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Center for Biodiversity Research (CBio)

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Memphis, TN 38111 USA


CBio News

March, 2020:

Dr. John Tooker from Penn State University spoke on Wednesday, March 4, from 12-130 pm in the FedEx Institute. His talk was titled: Toxic Slugs Chart a Path Back to Integrated Pest Management.

Conservation-based agriculture is being heavily adopted in the certain regions of the U.S. to help reduce erosion and provide other benefits. No-till farming and diverse rotations that include cover crops are the primary ingredients in current interests in conservation agriculture. Unfortunately, many farmers are inadvertently handicapping their production systems by overusing pesticides, particularly insecticides. Dr. Tooker’s team has revealed that Integrated Pest Management is a key component to maximizing the production of these conservation-based systems.

Dr. John Tooker is an Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Entomology at Pennsylvania State University. His research group studies relationships among plants, invertebrate herbivores, and natural enemies to understand factors that regulate populations of herbivorous insects and slugs. The long- term goal of his research is to exploit ecological interactions for sustainable insect pest management.

March, 2020:

Congratulations to graduate student Malle Carrasco-Harris (Cole Lab), who successfully defended her PhD thesis titled: The spatial ecology and genetics of copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) in an urban forest. Two papers reporting on this work are in press (see below).

Carrasco-Harris M.F., D. Bowman, S. Reichling, and J.A. Cole. 2020. Spatial ecology of copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) in response to urban park trails. Journal of Urban Ecology.

Carrasco-Harris M.F., J. R. Mandel, C. M. Siniscalchi, S. Reichling, and J.A. Cole. 2020. Population genetics of Copperhead Snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) within an urban forest. Herpetological Review 51(1).

March, 2020:

Graduate student Kate Parsley (Sabel Lab) was

chosen by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) as a 2020 Plantae Fellow.


Fellows are chosen to nurture and expand the community of plant scientists on, a plant science networking site sponsored and created by the ASPB. Kate will primarily be involved in collecting, creating, and contributing science communication, education, and outreach resources as well as facilitating discussions and interactions surrounding these topics. For more information:

March, 2020:

Graduate student Kate Parsley (Sabel Lab) was recently interviewed for the Talaterra podcast, a program run by Tania Marien about freelance educators working in natural resource fields and environmental education (see:


Kate’s research about plant blindness was featured due to its potential implications for environmental literacy, conservation education, and community outreach efforts related to botany education. Her interview can be found here:

March, 2020:

Information about the Memphis Area Climate Action Plan is available online.

January, 2020:

McKenna Lab publishes a major paper on arthropod genomes in Genome Biology.

The evolutionary innovations of arthropods – the most diverse group of animals on Earth – are as numerous as they are fascinating, from fangs, silk and stingers to exquisitely colored wings and ingenious feats of engineering. Some arthropods contribute vital ecosystem services, including pollination and decomposition, while others are pests of agriculture or spread diseases. An international team of scientists, including researchers from the McKenna Lab, report the results from a project designed to kickstart the sequencing of genomes from thousands of arthropod species (the Insect 5,000 Genomes Project; i5k). The gene families found to be most dynamically changing in arthropod genomes encode proteins linked to digestion, chemical defence and the building and remodelling of chitin - the major constituent of the arthropod exoskeleton. Newly evolved gene families underlie functions known to be important in different arthropod groups, including visual learning and behavior, pheromone and odorant detection, neuronal activity and wing development.

UM press release:

Published paper:

Select news stories:

December, 2019:

Brown Lab Research Featured in the New Scientist

Dr. Shawn Brown, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, was recently interviewed by the New Scientist, who wrote a story about his research on the microbes that live in snow. The New Scientist is a weekly print and digital magazine that reaches over 4 million readers. You can read the story at the following link:

November, 2019:

McKenna Lab publishes major paper on beetle genomics and evolution in PNAS

Dr. Duane McKenna, William Hill Professor of Biological Sciences, published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, titled: “The Evolution and Genomic Basis of Beetle Diversity”. The paper details how ancient horizontal transfers of microbial genes to beetle genomes set the stage for beetle diversification. The study was funded in part by NSF, and involves researchers from Australia, Austria, China, Germany, Russia, and the US, working at the leading edge of large-scale genomic data generation, analysis, and integration. UM co-authors included postdocs Seunggwan Shin & Dave Clarke, graduate student Cristian Beza, and undergraduate Peyton Murin.

UM press release:

Published paper:

Select news stories: (begins at 31:15)

November, 2019:

CBio announces Biodiversity Scholars Award Program for incoming PhD students

See here for more information.

October, 2019:

Cristian Beza successfully completed his PhD dissertation defense. Dissertation title: Island Biogeography in the continental New World Tropics: Reconstructing the phylogeny & evolution of the Mesoamerican Bess Beetle tribe Proculini (Coleoptera: Passalidae). CBio Director Duane McKenna was Cristian's major advisor. His other committee members (all CBio Associates) were Randy Bayer, Keith Bowers, Jennifer Mandel, and Matt Parris.

