Welcome to the UH Hilo Biology Department

Biology is one of the largest departments at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo with faculty expertise encompassing the disciplines of physiology, microbiology, molecular and population genetics, biostatistics, evolution, cell biology, botany, mycology, tropical forest ecology, conservation biology, marine ecology, and ichthyology. (About the Biology Department…)


News and Events

Dr. Stan Nakanishi publishes Nature Protocols paper with an international team describing methods for sensory and motor experiments using decerebrate adult mice

March 2017

Dr. Nakanishi and colleagues developed a collection of specialized techniques to record from live mice in order to study how the nervous system encodes sensory information, processes those signals, and produces movements in living organism, all without anesthetic complications. Briefly, this set of protocols describes the animal surgery techniques that can be used to study sensory-motor integration in live, adult mice whose brain is removed.

Using this preparation, we can better understand how sensory information is collected, integrated, how we produce complex reflex patterns. We can study cardiovascular and respiratory functions, and learn more about the spinal circuits that coordinate the muscle activity for movements and walking.

Click here to read the entire article.

Mouse model


Dr. Jolene Sutton and colleagues make the front page of the Hawai'i Tribune-Herald for their mosquito research

February 2017

"To protect Hawaiʻi’s unique, imperiled native birds, researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and UH Hilo are teaming up with the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to adapt a ‘birth control’ method used across the U.S. mainland to control mosquitoes. The scientists are taking the first steps to adapt a safe, targeted and efficient mosquito control method known as Incompatible Insect Technique to reduce the population of the disease-carrying mosquitoes that harm native birds in Hawaiʻi."

—A Department of Land and Natural Resources news release

Click here to read full article at UH News.

Click here and here to read full article from Hawaii Tribune Herald.



Hawaiian Honeycreeper, photo credit Hayataro Sakitsu


UHH Biology Graduate Ann Tanimoto and colleagues publish paper on the vocal repertoire of the Hawaiian crow

January 2017

For most avian species, social behavior is critically important for survival and reproductive success.Many social behaviors in birds are culturally transmitted, and as bird populations decline across the globe, important elements of these behaviors may be lost. The Hawaiian crow or'alalā,Corvus hawaiiensis, is a socially complex avian species that is currently extinct in the wild.

As in other oscine passerines, vocalizations in the'alalāmay be culturally transmitted.We compared the vocal repertoire of three of the last four wild'alalāpairs from the early 1990s to three current captive pairs at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center in Volcano, Hawai'i to determine how acoustic behavior has been affected by changes in their social and physical environment.

Click here to read abstract or the links below to read full article:



UH Hilo Stories: Climate Change Research at UH Hilo: Tree rings and Bird song (February 21, 2017)

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science Update (Podcast): Endangered Crow Calls (February 15, 2017)


Dr. Stan Nakanishi publishes PNAS paper on alphaB-crystallin protein and its unique properties of regenerating neurons

December 2016

Nerves send signals throughout our brain, spinal cord, and body. Some nerves send sensory signals to the brain; other nerves send signals that tell our muscles to contract and produce movements. If nerves in the body are damaged, some of the nerves regrow but the recovery is usually incomplete, leading to problems with sensory or movement functions and even neuropathic pain.

The goal of this project was to learn more about a molecule that is important for the regrowth of damaged nerves. The molecule is called alphaB-crystallin (aBC), and this molecule helps nerves regrow after an injury. We found that aBC affects the recovery and regrowth of sensory and motor nerves, and that we can improve the recovery process by adding extra aBC after a nerve injury.

Read full article here.

Title page


UH Hilo Students Sequence Marine Bacterium, Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea, a Symbiont of the Hawaiian Marine Sponge Iotrochota protea

September 2016

UH Hilo Students, Martin Helmkampf, Kehau Hagiwara, Courtney Ip, Brandi Antonio, Ellie Armstrong, and Wesley Ulloa collaborated with Francis Saskia-Kawada of UH Manoa and Jonathan Awaya of the UH Hilo Biology Department to publish their findings on the Hawaiian marine sponge symbiont, Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea.

This study focuses on the biosynthetic pathways of the bacterium and may help to further our understandings of the ecological interactions between the native Hawaiian sponge and its symbiotic microbe.

Dr. Jon Awaya also noted that this research is exciting because it was completely conducted at UH Hilo and by UH students.

Click here to read abstract.

Black sponge


UH Hilo integral to research that forecasts future ocean crisis

September 2016

On the heels of President Barack Obama’s announcement to quadruple the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo has co-authored research on the emerging biodiversity crisis in the world’s oceans. The publication, entitled “Ecological selectivity of the emerging mass extinction in the oceans,” will be included in the September 16 issue of the journal Science.

Matthew Knope collaborated with lead-author Jonathan Payne and Noel Heim of Stanford University, Andrew Bush of the University of Connecticut, and Doug McCauley of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The study compared the ecological traits and extinction threat level of animals in oceans today to the ancient past and concluded that future ecological disruption has the potential to be much greater than with past mass extinctions.

“Even under the most optimistic business-as-usual scenario, vertebrate extinctions could far exceed those of any other time since the end-Cretaceous mass extinction 66 million years ago when the planet was struck by a meteorite leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs,” Knope said.

(Click on News to read entire article)

whale breaching


Please welcome our newest Biology Faculty member, Dr. Matt Knope

August 2016

Matthew Knope is a new Assistant Professor of Biology at UH Hilo. He received a Bachelors degree in Marine Biology with honors from the University of California, Santa Cruz (1999), a Masters degree in Marine Biology from San Francisco State University (2004), and a Ph.D. in Biology from Stanford University (2012). Also at Stanford, he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Dept. of Biology (2012), a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Dept. of Geological and Environmental Sciences (2013-2014), and a Lecturer in the Dept. of Biology (2014-2015). Before joining the faculty at UH Hilo, he was most recently an Assistant Professor of Ecology and Field Biology at the University of San Francisco (2015-2016). He is broadly interested in almost all aspects of biology, but his primary research topics are related to the evolutionary ecology of both marine and terrestrial organisms, in Hawaii and elsewhere. In addition, he is strongly motivated to develop and share innovative teaching methods in the sciences.

Knope photo

Image above: Dr. Matthew Knope


Congratulations to our UH Hilo Biology Students on their Student Achievement Awards!

May 2016

On May 4th, Luke Kupcha won the Outstanding Graduating Senior Award. Heather Coad won the Mae Mull Award for Outstanding Student in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology. Lastly, Dillon Tacdol (not pictured) won the Don Hemmes Award. These students demonstrated excellent academic scholarship and displayed exemplary work in their field. Great job! Congratulations!

Luke Kupcha Heather Coad

Image above: Luke Kupcha and Heather Coad

Dr. Li Tao publishes paper on mitotic mechanisms of the kinesin-6 motor in Nature Communications

April 2016

"Li Tao is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. He is a biochemist and a cell biologist with expertise in using a combination of in vitro biochemistry and in vivo cell biology to understand the regulation of cell division, thus providing insights into the fundamental mechanism to control the growth of cancer cells." - Keauhou


Read full articles below:





Li Tao

Li Tao Lab

Image above: Professor Tao and below: Dr. Tao with his student research assistants (l-r) Gin Tezuka and Luke Kupcha.



(More news and events…)