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Spring 2012 Biological Sciences E-Newsletter

A Message from the Department Chair

Department Chair Chris Kitts Welcome to the first ever Cal Poly Biological Sciences e-newsletter. We have a lot going on this year that I'd like to tell you about, but I don't know how we're going to keep up with the pace we set last year. Because we rocked. So far this year, things are taking off again.
Read the full message from Department Chair Chris Kitts

Bio News

Associate Professor Recognized for Excellence in Education of Arborists

Dr Matt Ritter teaching a class in tree identification

Dr. Matt Ritter, Associate Professor of botany and Director of the Cal Poly Plant Conservatory, has won the R. W. Harris Excellence in Education Award from the Western Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture. The award was presented April 30 during the Annual Conference at the Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA. The R. W. Harris Award is given to an individual for outstanding contributions to arboriculture education. Dr. Ritter was recognized for teaching workshops on tree identification, and for authoring “A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us,” which details the color, shapes, textures and aromas of trees and how they can be used to muffle noise, create wildlife habitats, mitigate pollution, conserve energy and improve quality of life.

The International Society of Arboriculture certifies professional arborists. Founded in 1924, the organization promotes research, technology and education in the professional practice of growing and caring for trees and fosters a greater worldwide awareness of the benefits of trees.

More Monarchs are on the Move

Monarch butterflyGood news for monarch butterfly fans: monarch wintering spots in Pismo Beach and Pacific Grove have been home to double the number of butterflies this year. Students and volunteers with Cal Poly's Monarch Alert Project, headed by Biological Sciences Professor Francis Villablanca, have been busy counting them. This year's high count may not mean Monarch butterfly populations are bouncing back, according to Villablanca.
Hear the interview with Professor Villablanca on California Public Radio
See the latest butterfly count data on the Monarch Project website

Grant Will Grow Cal Poly Marine Fisheries Research

crab in student's handCal Poly’s Center for Coastal Marine Sciences won a scientific competition for a $720,000 state grant to help improve how California manages its near-shore fishing grounds.The grant will allow for an expansion of the research the center’s SLOSEA (San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance) program has been doing for the past five years: monitoring the impacts of California's relatively new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) on fish populations. Cal Poly students and professors involved in the research program are regularly aboard local fishing boats catching, counting, measuring and releasing fish species at designated study spots inside and outside Central Coast Marine Protected Areas.
More on the latest SLOSEA grant

Today's Students

Master's Candidate Wins Wildlife Competition for Best Presentation

Cody Massing in the fieldBiological sciences graduate student Cody Massing won the Best Student Oral Presentation competition at the annual meeting of the Western Section of The Wildlife Society — an association of professional wildlife biologists and managers in California, Nevada and Hawaii.

She presented her research on behavioral plasticity (adaptability) in American Pikas in the face of climate change. This is the second year in a row that a Cal Poly biology grad student has been recognized at the event.
More on Massing's award

Students' Reptile Research Proposals Win $11,000 in Grant Funding

Kory Heiken with snakeWould it hurt rattlesnakes if they were moved away from places humans are likely to frequent? And just how can the Western fence lizard develop immunity to Lyme disease after being bitten by ticks that carry it? Two Cal Poly biology grad students have received research grants to find out.

For his rattlesnake research proposal, first-year Biological Sciences grad student Kory Heiken wants to relocate rattlesnakes away from areas frequented by humans on Vandenberg Air Force Base and into more isolated spots there, and find out whether the relocation has any physical effects on the rattlers. Heiken received a $500 grant from the Chicago Herpetological Society and another $9,050 grant from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

First-year biology grad student Kyle Weichert was awarded a $500 grant from the Chicago Herpetological Society to study the ability of Western fence lizards to kill Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. The grant will pay for some of the lab supplies needed to perform the research.
Read more about snakes and lizards

Bio Sci Senior Profiled in CSU Magazine

Vicky Giese collecting data in streamBiological Sciences senior Vicky Giese was profiled recently in a California State University system magazine focusing on recipients of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation grant program -- and was featured on the magazine cover. She's graduating in June and has spent much of her time at Cal Poly working on research projects. Those include an internship at Brookhaven National Lab studying the Carmans River in Long Island, N.Y.; serving as a research assistant for Cal Poly Professor Scott Steinmaus on his study of the invasive vine Delairea odorata (Cape Ivy) near the Morro Bay Estuary; and participating in the Organization for Tropical Studies Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience project in Costa Rica.
Read more about Giese

Why are These CSUPERB Students Smiling?

