The Molecular Ecologist Podcast: Rivers and rabbit resistance

(Flickr: Leandra Fallis)

A new episode of The Molecular Ecologist Podcast is now out on In this episode,

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Posted in Action Item, career, community ecology, conservation, howto, microbiology, TME Podcast | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Online Resources for Student/Postdoc/Faculty Professional Development

I’m fascinated by the question of how someone learns to be a good scientist, academic, colleague, collaborator, mentor, etc. The obvious answer is that we learn from our peers and mentors during our PhD and postdoctoral training. However, especially as a graduate student but occasionally now, it can feel like I’m flailing around in the dark about how best to handle a problem or respond to a situation. Like any true millennial, in addition to turning to friends and colleagues for the answer, I consult the interwebz.

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Down (Under) The Rabbit Hole

Maybe it’s a wild guess, but most of us have probably learned a little more about viruses lately than we thought we ever would. Little did I know, before this article, that I’d also learn quite a bit about a 3,256 km long network of fences constructed in the early 1900’s and why you can bring it up in the same breath as…(did you guess?)….viruses.  

Let’s start with rabbits and their favorite continent: Australia. Rabbits were first brought to Australia for meat in the late 1700’s and were generally contained on farms. However, European rabbits were released in 1859 to be hunted for sport. It took them no time flat to do what they do best, and they quickly became well established (more info here). Within ~10 years they reached astronomical numbers and completely devastated crops and pastures, leading to soil erosion and threatening native plants with extinction. In just 50 years they colonized 2/3 of Australia… wow and yikes at the same time.

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Posted in adaptation, Coevolution, ecology, evolution, selection | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Where Did This Flower Come From?

Sam Gregory wrote this post as a project for  Dr. Stacy Krueger-Hadfield’s Scientific Communication course at the University of Alabama at BirminghamSam earned a BS in biology and BFA in studio art from Birmingham-Southern College, and is currently pursuing an MS in biology at UAB. He is fascinated by Alabama’s diverse ecosystems, particularly the currently-threatened arthropod communities that serve a foundational role in these systems. Since starting graduate school, he has focused on studying both ecological systems and molecular techniques in order to equip himself for future research.

The valley which lies where India, Pakistan, and China converge has a problem with invasive species. This is unsurprising, as many regions have such issues. More surprisingly, though, is the species which has invaded – daffodils.

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Posted in adaptation, bioinformatics, blogging, Coevolution, demography, ecology, evolution, phylogeography, plants, Science Communication | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dreaming of Fieldwork Post 1

For many of us, fieldwork has been cancelled this summer due to COVID-19, leading to a lot of fieldwork nostalgia. We forget the dirty clothes (and everything else), the long hours, the bruises & cuts, the broken or stuck vehicles, the same food for 60 days. We remember the beauty and the wonder and the excitement of getting that last sample! To try to tide you over for a brief while, here are some of our favorite photos from fieldwork done by the TME Contributors. Also, we’d love to feature photos from you, our readers! See the bottom of the post for details.

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Posted in ecology, fieldwork, just for fun | 1 Comment

Genes rolling down the river

Sarah Shainker wrote this post as a part of Dr. Stacy Krueger-Hadfield’s Conservation Genetics course at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Sarah completed a B.S. in Marine Biology at the College of Charleston before serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines, where she developed interests in environmental education and communicating science to conservation and management stakeholders. She is currently a first-year PhD student and a Blazer Fellow and NSF GRFP Fellow in the Krueger Hadfield lab. She plans to integrate population genetics and a citizen science monitoring network to develop eco-evolutionary studies of freshwater macroalgae in the riverscapes of the southeast United States. 

Genes travel on land, in rivers, and through the sea

Landscape genetics combines population genetics, landscape ecology, and spatial structure to study the influence of the environment on genetic population structure. The field originated, as you can probably glean from the name, through the study of terrestrial species.

As terrestrial organisms ourselves, it’s not too difficult to imagine the forces that may restrict or promote dispersal and gene flow. Increasing geographic distances between populations are expected to correspond with genetic isolation. Landscape features like rivers, mountain ranges, or patches of deforested land may create discrete barriers between populations. Continuous variables like rainfall or temperature create resistance which may slow down dispersal and gene flow. 

