UH Hilo faculty, Dr. Matt Knope, is using his own classroom to examine best practices in undergraduate research experiences

Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 12:38am by

CURE (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences) have proven effective for a wide-variety of student learning objectives and Matt Knope, along with his collaborators at Arizona State, are investigating which model of scientific inquiry results in better outcomes for students. Read the full article for more information.

Dr. Jonathan B. Koch publishes papers in the journals PLoS ONE and Annals of the Entomological Society of America

Thursday, November 29, 2018, 9:51pm by

Dr. Jonathan B. Koch, a David H. Smith Postdoctoral Fellow and Adjunct Assistant Professor at UH Hilo is the lead author of two articles published in the journals PLoS ONE and Annals of the Entomological Society of America. In the journal PLoS ONE, Dr. Koch published “Phylogeny and population genetic analyses reveals cryptic speciation in the Bombus fervidus species complex (Hymenoptera: Apidae).” Cryptic speciation is the process in which organisms share a nearly identical phenotype but belong to different species. In his paper, he uses microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA data to elucidate the evolutionary history of bumble bees in the B. fervidus species complex. He discovers that the complex is made up of two monophyletic lineages that are comprised of bumble bees that have converged on color phenotypes. His research has broad implications to the conservation and management of these North American bumble bee species.

In the journal Annals of the Entomological Society of America, he published “A preliminary assessment of bumble bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae) habitat suitability across protected and unprotected areas in the Philippines”. In this paper, he constructs habitat suitability models of two bumble bee species that live the Philippines, Bombus flavescens and B. irisanensis. He discovers that their habitat is broadly distributed in the Philippines, but is threatened with deforestation. Both articles are open access, and can be downloaded from https://hilo.hawaii.edu/go/3Z and https://hilo.hawaii.edu/go/41. Dr. Koch, the Principal Investigator of the nalo meli ‘āpa‘akuma project, explores useful ways to use genomic data to guide the management and conservation of endemic Hawaiian bees.

UH Hilo Assistant Professor Jolene Sutton and colleagues are awarded Marsden Fund for research on endangered birds

Thursday, November 8, 2018, 2:39am by

UH Hilo Assistant Professor Jolene Sutton along with colleagues from University of Otago (New Zealand), University of Sydney (Australia), and San Diego Zoo Global have been awarded a Marsden Fund for their project, “Resolving the genomic architecture of hatching failure to improve conservation of endangered birds”. The award will provide 933,000$NZD (~630,000$USD) over three years. 

Abstract: “Egg-hatching failure is a frustrating reality in endangered bird conservation. Many eggs fail to hatch due to reduced fitness of individuals with related parents (inbreeding depression). Despite decades of research on the topic, management guidelines often simply state “avoid inbreeding”. We need to do better. We take advantage of recent advances in molecular genetics and bioinformatics to discover the genomic architecture of hatching failure in two iconic endangered birds: ‘Alalā (Hawai‘i) and Kākāpō (New Zealand). These two species are powerful model systems for uncovering the cause of hatching problems that plague many species: both species have long-term pedigree data, detailed fitness records, extensive high quality genomic resources, and large numbers of samples (including embryos that died in the egg) for analysis. We will also capitalize on a growing number of published avian reference genomes to undertake comparative analysis and enable our results to be applied more broadly. By combining massive datasets in this way, we are uniquely placed to make the most of recent molecular and analytical advances and uncover why inbreeding leads to hatching failure. Our study will make a fundamental contribution to the understanding of hatching success in birds, and offer much-needed management options for endangered species conservation.”

Dr. Li Tao Receives NIH INBRE IV Junior Investigators Award

Wednesday, October 17, 2018, 6:15pm by

Assistant Professor Li Tao has received an INBRE IV Junior Investigators (JIs) Award for his project, “Structural and Functional Analysis of Centralspindlin”. The INBRE IV JIs Award will provide substantial funding for up to 3 years at $100,000/year in direct costs. The Tao’s lab will center its research on the molecular mechanism through which centralspindlin regulates cytokinesis. Abnormal cell division (mitosis) causes cancer. Understanding the mechanism of cell division and its regulation has thus become a key to finding cures for cancer. Cytokinesis is the last gate to control cell division. Cytokinesis is dominated by a motor complex, centralspindlin. However, little is known of the structure and function of centralspindlin. This project will address a significant knowledge gap on the regulation of cytokinesis. It will also provide clues for the development of new anti-cancer therapies.

In photo: The Tao Lab (2018). L-R: Li Tao, Joshua Lawcock, Chelsea Blaquera, Marilyn Yamamoto, Kathleen Shon, and Jamae Balagot.

