Several members of the lab are just back from an extremely productive field trip. Highlights include a DNA barcoding workshop at the National Museums of Kenya (led by Kartzinel and Gill, and Director Musili from the East African Herbarium), many pre-dawn captures of small mammals (led by Brown and collaborators from the Goheen lab), and many trees and and megaherbivores counted (led by Gill and Lokeny). Now the team is breaking in the new lab -- copious amounts of data to report soon! Photos of the highlights are below.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) just released a “BioInteractive” lab featuring our research on the diets of savanna herbivores.
Educators and students in high school and college biology courses will go on an expedition to Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, where they can investigate niche partitioning as a mechanism that enables similar species to coexist.
This extraordinarily engaging and informative BioInteractive module is inspired by — and uses real data from — our 2015 PNAS paper: “DNA metabarcoding illuminates dietary niche partitioning by African large herbivores.” The paper is becoming a “textbook” example of niche partitioning and DNA-based approaches in ecology.
Together with Rob Pringle and our collaborators, we hope this interactive will reach thousands of students worldwide.
The full text of this exciting new paper is online today: Feeding immunity: physiological and behavioral responses to infection and resource limitation. The article appears in a special feature of Frontiers in Immunology entitled Wild immunity -- the answers are out there. Congratulations to Sarah Budischak, Andrea Graham, and coauthors!
One of the most exciting aspects of this paper is the idea of "rewilding laboratory mice" to begin understanding the ecology of this model organism in genetics and medicine. What happens when lab mice are infected with an intestinal parasite, put outside, and tasked with surviving in a world with limited resources?
Add on top of that all of the exciting technology brought together to probe this creative experiment for mechanism -- PIT tags, DNA metabarcoding, NMR spectroscopy -- and you've got the makings of a classic. In this experiment, custom-built feeding devices capable of tracking foraging behavior, paired with DNA metabarcoding, revealed compensatory feeding behaviors by mice that otherwise might have masked the effects of infection.
Especially relevant to research in our lab, a hormone called leptin that serves as an indicator of hunger and body fat was correlated with consumption of different species of wild plants. Animals with higher leptin concentrations tended to eat more protein-rich clovers and other legumes than did animals with lower leptin, potentially pointing to different foraging behaviors and differential selectivity for wild foods as mechanisms for dealing with infection while reestablishing a dietary niche after generations in the laboratory. Although the effect sizes for the DNA metabarcoding data were small, these tantalizing trends highlight the importance of these measurements and the value of the technique. A valuable contribution.
As we kick off the new academic year, we extend the warmest welcome to Dr. Brian Gill, inaugural IBES postdoc in the lab. Brian's doctoral research fused a cutting-edge molecular tool kit with some extremely rugged field research to test important ideas in ecology and evolution. For example, Brian used DNA barcoding to identify a huge diversity of mayflies from tropical and temperate streams, revealing that their elevational ranges are narrower in the tropics, where species may be more sensitive to the effects of climate change -- a result that may not have been so clearcut in the absence of molecular data, due to the prevalence of cryptic species. We all look forward to benefiting from Brian's leadership and skills as we study how species are respond to environmental changes in New England, in East Africa, and around the world.
I am recruiting a postdoc with experience in molecular ecology to join our lab at Brown University. The postdoc will have the opportunity to lead collaborative research on the ecology and conservation of African savannas, and potentially other systems, with emphasis on DNA-based analyses of animal diets and microbiomes.
Potential projects are flexible and can be tailored to fit the experience, interests, and career goals of the postdoc. Candidates may get in touch via email to discuss potential projects and novel research ideas.
The official advertisement is copied below. Applications should be submitted through Interfolio: http://apply.interfolio.com/41661.
Two graduate students are joining the Kartzinel Lab in Fall of 2017!
Bianca Brown is arriving from the Rand Lab, where she investigated how climate change may alter the microbiomes of barnacles and fruit flies. Bianca is developing cutting-edge research on how defaunation—the decline of African large herbivores in particular—can have cascading effects on the diets and gut microbiota of other herbivores in the community. With better understanding of these relationships, we expect to help improve wildlife conservation and reintroduction programs.
Patrick Freeman is arriving from Stanford, where he began researching the behavior and conservation of African elephants. Through his photographs and presentations, Patrick shares his experiences in ways that have brought his audiences to tears. By integrating a new repertoire of laboratory analyses with on-the-ground fieldwork, we aim to develop rigorous conservation strategies to protect for countless plants and animals in Kenya (especially the really big ones)!
Proud to contribute to a paper by Adam Pellegrini and coauthors that was just published in Ecology Letters: "Convergence of bark investment according to fire and climate structures ecosystem vulnerability to future change" (PDF).
Our work finds that some ecosystems contain tree species that are well adapted to the predicted changes in global fire regimes due to climate change, while others are composed of trees that may be particularly vulnerable. The paper was highlighted on Princeton's homepage and in Nature News!
It was an honor to join this year's OTS (Organization for Tropical Studies) Graduate Field Ecology course last week at La Selva. This is a premier program in tropical ecology, and the course revolves around a series of short (~3 day) research projects led by students and faculty.
Days of rain made it difficult to do much research in the forest, but there was no shortage of plants and wildlife to learn about at the station. You should read the course's blog to learn more about what everyone was up to.
Carissa Ganong and Andrew Mehring made an outstanding team of lead faculty - it was a thrill to join them!
Thanks to a new, inspiring conservation organization — Biodiversity Initiative — for inviting our lab to join research and conservation efforts in the understudied tropical forests of Equatorial Guinea.
Highlights from a brief visit include: