College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

2015 Faculty Grants—Biology

McCook, L., primary investigator

Collaborative Research. Natural History Collections: Magnolia grandiFLORA, Digitally Linking Herbaria to Support Botanical Research and Education in MS

Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Amount: $139,872.00

The National Science Foundation awarded five years of funding to a collaborative project to gather all the plant data from herbaria in the state and to display it in an on-line portal for use by scientists, educators and interested citizens. The resulting data set will be used to develop botanical resources for Mississippi, including a checklist, atlas and field keys, and to address questions regarding invasive species, systematics, biogeography and other research areas. It can be used to develop educational materials for K-12 teachers and students that can be integrated into the existing Mississippi science education framework.

Kiss, J., primary investigator

Novel Explorations into the Interactions Between Light and Gravity Sensing in Plants

Sponsor: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Award Amount: $183,478.00

This grant is for a project to study plant development in a series of spaceflight experiments on the International Space Station. The main goal is to understand basic mechanisms of how plants sense light and gravity. In the long-term, information from this project will provide insight into how to grow plants in the microgravity environment of spaceflight as well as on the Moon and Mars.

Noonan, B. & Nielsen, S., primary investigators

Dissertation Research: Exploring Speciation in Southern Africa: A Comparative Approach using Broadly Distributed and Distantly Related Squamate Reptiles

Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Amount: $18,504.00

Speciation – the formation of a new species – is a central question of evolutionary biology. Scientists strive to understand how the natural processes that promote genetic and biological variation in diverse, natural habitats enable speciation. Local climate and geographic conditions are important components of this question, which often interact with populations, leading them down independent evolutionary paths. This research will reveal the role that shared distribution and ecology has had in structuring the observed patterns and timing of diversification in three, co-distributed, arid-adapted, rock-dwelling lizards native to southern Africa.

Noonan, B. & Jackson, C. & Colston, T., primary investigators

Dissertation Research: Endogenic Microbial Community Structure and its Influence on Community Assembly and Speciation in Squamate Reptiles

Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Amount: $18,419.00

The goal of the project is to understand how communities of species are structured and whether bacterial communities living inside vertebrates might influence how new vertebrate species evolve. The project employs a novel approach to investigating these questions by exploring the evolutionary histories of both the bacteria found in the gut of reptiles and the evolutionary history of the reptile hosts. Additionally, we will test whether the presence of certain bacterial groups helps to drive diversification/speciation by creating greater opportunity for the host (e.g. help with digesting new foods, live in new areas). The data used in this project will be collected from a wide range of reptiles in five countries on three continents.

Day, E., primary investigator

RCN: Enabling Comparative Studies of the Process and Products of Sexual Selection in a Genomic Context

Sponsor: University of Florida/National Science Foundation
Award Amount: $17,716.00

Research Collaborative Networks (RCN) are aimed at developing interdisciplinary collaborations to answer significant scientific questions. This RCN is designed to investigate how animals’ mate choices influence trait adaptation by studying a family of birds called manakins for which we have recently sequenced one species entire genome. Understanding the genes that impact physiology, behavior, and ecosystems is fundamental to tackling basic biological questions. Manakins perform dramatic mating displays that involve significant physical and behavioral adaptions that influence trait evolution in bones, muscles, hormones, and brain and effect species diversification. The RCN allows experts from various biological fields to work with software developers, data management specialist, and genomic pioneers to combine large data sets related to ecology, behavior, and physiology and to apply these resources to understanding the complex relationships between genes and the environment.

Garrick, R., primary investigator

Uncovering Hidden Biodiversity Hotspots in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, USA

Sponsor: National Geographic Society
Award Amount: $16,503.00

Dead-wood-associated invertebrates represent a large proportion of animal biodiversity in forests, and play key roles in nutrient cycling and soil formation. However, we know very little about this ecological community. This project will: (1) survey the dead-wood invertebrates within a global biodiversity hotspot, the Southern Appalachian Mountains, (2) identify environmental variables that are indicators of high biodiversity, and (3) use geo-spatial modeling to predict locations of hidden biodiversity hotspots. As the first in-depth survey of Southern Appalachian dead-wood invertebrates, we will test hypotheses about environmental features that promote high local biodiversity, and provide information to prioritize geographic areas for conservation.

Garrick, R., primary investigator

Uncovering Hidden Biodiversity hotspots in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, USA

Sponsor: Conservation and Research Foundation
Award Amount: $5,000.00

Dead-wood-associated invertebrates represent a large proportion of animal biodiversity in forests, and play key roles in nutrient cycling and soil formation. However, we know very little about this ecological community. This project will: (1) survey the dead-wood invertebrates within a global biodiversity hotspot, the Southern Appalachian Mountains, (2) identify environmental variables that are indicators of high biodiversity, and (3) use geo-spatial modeling to predict locations of hidden biodiversity hotspots. As the first in-depth survey of Southern Appalachian dead-wood invertebrates, we will test hypotheses about environmental features that promote high local biodiversity, and provide information to prioritize geographic areas for conservation.

Hoeksema, J., primary investigator

Collaborative Research: Price Determination in Ectomycorrhizal Symbioses (REU Supplement)

Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Amount: $7,500.00

Trees have essential fungal partners living on their roots, acting as extended root systems into the soil. However, there are hundreds of species of these fungi, and we suspect that they help trees in a variety of ways. We are studying nutrient trading between pine trees and different species of these symbiotic root fungi, to better understand how they affect tree growth and nutrient cycling in forests.

Leary, C., primary investigator

The Effects of Male Courtship Signals on the Endocrine Physiology of Female Green Treefrogs: Cooperation or Manipulation?

Sponsor: American Philosophical Society
Award Amount: $5,000.00

The effects of male courtship signals on the endocrine physiology and behavior of females have traditionally been viewed from a cooperative standpoint. For example, male courtship signals characteristically stimulate the production of sex steroids that increase female receptivity and coordinate reproductive activity between the sexes. Research in the Leary lab has recently shown that the acoustic courtship signals produced by male green treefrogs can stimulate the production of stress hormones in other males. They have also shown that elevated stress hormones diminish female preferences for more “attractive” male vocal signals. They are currently investigating whether male courtship signals alter stress hormone production in females, as they do in males. If so, unattractive males could manipulate the endocrine physiology of females in ways that allow them to gain access to females.

Brewer, J., primary investigator

Ecological Restoration of Natural Fire Regimes in Oak-Hickory Communities at the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center: Stage 11

Sponsor: National Audubon Society, Inc.
Award Amount: $1,500.00

This project will monitor the competitive effects of selected native restoration target plant species on existing patches of an invasive, nonnative grass (Microstegium vimineum) at Strawberry Plains. The proposed research will test hypotheses pertaining to the nature of competition between native and non-native species.

Brewer, J., primary investigator

Testing the Relationship Between Biodiversity and Community Invasibility in a Restored Oak-Hickory Woodland

Sponsor: Sigma Xi, The Scien Rsch Soc
Award Amount: $370.00

similar to above

Brewer, J., primary investigator

Why Don’t Carnivorous Pitcher Plants Occur in Nutrient-Rich Soils? The Relative Importance of Competition and Hypoxia Intolerance

Sponsor: Wetland Foundation
Award Amount: $1,200.00

The carnivorous syndrome in plants has long been hypothesized to be an adaptation for thriving in nutrient-poor solids and more recently as an adaptation for obtaining nutrients in wetland soils. This research tests two alternative hypotheses to explain why carnivorous plants are largely absent from habitats with nutrient-rich soils.