TCBES student Gary Sur publishes work from his undergraduate research!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018, 1:57am by

Congratulations to Gary Sur for publishing work from his undergraduate research with his supervisor Elizabeth Stacy and co-authors! Their paper, “Leaf Micromorphology Aids Taxonomic Delineation within the Hypervariable Genus Metrosideros (Myrtaceae) on O’ahu“, was published in the July 2018 issue of Pacific Science
Using scanning electron and light microscopy, Sur examined leaves from each of 10 O‘hia varieties along an elevational gradient. He found that stomatal complex and secretory structure traits were able to differentiate all four glabrous varieties, and two of the three pubescent varieties. These results indicate that variation in leaf micromorphology can aid delimitation of closely related Hawaiian O‘hia, and may reflect local adaptations across a heterogeneous landscape.
Sur is a Conservation Genomics Research Group member and MSc candidate in the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science program.

SEM of Leaf Stomata in Metrosideros

Scanning electron micrograph of leaf stomata

SEM of Leaf Stomata in Metrosideros

Biology Scientists awarded NSF Grant for Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death Research

Tuesday, August 14, 2018, 10:51pm by

ʻApapane on an ‘Ōhiʻa branch
An ‘Apapane on an ‘Ōhiʻa branch

Drs. Kristina Paxton and Patrick Hart were awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Grants for Rapid Response Research (RAPID) to assess the impact of Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death on Hawaiian forest birds. The project is entitled: “RAPID: Cascading effects of rapid and widespread mortality of a foundation tree species on animal communities in Hawaiʻi”
Rapid ‘Ōhiʻa Death or ROD, is a fungal pathogen causing rapid and widespread mortality of ‘Ōhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha), a foundation tree species in Hawaiian forests. ROD poses a serious threat to Hawaiʻi’s remaining native forests and the plants and animals that depend on ‘Ōhiʻa. Research focused on ROD to-date has been concentrated on understanding the pathology of the disease, how ROD is spread, and the impacts of ROD on ‘Ōhiʻa trees. However, there has not been an examination of how ROD is affecting animal communities reliant on ‘Ōhiʻa forests. ‘Ōhiʻa is an important nesting substrate and food resource for both insectivorous and nectarivorous Hawaiian forest birds, 57% of which are threatened or endangered, and there is no substitute for the volume, geographic spread, and year-round source of nectar provided by ‘Ōhiʻa. Given the foundational role of ‘Ōhiʻa in Hawaiian forest communities as the dominant tree in the canopy, the widespread or total loss of ‘Ōhiʻa would likely be catastrophic for endemic Hawaiian forest birds.

This project will use advances in recording technology to continuously record, over an extended period of time, the entire sound-producing animal community (i.e., biophony of a soundscape) within ‘Ōhiʻa forests across Hawaiʻi Island. By using soundscape analysis tools developed within the growing field of soundscape ecology the researchers will be able to rapidly assess changes in the biodiversity of audible birds, insects, and amphibian species associated with mortality of ʻŌhiʻa across the landscape. The research will also evaluate whether the diversity and composition of understory plant species moderates how reliant animal communities respond to the loss of a dominant forest tree species. The use of soundscape indices to model biodiversity following the loss of a foundation species represents a novel and relatively rapid method for assessing ecological change and would be applicable in a range of ecosystems outside Hawaiʻi.

UH Hilo conservation biologists use high-tech acoustics to study Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death impact on forest animals

Wednesday, August 8, 2018, 12:13am by

A fungal disease is ravaging native forests on Hawai‘i Island, killing huge swaths of ʻōhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha), the most abundant native tree in the state of Hawaiʻi. On Hawaiʻi Island, hundreds of thousands of ʻōhiʻa have already died from the fungus, Ceratocystis. Healthy trees die within a few days to a few weeks, hence the name Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death or ROD. The disease has killed trees in all districts of Hawaiʻi Island and has the potential to kill ʻōhiʻa trees statewide.

So far, ROD research has concentrated on understanding the pathology of the disease, how it is spread, and the impacts of it on ‘ōhi‘a trees. But the decimation of the trees is destroying native forests as a whole, and in turn, posing a serious threat to the plants and animals that depend on healthy ecosystems created by ‘ōhi‘a trees.

This summer, UH Hilo biologists started a one-year study on the effects of ROD on animal communities in Hawaiʻi. The research is funded by a $197,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Grants for Rapid Response Research or RAPID program. The project is entitled “RAPID: Cascading effects of rapid and widespread mortality of a foundation tree species on animal communities in Hawai‘i.”

“[T]here has not been an examination of how ROD is affecting animal communities reliant on ‘ōhi‘a forests, which is an important nesting substrate and food resource for both insectivorous and nectarivorous Hawaiian forest birds, 57 percent of which are threatened or endangered,” explains lead scientist on the study Kristina Paxton, an adjunct assistant professor in the UH Hilo tropical conservation biology and environmental science program. “Given the foundational role of ‘ōhi‘a in Hawaiian forests as the dominant tree in the canopy, widespread or total loss of ‘ōhi‘a would likely be catastrophic for endemic Hawaiian forest birds.”

Acoustics: Recording the animal sounds of the forest as an indicator of biodiversity

Paxton is working on the study with colleague Patrick Hart, a UH Hilo professor of biology and a specialist in conservation of Hawaiian forests and forest birds. The team will be basing the research on high-tech recorded acoustics—bird song and other animal sounds of the forest—using technology out of the UH Hilo bioacoustics lab called the Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems or LOHE, which was founded by Hart.

