He also has the  unusual distinction of having papers published in both Nature and Science in 2012.  Also in 2012, two graduate students in Jason’s lab received prestigious National Science Foundation fellowships.  It was a good year.  (Another of Jason’s grad students, Catherine Ravenscroft, is also a Bennington alum.)

Science Workshop, 5 April: Before Animals: The Co-Evolution of Earth and Life in Deep Time

Fieldwork in the Neoproterozoic

Professor Phoebe Cohen of the Geology Department at Williams College will speak at Science Workshop on Friday, 5 April, at 1:00 pm in Dickinson 225.

Her work combines microscopic and microchemical techniques with field-based stratigraphy and sedimentology to reconstruct ancient organisms and ecosystems.  She will discuss her research in the context of our current knowledge about the evolution of life during the Neoproterozoic time period — the ~500 million years of Earth history before the rise of animals. While the sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record is dramatically demonstrated in the Cambrian radiation, the groundwork for animal evolution, and the co-occurring changes in marine ecosystems and ocean chemistry, were laid during the Neoproterozoic. Studies of the dynamic earth-life system in deep time present special challenges, but are transforming how we think about biology and geology.

Here are links for a) a paper for background on evolution in the Neoproterozoic, and b) a paper presenting some of Dr. Cohen’s research.

Students interested in having lunch with Dr. Cohen before her talk should be in touch with Kerry Woods.

Upcoming Science Workshop: Peter Ryan

Please plan ahead for a special Science Workshop with Professor Peter Ryan of Middlebury College on Friday, November 16 at 1:00. The title and abstract of the talk are presented below.

 

 

Arsenic in Vermont’s Groundwater Resource and the Connection between Geology and Public Health

Arsenic is a naturally occurring trace element in the natural environment, and in some regions geological factors have conspired to create elevated arsenic concentrations in the rocks and sediments that host groundwater. Research over the past ten years by the Vermont Geological Survey, the Vermont Department of Health and Middlebury College has revealed that certain parts of the state are prone to elevated arsenic in bedrock aquifers – these include parts of the Taconic slate region, the Rowe-Hawley Belt in north-central Vermont and parts of Windsor County in the vicinity of a granitic intrusion. This talk will explore geological, topographic and hydrological controls on groundwater arsenic in the complex geological landscape of Vermont and also reflect on recent changes to public policy as a result of scientific research.

Climate Change and Allergies: Alum Research

Kristina Stinson (second from right) with Bennington field bio class in 1992

Alum, Dr. Kristina Stinson, ’92 (Harvard Forest and University of Massachusetts) is featured in a youtube video posted from Harvard University.  The spot features her research on how climate change is likely to interact with allergenic pollen production by ragweed in New England (it’s going to get worse!).  This research has been supported by a million-dollar grant from US-EPA.  Dr. Stinson is also well-known for her research on the ecological relationships of the invasive garlic mustard plant, and she was recently awarded a two-million-dollar grant from the Department of Defense to support extensions of this research. Kristina will be talking about the ragweed research in Science Workshop on 9 November.

Science Workshop: Dr. Elizabeth Leininger

Evolution of neural circuits for vocal behavior in Xenopus: How my frogs got their simple calls

Dr. Elizabeth Leininger (Columbia University) will discuss how African clawed frogs (Xenopus) coordinate social interactions via species-specific underwater calls. She addressed this question in species of Xenopus that make slow, simplified advertisement (male fertility) calls. These simple calls are also the rarest type in the genus, and evolved more than once from a more complex call type. How did this occur? Using recordings from the brain and larynx, she found that two of these species (X. borealis and X. boumbaensis) make their simple calls via different modifications of the vocal circuit. She will also discuss how features of the muscle within the Xenopus vocal organ can promote differences in call rapidity across the sexes and species.

Please join us in Dickinson 225, Friday at 1:00. As always, delicious finger foods will be served.