Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology

Recent EEOB Graduate Student Spotlights

Graduate student receives GLEON fellowship

PhD candidate Ana (Mindy) Morales was recently awarded a graduate fellowship from the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON). The GLEON Graduate Fellows Program, funded by the NSF Macrosystems Biology Program, trains graduate fellows in technical, conceptual, and analytical skills critical to carry out macrosytem biology and network science. Mindy was chosen to participate in this program based on her dissertation work in algal phenology and carbon cycling using high frequency sensor monitoring.

Graduate student takes advantage of the web in recent dissertation presentation

Graduate student Elizabeth Bach recently presented her Ph.D. dissertation, Community connections: Linking soil habitat and microbial communities with ecosystems processes, live on the web.


EEOB graduate student talks prairie restoration

Graduate student Lauren Sullivan discuss her work at the Oakridge Research and Education Prairie on Local Talk of KHOI.


EEOB graduate student recipient of Leopold Center award

Graduate student Elizabeth Bach was awarded a grant from the Ecological Systems and Research Initiative of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.  The funded project will compare soil fungal communities between row crop agroecosystems and restored prairie plantings managed for bioenergy production.  Additionally, these data will be integrated with additional molecular and ecosystem data to elucidate the role of soil fungi in ecosystem functions such as carbon sequestration, nitrogen retention, greenhouse gas emissions, and harvestable bioenergy stock.  Initial funding for the project was obtained from a Lois F. Tiffany grant.

EEOB graduate student recipient of NSF DDIG

Modern biology was founded on Charles Darwin’s principle of “descent with modification”. Closely related species share similarities in size and form of their body plans. However, in some cases, distantly related species also share similar traits. This exception to the rule has puzzled biologists and raises the question: to what extent is evolution repeatable and predictable? In 2013, PhD student Antonio Cordero was awarded the NSF-DDIG to address this fundamental question. He will examine the developmental underpinnings of repeated morphological evolution in turtles.

EEOB graduate student recipient of NSF DDIG

Ph.D. candidate Ali Berens was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant for her work on visual communication in social wasps.

Very few animals, mostly humans and other primates, are known to have a special ability to recognize each other’s faces.  How is this impressive feat of learning accomplished?  Until now, ethical and technical limitations have made it difficult to study the ways in which animals’ brains and genes permit them to recognize faces.  Ali Berens is studying a surprising new animal system to delve into how facial recognition works on the level of brains and genes.

Remarkably, several species of social paper wasps (Polistes) possess this ability.  Like humans, certain wasp species are veritable geniuses in their ability to remember other wasps’ faces.  Polistes fuscatus wasps (top left) have striking variation in facial color patterns and they can learn faces much more readily than other visual patterns. Polistes metricus (top right) does not have facial variation and lacks the special ability to learn faces more readily than other patterns.

These two species with contrasting facial recognition abilities provide a unique opportunity to study the relationship between genes, brains and this ability.  Wasps of each species can be trained to recognize faces or non-face patterns. Berens, along with advisor Amy Toth and collaborator Elizabeth Tibbetts (Michigan), will use “next generation” sequencing to measure the activity of thousands of genes in these wasps’ brains (bottom) to determine whether there are particular genes associated with facial recognition. Berens can then manipulate gene activity in wasps’ brains in order to determine whether such a change can improve or impair wasps’ facial recognition abilities.

EEOB graduate student recipient of ASPT award

Ph. D. candidate, Lakshmi Attigala was selelcted from 48 competitve proposals for one of the ASPT General Graduate Student Research Awards. American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) provide 10-15 awards to support young scientists, both master’s and doctoral levels in the field of plant systematics for field work, herbarium travels, and/or laboratory research.

Attigala's proposed study focuses on understanding phylogenetic relationships within the Sri Lankan Arundinaria clade and among the other temperate woody bamboo clades and investigating the potential role of hybridization in the evolution of native Sri Lankan Arundinaria species.


This study will help to update the classification of the temperate woody bamboos, especially the generic status of the Sri Lankan species. The results obtained from this study and other Sri Lankan Arundinaria related information, especially morphological data and related images, will be available through the Bamboo Biodiversity website and a more general grass evolution website that is under construction with the supervision of Dr. Lynn Clark.

EEOB graduate student recipient of the NSF DDIG Award

Ph.D. candidate, Sarah Hargreaves was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant for her work with soil micro-organisms.

Soil microorganisms carry out many processes that are vital for maintaining productive soils and sustainable agricultural lands. For example, they recycle nutrients and regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Little is known, however, about the distribution of microorganisms across the landscape.

To address this knowledge gap, Hargreaves' research focuses on identifying factors that influence the distribution and function of microorganisms at small and broader spatial scales. Results from her project will generate data for modeling soil microbes and the processes that they perform.