October, 2019:

Adam Ramsey successfully completed his PhD dissertation defense. Dissertation title: Considering cytonuclear interactions in the face of heteroplasmy: evidence from Daucus carota (Apiaceae), A gynodieoceous plant species. CBio Assistant Director Jennifer Mandel was Adam's major advisor. His other committee members were Randy Bayer (CBio), Judy Cole, Duane McKenna (CBio), and Anna-Bess Sorin.

Fall, 2019:

Alex Mueller, a recent MS graduate of the Bowers Lab, published a paper in Canadian Journal of Zoology describing how supplemental nestboxes can greatly augment breeding densities of Prothonotary Warblers. A habitat specialist, the abundance of this species has declined significantly in recent decades because of habitat loss.


Published paper:

October, 2019:

Dr. Carolina Siniscalchi, Research Associate in the Mandel Lab, published a paper in Frontiers in Plant Science, “Phylogenomics Yields New Insight Into Relationships Within Vernonieae (Asteraceae)”


Photo: Chresta speciosa (Asteraceae) and Colibri serrirostris (Trochilidae), photo credit Carolina Siniscalchi.


Published paper:

October, 2019:

Dr. Emily Puckett, Asst. Professor of Biological Sciences, attended the 2nd International Sun Bear Symposium in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia with support from a CBio Seed Grant.

Sun bears are vulnerable to extinction due to habitat loss, high hunting pressures, and capture for pets.  You can read more about Dr. Puckett’s trip here.


Photo credit: Emily Puckett.

September, 2019:

Dr. Duane McKenna, Professor of Biological Sciences and CBio Director, attended the 9th Insect Phylogeny Meeting in Dresden, Germany.


Photo: Duane McKenna & collaborator Na Ra Shin (Max Planck Inst. for Chemical Ecology; Jena, Germany).

September, 2019:

Drs. Carolina Siniscalchi and Ram Thapa traveled to Washington, DC and the National Museum of Natural History to collaborate with researchers and make collections in the U.S. National Herbarium, funded by a CBio Seed Grant.

September, 2019:

Dr. Stephanie Haddad, Research Assistant Professor, has joined the Department of Biological Sciences. Dr. Haddad will contribute to research development for the McKenna Lab and CBio.

September, 2019:

Dr. Robert (Bort) Edwards joins the Mandel Lab

Dr. Edwards will contribute to ongoing work on the phylogeny and evolution of Asteraceae in the lab of Dr. Jennifer Mandel, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, and CBio Assistant Director. Dr. Edwards will split his time between Memphis and the Smithsonian Institution, which is the home institution for Dr. Mandel's other major collaborator on this project.

July, 2019:

NSF-REU undergraduate student Jorge Gomez presents at his first Botany Conference in Tucson, AZ.


Title: "The Evolutionary Relationships in Pertyeae (Asteraceae) inferred from Hyb-Seq Data"

April, 2019:

CBio faculty & students attend ASB Meeting

The Annual Meeting of the Association of Southeastern Biologists was held at the Memphis Cook Convention Center from April 3-6, 2019. The meeting was attended by 6 CBio faculty members as well as graduate students and postdocs. Collectively, 8 presentations/posters were presented.

June, 2019:

Mandel Lab publishes major paper on the daisy family (Asteraceae) in PNAS

Dr. Jennifer Mandel, assistant professor of Biological Sciences, and CBio Assistant Director, authored an article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. titled: “A fully resolved backbone phylogeny reveals numerous dispersals and explosive diversifications throughout the history of Asteraceae”. In the study, funded by the National Science Foundation, Mandel and her colleagues used genomic data to reconstruct the family tree of daisies and their relatives (Asteraceae; >25,000 species). Their work showed the family first originated near the end of the Cretaceous period ~80 million years ago. However, the family did not begin to diversify until the Earth began to cool and habitats changed dramatically about 40 million years ago. This study was a collaboration involving researchers from the University of Memphis, the Smithsonian Institution and Oklahoma State University. CBio co-authors included C. Siniscalchi and R. Thapa.

UM press release:

Published paper:

March, 2019:

Puckett Lab publishes major paper on brown rat demography in Genome Research

Travel to almost any city in the world and you may find a rat.  But how did they move from their natal range on the Mongolian steep to a truly global distribution?  Dr. Emily Puckett, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, and colleague sequenced the genomes of 14 brown rats from around the globe.  They found two routes of range expansion; the first began ~16,000 years ago as rats moved eastward into modern day Russia.  These rats were moved later in time to the Pacific coast of North America.  The second range expansion occurred much later, ~860 years ago, as rats were moved to Southeast Asia.  The movement into SE Asia connected this important human commensal species with modes of transport to take them to Europe, and from Europe all over the globe. 

Published paper:

Painting: Marthalicia Matarrita.