Emily Neal and Winne Tang with their research posterStudents Emily Neal and Winne Tang got a chance to get out of their lab gear and field clothes and talk about their research without having to wear rubber gloves at CSUPERB -- the CSU system's annual student research conference. Both are working with professors Chris Kitts and Michael Black to research E-coli bacteria, its variations, locations, migrations and presence. The research is funded by grants and contracts to Cal Poly's Environmental Biology Institute (EBI), directed by Kitts. The EBI has been hired to track down the source of E-coli contamination at Central Coast beaches and other locations. The bacteria sleuthing project is part of the Cal Poly Library of Pyroprints project.
Find out more about the Cal Poly Library of Pyroprints project

Real World Research

Associate Dean Testifies on California Fisheries

Dean WendtAssociate Dean and Marine Science Professor Dean Wendt testified before the state legislature in Sacramento in February about the impacts that federal Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are having on the ocean environment.

Wendt, the associate dean of Cal Poly’s College of Science and Mathematics, is acting director of the university’s Center for Coastal Marine Sciences and executive director of the center’s SLOSEA research program and Central Coast Collaborative Fisheries project.

He spoke at the state legislature’s Annual Fisheries Forum. For the past five years, Cal Poly professors and students in the SLOSEA project have been monitoring MPAs and the impacts they’re having on fish populations, fishermen and the local economy.
Read more about Wendt, SLOSEA and MPAs

Mussels Showing Weakness in the Face of Climate Change

Experimental Biology CoverCal Poly Biological Sciences Professor Lars Tomanek and research associate Marcus Zuzow of Tomanek's Environmental Proteomics Laboratory made the cover of the Journal of Experimental Biology. They studied mussels adapting to temperature warming along the Central Coast along with colleague Peter Fields from Franklin & Marshall College. They found native California mussels (Mytilus trossulus) are more stressed by warm temperatures and temperature spikes (from exposure at low tide) than their invasive Southern California cousins (Mytilus galloprovincialis ).
Read the research article in the April Journal of Experimental Biology

Professor's Dragonfly Distress Research Making Headlines

Professor McCauley in pondA research article by Cal Poly Biological Sciences Professor Shannon McCauley made headlines. According to one of her studies, stress can make dragonfly larvae drop dead. The journal Nature picked it up as a “Research Highlight” and featured it online in October. Since then, McCauley’s dragonfly stress research has been on more than 30 network news and popular science websites including CNN, MSNBC, CBC, ScienceDaily, National Geographic, and DiscoverOnline.
More on the dragonfly stress study

From Norway to the Tropics: Professor, Student Take Off for Palau

Cal Poly Marine Science Professor Mark Moline returned in March from his Fulbright Chair appointment in Norway's Arctic. Less than a week later, he took off for Palau with marine science senior Jeremy Kravitz. The professor, undergraduate student, and Center for Coastal Marine Sciences (CCMS) Research Associate Ian Robbins are currently on the South Pacific atoll picking up ocean sensors placed by Moline and Robbins last year. It's all part of a research project funded by the U.S. Navy to find out more about how waves break around coral atolls, and the sounds they make when they do.

Jeremy Kravitz and Mark Moline at the Cal Poly Pier

During the trip, Kravitz will work alongside Robbins and Moline,taking measurements, running underwater vehicles and diving to deploy and retrieve instruments. Kravitz has been working in Moline's lab at the CCMS pier doing phytoplankton research for the past year. He is also on the research diving team for Cal Poly. "When they were planning their Palau trip, they thought they might need some extra diving help and asked if I would like to come along," Kravitz said before departing. "It was a real honor because they have never taken a student on a research trip before. So I am extremely excited and grateful."
Follow Moline, Kravitz and Robbins on the Cal Poly Remote Adventures marine science blog


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Survey Says:
Alumni Rate Their Education High

The Biological Sciences Department surveyed thousands of alumni to find out what they think of their Cal Poly education. What did BioSci alumni say? Those who responded were overwhelmingly happy with the education they received. But they also want to change a few things.
Read about the BioSci alumni survey

Biology Alumnus Dies While Protecting Condors

Michael Tyner

Well known, well liked Cal Poly alumnus and wildlife biologist Michael Tyner was killed by a falling branch in Big Sur Nov. 30. He had been out caring for one of the California Condors he was dedicated to saving. Colleagues called his loss "catastrophic."
Read more about Michael Tyner

Bio Grads
Setting a Science Trend

Professor Tomanek with Loredana Serafini

Cal Poly BioSci alumna Loredana Serafini and Professor Lars Tomanek were showcased in a January Science Magazine story. The piece focused on university programs that produce bachelor's and master's grads ready to step right into biotech jobs that once required a doctorate.
(Above: Professor Tomanek and Serafini at her graduation).
Read the story

Alumni in the News

A Cal Poly BioSci alum has moved up from police chief to undersheriff while another is now a university professor researching immune deficiencies in people who are overweight.
Read more about alumni in the news so far in 2012


In Town April 21? Bring the Kids to the Cal Poly Pier

Photo of students holding starfish

The Cal Poly Pier in Avila Beach will be open to the public on Saturday, April 21, from 9 a.m. to noon. The event is free; bring the kids and and enjoy special touch tanks full of marine creatures, run an underwater robot, and more. Details on Cal Poly Pier Open House

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