Paxton says the project will use advances in recording technology to continuously record over an extended period of time the entire sound-producing animal community within ‘ōhi‘a forests across Hawaiʻi Island.

Lab logo with bird and whale and the words: Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems, LOHE Bioacoustics Lab, University of Hawaii at Hilo.“By using soundscape analysis tools developed within the growing field of soundscape ecology, we will be able to rapidly assess changes in the biodiversity of audible birds, insects, and amphibian species associated with the mortality of ōhi‘a across the landscape,” she says.

The research also will evaluate whether the diversity and composition of understory plant species moderates how reliant animal communities respond to the loss of a dominant forest tree species.

Paxton says the use of soundscape to assess ecological change could serve as a model in studying a range of ecosystems outside Hawaiʻi.

LOHO logo, with bird flying above, whale below - a waveform between them
LOHE Bioacoustics Laboratory at UH Hilo

Drs. Jolene Sutton, Martin Helmkampf, and Renee Bellinger publish paper on the Hawaiian crow genome on the cover of Genes

Wednesday, August 1, 2018, 8:35pm by

Drs. Jolene Sutton, Martin Helmkampf, and Renee Bellinger of the Conservation Genomics Research Group, along with collaborators from the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation ProgramSan Diego Zoo Global, and PacBio publish in Genes. The article, “A high-quality, long-read de novogenome assembly to aid conservation of Hawaii’s last remaining crow species” describes the high-quality reference genome that was generated to assist recovery efforts for the ‘Alalā, one of the world’s most endangered bird species. The quality of this assembly places it amongst the very best avian genomes assembled to date, comparable to intensively studied model systems. 

Researchers and conservationists are currently using this resource to better understand genetic diversity in the ‘Alalā, and to develop tools that will help inform strategic pairings as part of the conservation-breeding program. This genome assembly is now publicly available. This paper is the “Feature Article” of the August 2018 issue of Genes, and belongs to the special issue, “Conservation Genetics and Genomics” and is also published in PACBIO, titled “Dying Breeds: How Scientists Can Save Species Through Genetics“.

Cover of Genes with ʻAlalā bird, Volume 9, Issue 8, August 2018. Impact Factor 30.191. Title is "A High-Quality, Long-Read De Novo Genome Assembly to Aid Conservation of Hawai'i's Last Remaining Crow Species".

Drs. Jolene Sutton, Martin Helmkampf, and Renee Bellinger publish paper on the Hawaiian crow genome on the cover of Genes

Wednesday, August 1, 2018, 12:15am by

Drs. Jolene Sutton, Martin Helmkampf, and Renee Bellinger of the Conservation Genomics Research Group, along with collaborators from the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation ProgramSan Diego Zoo Global, and PacBio publish in Genes. The article, “A high-quality, long-read de novogenome assembly to aid conservation of Hawaii’s last remaining crow species” describes the high-quality reference genome that was generated to assist recovery efforts for the ‘Alalā, one of the world’s most endangered bird species. The quality of this assembly places it amongst the very best avian genomes assembled to date, comparable to intensively studied model systems. 

Hawaiian Crow closeup

Researchers and conservationists are currently using this resource to better understand genetic diversity in the ‘Alalā, and to develop tools that will help inform strategic pairings as part of the conservation-breeding program. This genome assembly is now publicly available. This paper is the “Feature Article” of the August 2018 issue of Genes, and belongs to the special issue, “Conservation Genetics and Genomics.

Dr. Jonathan B. Koch publishes papers the journals Ecology and Evolution and in Molecular Ecology

Tuesday, July 17, 2018, 11:27pm by

Recent Smith Conservation Fellowship awardee and member of the Conservation Genomics Research Group at UH Hilo, Dr. Jonathan Koch, was lead author on an article published in the July 2018 edition of the journal, Ecology and Evolution. The article, “Quaternary climate instability is correlated with patterns of population genetic variability in Bombus huntii” examines how 22,000 years of historic climate variability has influenced patterns of population genetic diversity in an agriculturally important bumble bee species in North America. The article is open access, and can be read in full by clicking on the link below. Dr. Koch was also a co-author on an article published in a June 2018 edition of the journal, Molecular Ecology. The article, “Distance, elevation, and environment as drivers of diversity and divergence in bumble bees across latitude and altitude” examines fine-scale patterns of genomic diversity in a widely-distributed bumble bee species in western North America using reduced-representation genome sequencing and bioinformatics. A link to the abstract of this article is below. Feel free to contact Dr. Koch if you would like access to his personal copies. Dr. Koch, the Principal Investigator of the nalo meli ‘āpa‘akuma project, explores useful ways to use genomic data to guide the management and conservation of endemic Hawaiian bees.

 

Koch et al. 2018 | https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ece3.4294

Jackson et al. 2018 | https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mec.14735