As the field of landscape genetics has grown to include aquatic and marine organisms, we’ve learned that our expectations of what genetic patterns look like across space do not always translate neatly to seascapes and riverscapes. There are some key differences in the lifestyles and challenges of organisms inhabiting different environments. Distinct hypotheses have therefore been developed to explain genetic variation in seas and rivers (Davis et. al., 2018).

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Posted in bioinformatics, blogging, citizen science, Coevolution, community ecology, comparative phylogeography, DNA barcoding, ecology, evolution, fieldwork, haploid-diploid, natural history, Science Communication | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Shutting down our science in solidarity with the #Strike4BlackLives

Via ShutDownSTEM

We’re joining today’s Strike for Black Lives as part of ShutDownSTEM — taking the day away from our scientific work to study, plan, and act against racism and police violence in the places we live and research. It’s a good day to join a protest in your city — look for your local Black Lives Matter group on social media, and make a plan — or to take time for reading and research on topics that are all too easy to put off when you’re chasing the next deadline. ShutDownSTEM provides a deep list of resources for people at all levels of engagement and familiarity with anti-racist work; here’s a few we at TME can personally recommend:

  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture offers a detailed introduction to anti-racism, with links to lots of supporting material;
  • Here’s a Twitter thread of articles from Science (available without paywall) addressing diversity and equity issues, and possible solutions;
  • Angela Saini’s book Superior is an up-to-date, thorough, and highly readable history of the deep entanglement of race science with evolution and genetics;
  • Britt Rusert’s Fugitive Science is a more academic, but absolutely fascinating, history of African Americans’ engagement with science during the nineteenth century, when the very concepts of “science” and “scientists” were still emerging

If you’re a PI or a leader in a workplace or campus group, consider selecting some readings to support an ongoing book or journal club. Whatever you do with the day, try to make it something that you can carry on, and build on, when you return to your lab, field site, or classroom.

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Black lives matter — and what that means in ecology and evolutionary biology

We at the Molecular Ecologist affirm that Black lives matter. We join with, and ask our readers to join with, calls for an end to police violence and for justice on behalf of its victims, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, and too many others. We also want to acknowledge that the injustices at the focus of these ongoing protests have deep historical roots, and can only be addressed with transformative work throughout society — particularly including our own fields of research.

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Posted in Action Item, community | 2 Comments

The miraculous biodiversity bubbling in your sourdough starter

I made it through four weeks of Los Angeles’ COVID-19 shelter in place order before I climbed aboard the isolation sourdough bandwagon. It took more effort than expected just to stay on.

I followed a protocol provided on the King Arthur Flour website to ferment my own starter from flour mixed with water. Twice a day, from March into April, I transferred a bit of starter to a fresh jar, and added fresh flour and water, with no apparent progress. I moved the starter around my little kitchen, searching for a sufficiently warm nook. I restarted the whole process from scratch. I ran through two five-pound bags of all-purpose flour I scrounged at a neighborhood grocery store (everyone else in Los Angeles had taken up baking, too), and when, visiting Costco on a friend’s membership, I lucked into a 25-pound sack, I didn’t pause to wonder where I’d find space for it in the pantry.

And then, finally, one afternoon, I checked the jar in the oven (heat off, light on, a nice steady 70°F) and saw that the starter had surged above the rubber band I put around the jar to mark its beginning volume. I baked bread the next day.

I am no manner of microbiologist, but I knew in a general way that sourdough starter is a microbial culture, and the rising is, of course, due to the metabolism of those microbes — carbohydrates in, carbon dioxide out. I also knew enough to recognize the process of establishing a starter as something like a serial passage protocol: sample the microbes in a batch of flour, give them periodic infusions of fresh growth medium, and let them duke it out for supremacy until the population growth rate was enough to leaven a batch of bread. What I am, though, is a molecular ecologist — and so I naturally started wondering what was known about the population and community genetics bubbling in that blue glass jar.

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Posted in community ecology, DNA barcoding, ecology, evolution | Tagged , | Leave a comment

It’s the city life for me… or maybe not.

Michael Fitch wrote this post as part of Dr. Stacy Krueger-Hadfield’s Evolution course at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He completed a B.S. in Biology from the UAB and is currently considering entering the Master’s program.  Current interests… all over the place.

As urban sprawl expands and consumes the last wild places, do we pause to think about the consequences? 

Take apex predators, as an example. How does urbanization affect animals that likely range over large areas?

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Posted in bioinformatics, blogging, community ecology, comparative phylogeography, conservation, ecology, evolution, genomics, mammals, population genetics, Science Communication | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment