The Molecular Ecologist Podcast: A #NewPI chat about teaching, both before and after COVID

A new episode of The Molecular Ecologist Podcast is now out on On this episode, we’re taking our NewPI Chat conversations among early-career faculty to the podcast format. In this chat, Rob Denton, Stacy Krueger-Hadfield, and Jeremy Yoder discuss teaching: the transition from postdoc life to managing classrooms and curricula, juggling instruction time and research — and how all of this has changed while our campuses are locked down to help contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can listen right here on the blog, with the widget below:

To send us questions about life as new PIs, or suggest topics or guests for future chats, you can leave us a voice message from the podcast’s page, hit us up on Twitter or Facebook, or email Jeremy.

You can also find the podcast on Apple PodcastsPocket Casts, and Spotify — or you can add the RSS feed URL directly to your podcast-management app of choice. Whatever service you use, consider taking a moment to rate or even review the podcast, which will help us build an audience.

The music in this episode is Leroy Anderson’s “The Waltzing Cat,” performed on piano by Markus Staab and available under a Creative Commons license via Musopen.

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Asteroids and Pandemics

For whatever reason, viral disease and pandemics have been on my mind, so it’s no surprise that a recent paper in Molecular Ecology caught my attention. It blends the existential dread of global pandemics with the increasing panic concerning the effects of climate change on ocean ecosystems. Doesn’t that sound enticing?! (Incidentally, I’m not the only one fretting about this nexus. For a brief summary on instances of recent emergences of marine diseases, see this New York Times opinion piece.) But first, a little background.

The outbreak of sea star wasting disease (SSWD) on the western coast of the US was first noticed in 2013.  The disease affected 20 different species of sea stars, sub-tidal to intertidal, from the coast of Alaska to Baja, California with high mortality rates (67-99%, depending on the species). To date, there is some anecdotal accounts of recovery in small pockets, but not much.

FIGURE 1 from Hewson et al. (2014) showing A) an asymptomatic Sunflower sea star, Pycnopodia helianthoides B) an asymptomatic Ochre sea star, Pisaster ochraceus C) P. ochraceus succumbing to SSWD D) the geographic occurrences of SSWD and E) an electron transmission micrograph of icosahedral SSaDV virus particles recovered from an affected Evasterias troschelii sample.

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Everything About Ant Reproductive Biology is Bizarre

Sam Gregory wrote this post as a project for Dr. Stacy Krueger-Hadfield’s Scientific Communication course at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Sam 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.

In a recent article, researchers evaluated reproductive systems within Cataglyphis, a genus of desert ants (Kuhn et al., 2020). Two unusual systems had been observed within the genus. To understand Cataglyphis reproduction, though, one must first understand conventional ant reproduction.

The vast majority of ants in a colony are workers. They are female, but infertile. Workers grow from the eggs of the colony’s queen (Wheeler, 2016). A few eggs develop into winged alates – either queens, which are fertile females, or males, which are haploid and hatch from unfertilized eggs (White, 1984). Every year, alates fly from the colony en massein search of mates (Wilson, 1957). Males die soon after mating, and queens maintain the sperm in a specialized organ (Wheeler & Krutzch, 1994), allowing them to fertilize eggs for the rest of their lives, potentially decades in some species (Keller, 1998). Each queen then finds a safe place to hide while her workers reach maturity. In many species, the queen raises her first offspring to adulthood without eating (Keller & Passera, 1989).

Diagram of the standard ant reproductive mode in Camponotus pennsylvanicus by Sam Gregory

This is far more than a string of fun facts. 

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Simple tools for mastering color in scientific figures

Call me a procrastinator but I strongly believe that spending time to select a good color scheme can work miracles with a plot, paper, or presentation. In science, it’s generally not expected that you invest time into a thought process on something like aesthetics. I would dare to go as far as to say that it’s sometimes outright frowned upon if you do. Like if you were less of a scientist for caring if the plot design is good, just as its numbers are.

Needless to say, aesthetics is very subjective and if you do like bright yellow letters on blue background, I can do nothing but secretly roll my eyes. No offense. However, it’s also good to keep in mind that there are some basic principles of color theory, which are valid regardless of personal preference.

This video explains some of the reasons why understanding color is important and how to mix colors in the right way. But you might be asking how is this relevant for non-artists.

