The Fall 2022 Biology, Ecology, and Evolution Seminar Series Re-cap

The following is a guest blog post by graduate students Alex Nelson and Mumtahina Riza.

During the Fall 2022 Biology, Ecology, and Evolution Seminar Series (BEESS) we took a tour of some of the exciting research happening around local North Carolina universities. This was the first time that we were able to host in-person BEESS seminars since the fall semester of 2019. We had a ton of fun hosting face-to-face collaborative discussions, student-speaker lunches, and post-seminar happy hours!

Our first speaker, Khara Grieger of North Carolina State University, introduced us to the Interdisciplinary Risk Sciences Group and the work that they do to further sustainability in food and agriculture systems. We learned about the negative roles that nanomaterials play in our food systems and how the responsible innovation of nanotechnologies is continually shaping stakeholders’ prospectives. Grieger also mentioned her involvement with NCSU’s Science and Technologies for Phosphorous Sustainability (STEPS) program, which works to monitor the use of phosphorous in agriculture systems. With proper risk assessment incorporated into state agriculture agencies, Grieger hopes that we will move towards more healthy alternatives than the use of nanomaterials. 

John Bruno of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill discussed his research on coral reef resilience to climate change. We discussed how global change is bringing about more intense coral bleaching, including in the Caribbean, where Bruno conducts the majority of his research. Surprisingly, Bruno’s research suggests that marine protected areas and reduced anthropogenic activity do not enhance coral reef resilience to global change. Warming and warming related stressors like frequent storms have the biggest negative impacts on coral reefs, and unfortunately, those things are occurring even in protected areas. However, Bruno did end on a hopeful note: we are seeing a rise in more resistant types of corals, which will likely survive even in a rapidly changing climate. 

Anne Yoder of Duke University presented on her work with cryptic species of Madagascar mouse lemurs. In this case, “cryptic species” refers to species that look very similar but are genetically distinct. Prior to Yoder’s work, it was believed that there were less than a handful of Madagascar mouse lemur species. With genetic analyses and ecological observations, Yoder not only documented the presence of about 20 Madagascar mouse lemur species – she also found that the species’ habitat preferences and behaviors are quite unique from one another! We learned about how these species may have diversified over time and Yoder ended her presentation by playing us some recordings of charismatic lemur calls. 

Our final Fall seminar was led by Miles Silman of Wake Forest University. Silman presented on the field research that he conducts in the Andes-Amazon, a huge biodiversity hotspot. When we hear the words “gold rush” we tend to think of California in the 1850s, but unbeknownst to most of us, the Andes-Amazon is currently home to a rapidly growing gold mining operation. This gold mining unfortunately has devastating long-term impacts on the rainforests and the indigenous communities residing on nearby lands. Silman hopes to quantify these changes to promote conservation of the Amazon’s biodiversity and employ more restrictions on the habitat destruction occurring there. 

From state agriculture systems to marine coral reefs to diverse rainforests, we learned that scientific discovery and collaboration are essential to maintaining public health and biodiversity in our rapidly changing world. Stay tuned for our Spring 2023 BEESS seminars, where we’ll hear from infectious disease ecologist Charles Mitchell, parasitologist Kelly Weinersmith, and entomologist Olivia Messinger Carril. Join us in person for snacks, drinks, and more!

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