Biology

Biology

Spotlight on Student Research

Jason WarnerThe ability to survive freezing temperatures is a severe selective pressure faced by organisms living at high elevations. Many ectothermic vertebrates have adaptations to cope with the challenges imposed by extreme cold, such as the ability to supercool (maintain fluids as fluid below 0° C). Jason Warner is studying cold-hardiness in a group of lizards that live in the Andes. He has measured several cold-hardiness parameters for six species of lizards in the genus Liolaemus, collected along an elevation range from 1550 to 4075 m in northwestern Argentina. Lizards from high elevations have turned out to be more susceptible to ice formation and show a trend to tolerate freezing events of longer duration than their lower elevation relatives. Jason is making his comparisons in the context of the evolutionary tree by which the six lizards are related. On the tree, it seems that the capacity to supercool is conservative rather than convergent. Furthermore, all of Jason's study species were able to supercool to some extent. Thus, the ability to cope with cold temperatures seems ancestral for the lineage as a whole and may have allowed for multiple independent invasions of high elevation by members of the genus. Maybe the geographic distribution of the capacity to withstand freezing is not so much reflective of natural selection in-a-place, as the movement of hearty species to extraordinary elevations. more Spotlights...

Department Introspection

The Department of Biology is particularly proud of our lab and field courses. We offer a wide variety of hand-on opportunities in which students practice technique, gather data, and draw conclusions from those data. Many of these classes are very small. They use real laboratories and study organisms in their natural habitat. As a complement to these intimate classes, Biology majors also take a few large lecture classes, which are taught by rock-star lecturers. The faculty are remarkably open to exploring new and (hopefully) better teaching methods. For example, we adopted teaching with tablets and have done so as a group so as to make the tablet pay for itself thorugh savings on eTexts over paper books. Students often write reports and give spoken presentations. Reading the scientific literature is part of many classes. We believe in a tight interplay between teaching and research. The faculty are deeply involved in research training through doing research with students. The examination of our subject matter through our courses often inspires our research, and much of our research feeds back to make us better teachers. The variety and field-orientation of our course offerings are, we think, superior to those of any other university in the region. For example, we offer about 20 sections of field courses for majors per year, as well as one integrated field semester. Our graduates have had great opportunities to learn the skills used by professional biologists. Our newsletter tells more...