In turn, these models will inform management decisions that promote soil carbon and nitrogen retention and minimize greenhouse gas emissions. 

EEOB graduate student recipient of the 2013-2014 Brown Graduate Fellowship

Alison King is the recent recipient of the Brown Graduate Fellowship. King will receive $10,000 to partially fund her graduate studiees and current research.

The Brown Graduate Fellowship is intended to advance ISU research in the areas of study which include science, agriculture, and space science. Graduate students who show a high level of excellence in both their studies and research are those chosen for the fellowship.

Graduate student's work featured on Living on Earth with Steve Curwood

Rory Telemeco was featured on the weekly news and information program distributed by Public Radio International. In this broadcast, Telemeco discusses climate change and its imapct on Painted Turtles.


Graduate studen locates potentially new lichen species for Iowa.

Despite over 130 years of investigation, knowledge of Iowa lichen diversity and distribution is limited.  Currently available data suggest approximately 450 lichen species have been recorded for Iowa. Working with Dr. James T. Colbert, Amy Podaril has identified a potentially new lichen species for Iowa.

Full Article

Ask the Tribune features grad student prairie project

Recent questions regarding the pvc piping on Ontario Street and Schnoll Road prompted an Ask the Tribune article regarding a prairie reconstruction project by three EEOB graduate students.

Full Article

TogetherGreen fellowship awarded to EEOB graduate student, Lauren Sullivan

Lauren Sullivan, graduate student in ecology, evolution and organismal biology, was awarded the TogetherGreen fellowship for her vision of community involvement in prairie restoration.

TogetherGreen, a conservation initiative of The National Audubon Society and Toyota, selected 40 people nationwide to receive a $10,000 grant.

Full Article

EEOB students receive Teaching Excellence Award

The Teaching Excellence Awards recognize and encourage outstanding achievement by graduate students in teaching. Only 10% of students teaching during the awarded semester are recognized. For Fall of 2011, EEOB was honored to be the home of three recipients, John Doudna, Adam Kuester, and Matthew Karnatz.

PhD student receives NSF GK-12 Fellowship

Tim Mitchell, a PhD candidate in Fredric Janzen's lab, is bringing his science experience to a Des Moines middle school classroom each week.  Mitchell, supported through an NSF GK-12 Fellowship, works with students on designing science experiments, analyzing data, and interpreting results.   This collaboration between research scientists and classrooms is beneficial for the middle school students, the graduate student and the science teacher, as they all learn a lot from one another.

EPA STAR fellows attend conference

EEOB PhD candidates Leanne Martin and Rory Telemeco recently attended the EPA STAR Fellowship conference in Washington, D.C. where they met with U.S. Representative Tom Latham of Iowa's 4th Congressional District. While meeting with Latham, Martin and Telemeco were able to share the role of the EPA STAR fellowship in funding graduate students that perform policy-relevant scientific research at Iowa State University.

PhD student gains valuable experience through the Knaphus Teaching Fellowship

John Doudna, a doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology, was 2011 recipient of the Knaphus Teaching Fellowship. The fellowship was established in honor of George Knaphus and provides one graduate student the opportunity to teach Biology 101 over the summer semester.

Doudna said, "The Knaphus fellowship is a rare and rewarding experience.  It gave me the opportunity to design, implement, and evaluate a non-majors introductory biology course under the mentorship of Dr. Jim Colbert."

He also stated, "The experience was humbling. I learned more pedagogical strategy from teaching this four-week course than I have in all of my years as a graduate teaching assistant.  This experience has improved my teaching skills as well as the trajectory of my academic career. "

PhD Student, Pairett, receives research award

PhD student Autum Pairett was awared the Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid research award to study the interactions between opsin and its G-protein in the phototransduction pathway. The award is a highly competitive application process and only approximately 20% of applicants receive any level of funding.

PhD Student, Fuentes Ramirez, receives scholarship

PhD student Andres Fuentes Ramirez received support through the Chile Scholarship System. This system supports the formation and training of advanced degrees for students in foreign academic institutions of excellence in all areas of knowledge and in any country in the world except Chile. With a total of 6745 applications, only 325 Master's students and 439 PhD students were selected based on their academic excellence in their field of research.

PhD Student, Lakshmi Attigala, receives Lois H. Tiffany Scholarship

The Lois H. Tiffany Scholarship is awarded to graduate students to support research , either field or lab, work in the fields of evolution, systematics or ecology. Attigala will use this award to study the natural hybridization and potential use of low copy nuclear markers in phylogenetic inference of native Sri Lankan woody bamboos with an emphasis on Arundinaria. According to Attigala, "the data obtained can be used to answer questions related to historical biogeography as biogeographic patterns in this region provide an ideal model for testing long-lasting debate between Gondwanan vicariance and long dispersal explanation and also in conservation of Sri Lankan native bamboo diversity."

Lois H. Tiffany Scholarship Information