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

UH Hilo Biology Department Awards Kayuri Kadoya and Kenton Wandasan for Their Outstanding Merit

May 2017

Based on the recommendations of faculty, Kayuri Kadoya has won the Outstanding Graduating Senior Award for her excellence in academia and for her research at the College of Pharmacy. The Don Hemmes Award, which pays for one year of tuition, has been awarded to Kenton Wandasan who has also achieved high marks throughout his academic career. Congratulations to Kayuri and Kenton!

2017 Student Awardees

Image above: Kayuri Kadoya and Kenton Wandansan

Two undergraduate students, Zachary Geisterfer and Albert Shim, published in Bio-Protocol e-Journal

April 2017

Zachary Geisterfer is a UH Hilo senior, majoring in the Cellular and Molecular Biology track.  Presently, he conducts research in Dr. Li Tao’s laboratory studying the structure and function of centralspindlin, a kinesin complex that organizes the central spindle by bundling microtubules.  Previous microtubule bundling assays did not include ATP, or used a non-hydrolysable ATP analog, which could generate artificial results. In his publication, "In vitro Microtubule Bundling Assay under Physiological Conditions", Zach and his colleagues describe a new technique to overcome the problems above and thus accurately measure the bundling activities (http://www.bio-protocol.org/e2217). Zach has been accepted to the Ph.D. program at the University of Wyoming.

Zachary Geisterfer

Image above: Zachary Geisterfer


Albert Shim is a senior majoring in Chemistry in the Health Sciences track. Albert joined Dr. Li’s laboratory two years ago. His research is focused on the regulation of cell division and gliding assays, an important method in studying cytoskeleton and cell division.  As the lead author, Albert's work, "Gliding Assay to Analyze Microtubule-Based Motor Protein Dynamics" has been published on the latest issue of Bio-Protocol (http://www.bio-protocol.org/e2210).His publication provides the field with the newest updates on gliding assays. Albert has been accepted into the University of Utah School of Dentistry.

Albert Shim

Image above: Albert Shim


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


Professor Matt Knope and colleagues publish papers in the Journal of Fish Biology and in Paleontology

October 2016

To asses the repeatability of an ecological study, Assistant Professor Matt Knope recently led a publication that both partially replicates and extends a previous study on the site fidelity (the likelihood of an animal to stay in one “home”) and homing ability of two abundant and ecologically important species of rocky intertidal sculpin fishes on the Oregon Coast. Knope and colleagues report in their new paper in the Journal of Fish Biology that by using a traditional mark and recapture technique in the field, that they find both species have high site fidelity and homing ability to individual tide pools confirming the findings of previous work. However, unlike in the previous study, they find that body size was not a good predictor of homing ability, but that sex was. In addition, their study extends the maximum homing distance of both species, but finds that homing success was negatively related to displacement distance from the “home” tide pools. These findings suggest that adult sculpin populations are likely to be highly sub-structured geographically, possibly contributing to the exceptionally high species richness of the group.

Click here to read full article.


September 2016

The effects of extinction events are not only caused by the intensity of the taxonomic losses (e.g., the number of species lost at a mass extinction event), but also by the selectivity of the extinction event (e.g., one group of animals being more susceptible to being lost at a mass extinction than another group). Assistant Professor Matt Knope recently co-authored a study in Biology Letters that proposes the use of logistic regression to quantify extinction selectivity, because the selectivity metric is independent of the extinction intensity and multiple predictor variables can be assessed simultaneously. The study uses this statistical technique to illustrate that the end-Permian mass extinction, the largest mass extinction in terms of taxonomic losses in the history of life (~252 million year ago), also had the largest influence on the physiological composition of the fauna. That is, marine animals that had little physiological buffering, or sophistication of their respiratory and circulatory systems (such as polychaete worms, sea cucumbers, and jellyfish), were statistically more likely to go extinct than animals with greater physiological buffering during the end-Permian mass extinction when ocean acidification and anoxia were thought to be widespread. This approach provides an avenue for quantifying the risk posed by the emerging biodiversity crisis that goes beyond simple projection of taxonomic losses.

Click here to read full article.


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…)