May 16, 2011

Burke Grad Students Awarded NSF Fellowships!

Congrats to two UW graduate students working with Burke Curator of Genetic Resources and Herpetology, Adam Leache: Matt McElroy and Rebecca Harris! They were recently awarded prestigious National Science Foundation Fellowships. The fellowships strive to fund graduate students who have a history of being successful at research and outreach. The fellowship provides three years of funding, allowing Matt and Rebecca to dedicate more time to research. It’s no wonder they were awarded this prestigious award, they’re both studying really cool things!

Matt is interested in how lizards adapt to different thermal environments and will be traveling to Puerto Rico to study Anolis lizard species.

Matt: “I am interested in how lizards adapt to different thermal environments. Since lizards absorb heat from the sun and their surroundings, the habitat a lizard finds itself in will influence its body temperate and physiological performance. On Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, species of Anolis lizards utilize either cool closed-canopy forests or hot open-canopy habitats. Interestingly, closely related species in this group use different thermal environments, indicating that species may have diversified when populations adapted to different thermal habitats. At some point in Puerto Rico’s past, four species split into eight, and my research aims to understand how and why this happened.”

Matt: “I am really excited to go to Puerto Rico and collect lizards and genetic material for this project. Doing fieldwork is an amazing experience – you learn a lot about new habitats, new animals, new cultures, even new things about yourself. As I prepare for summer fieldwork, you may find me reading articles in the office or practicing my baile de salsa out on the dance floor!”

Rebecca is pursuing how species change through hybridization and how large chunks of DNA are transferred when two different species hybridize.

Rebecca: “Evolution occurs at multiple different levels, including changes in the structure and organization of chromosomes. I’m interested in the role of these changes in speciation and how these large chunks of DNA transfer when two different species hybridize. In 1983, the Pytilia finches, a genus of African finches, were shown to have numerous chromosomal rearrangements, but no technology was available to look any closer at these areas. Now, thanks to the human genome project, there are techniques available to explore the actual nature of these rearrangements – a task made even easier by the completion of the zebra finch genome. My proposed study system is a two Pytilia species thought to be hybridizing in the mountains of Malawi.”