When presenting results, both in a Powerpoint presentation and in a figure, we are mostly interested in two things: 1) drawing attention to the most important piece of information that needs to be delivered, and 2) streamlining the flow of information if there are multiple pieces of information. Using the right colors can tremendously help with this.

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The spirit of Antarctic invasions future?

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol during a change in how Victorian England viewed the Christmas holiday. It’s clearly not Christmas … and certainly isn’t a jolly time. But, taking some artistic liberty from how Dickens outlined the five chapters of A Christmas Carol, there’s been a small flurry of papers published on the future of invasions in Antarctica.

Biological invasions, as one consequence of global change, have very real implications for biodiversity on a global scale. Invasions of fungi, terrestrial plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates have occurred over the last 200 years on the Antarctic continent and its surrounding islands (Frenot et al. 2005), but these are largely terrestrial invasions.

Marine invaders have wreaked havoc throughout the world’s oceans and near shore marine communities … is Antarctica the final frontier for invasive marine species?

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Applying for a faculty job is a full-time job – the financial burden

Last week I talked about the ‘workload’ of applying for a tenure-track faculty job (let’s call them TT jobs). This week, I want to talk about a different load – the financial one. This burden was a surprise to me, although in retrospect, it shouldn’t have been. Perhaps the surprise was how much I spent, even if most of it was eventually reimbursed, and how long it took return to a baseline bank balance. For example, my first expense came in early November and my last reimbursement arrived in the middle of April. Again, this post is based on anecdata from my own experience and discussions with friends. Your mileage will vary.

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Bobbing for Bobcats

Catherine Sirgo wrote this post as a part Dr. Stacy Krueger-Hadfield’s Science Communication course at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Catherine is a Master’s Candidate within Dr. Thane Wibbels’ lab researching conservation for the Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin in Alabama. Catherine earned a B.S. in Biological Science from Louisiana State University.

What’s the first thing that pops in your head when you think Bobcats?

Their stumpy tails?

Their screams when fighting? 

Did you know that that they are important predators whose population statuses are used as indicators for functional landscape connectivity in their areas?

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Applying for faculty jobs is a full-time job – The ‘workload’

As a postdoc in the last year of her funding, I’ve spent the last year applying for tenure-track faculty jobs. I’m not ready to talk about the outcome yet, but I do want to talk about the process and what I wish I had known, namely just how much time everything would take, because forewarned is forearmed. I was repeatedly warned that I wouldn’t get much done this year because applying for a tenure track job is a full-time job itself but somehow I was still unprepared for the reality. I track my hours, so for all of you, I am reporting here how much time I spent on each part of this process. Hopefully this post will give you an idea, with concrete numbers from my own experience, of how much time you can plan to invest.

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The Molecular Ecologist Podcast: #StudentSciComm, diversity within an algae bloom, the origins of a vital mutualism, and population genetics in continuous space

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

The Molecular Ecologist Podcast made it to a second episode! Thanks for listening to our first one, and for all the positive comments. In addition to our “home” hosting service,, you can now subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsPocket Casts, and Spotify — or you can add the RSS feed URL directly to your podcast-management app of choice. Whatever service you use, consider taking a moment to rate or even review the podcast, which will help us build an audience.

You can also listen right here on the blog, with the widget below:

Here’s what you’ll find in this episode:

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The Virosphere’s Own Trojan Horse

Melissa Walker wrote this post as a part of Dr. Stacy Krueger-Hadfield’s Science Communication course at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Melissa’s research focuses on the interactions between freshwater biofilms and the viruses that infect them. She is currently developing protocols for harvesting host-phage systems from stream biofilms in order to better understand the role of both lytic and lysogenic phages in the development and persistence of these important communities. Melissa completed a B.S. in Botany at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her career goals focus on bridging the gap between translational medicine and basic science research through novel approaches to and innovative applications of phage-host systems.

Were you ever required to read Homer’s The Iliad?

No need to break it out if you did (or didn’t). The Achaeans ended a 10-year long siege against the Trojans by placing a large hollow wooden gift horse at the city gates under the façade of concession. Meanwhile, their entire army hid inside, creeping out after the evening festivities to slaughter the Trojans in their beds.

The viral ecosphere (also known as the virosphere) presents this same Greek tragedy every single day, an ecological Trojan War.

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