Biology Department News
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.
The extinction threat in the modern oceans was found to be strongest for animals of larger body size, whereas past mass extinction events in the oceans did not preferentially drive large animals extinct. Knope and his colleagues said large-bodied animals are critical to ecosystem function as they tend to be at the top of food webs and are important for nutrient cycling and turning over the sediments on the sea floor. This study further suggests that human fishing and hunting are currently the dominant threats to marine animals.
“This is undoubtedly due to man targeting larger species for consumption first,” Knope noted. “It is consistent with the tendency for fisheries to first exploit larger species and subsequently move down the food web and target smaller species.”
The publication of their findings comes not only on the heels of President Obama’s announcement of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument expansion, but on the President’s recent visit to Hawai’i to address members of the World Conservation Congress and discuss marine conservation issues.
Their study suggests that only a dramatic shift in the business-as-usual course for marine management can head off a mass extinction of sufficient intensity and ecological impact to rank among the largest mass extinctions in the history of the planet. Knope and his colleagues hope that President Obama’s move to dramatically expand Papahanaumokuakea may provide the kind of positive model for future conservation actions needed to curtail this pending mass extinction.
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 Hawaiʻi and elsewhere. In addition, he is strongly motivated to develop and share innovative teaching methods in the sciences.
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!
“Li Tao is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Hawaiʻi 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
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Dr. Jolene Sutton received her Ph.D. from the University of Otago in 2013. She then worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher at UH Mānoa until joining the Biology Department at UH Hilo in 2016. Her research area is Molecular and Conservation Genetics, with a specific focus on immunity genes.
UH Hilo’s newest Biology faculty member, Dr. Jolene Sutton, sequences rare Hawaiian crow’s genome that will assist in conservation efforts
“In collaboration with PacBio, scientists at San Diego Zoo Global and the University of Hawaiʻi, Hilo have fully sequenced the genome of the ‘Alalā, or Hawaiian crow and shared the results of this effort at the recent annual Plant and Animal Genomics XXIV Conference in San Diego. The ʻAlalā was once reduced to a population of about 20 birds, and the sequencing of the species’ genome will be important to track any genetic challenges that may occur due to the reduced genetic diversity now seen in the species.” – Zoological Society of San Diego.
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Biology’s 2008 “Outstanding Senior Biology Major,” Melissa Johnson, publishes her M.S. research results
Melissa Johnson, UH Hilo Biology Department alumna and “Outstanding Senior Biology Major 2008” has just published her first peer-reviewed, lead-author paper, “Postzygotic barriers isolate sympatric species of Cyrtandra (Gesneriaceae) in Hawaiian montane forest understories.” The paper, which was coauthored by members of the Departments of Biology and Geography, is highlighted as an “Editor’s choice” article in the November 2015 issue of the American Journal of Botany. The paper results from her M.S. thesis in UH Hilo’s TCBES Graduate Program, which she defended in 2011. Currently, Melissa is continuing her studies on Cyrtandra as a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University.
At the end of November, 24 Biology students participated in Service Learning with Kulia Potter who advocates for education of indigenous Hawaiian culture through moʻolelo (storytelling) of Hawaiian history and the propagation of native Hawaiian plants and Polynesian introduced plants. On this trip, students cleared land, planted ʻulu trees and taro, and had fun too!
Biology senior Merritt Burch just returned from her NSF funded REU internship at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Biology senior Merritt Burch just returned from her NSF funded REU internship at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln where she studied snRNA processing and miRNA regulation in Arabidopsis thaliana. Burch helped identify mutants defective in pollen and embryo development and showed the critical importance of C-terminal domain processing of snRNAs in the plant’s development.
UH Hilo’s Student, Gary Sur, presents his research on Hawaiian Metrosideros at the BOTANY 2015 Conference
Spring Biology graduate, Gary Sur, presented his research on Leaf Micromorphological Variation in Hawaiian Metrosideros at “Botany 2015” in Edmonton, Alberta, in July. Gary was one of just 12 undergraduates selected from across the country to participate in the Botanical Society of America’s PLANTS program this year. He will continue research as a TCBES student this fall. Go Gary!