FIU and UM: faculty collaborate in biology symposium

Image by Ethan Oringel, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Roberto Raimundez/Contributing Writer

Christine Pardo, a senior biology major and president of the FIU’s GLADES club, was excited to introduce students to the Tropical Biology Symposium this past Sunday, Jan. 12.

“I used to be the only undergrad attending these symposiums, through GLADES there’s a larger undergrad presence,” Pardo said.

Hosted by Kushlan Tropical Science Institute, this symposium began as a way for two local professors — Ken Feeley from FIU and Albert C. Uy from University of Miami — to see each other more often to discuss their work.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden became the meeting place for professors from different institutions to share their research with one another.

At Sunday’s symposium, professors from both local universities presented their work. Professor Maureen Donnelly from FIU presented her work on amphibian conservation; Professor Floria Mora-Kepfer from UM presented on wasp behavior; Professor Michael Heithaus from FIU presented on predator roles; Professor Justin Stoler from UM presented on his work with dengue fever; and Professor Kevin McCracken from UM presented on altitude adaptation.

Among these professors, FIU doctoral fellow Paulo Olivas presented his work on climate change at the symposium.

In addition, there were two keynote addresses by Nigel Pitman, the Robert O. Bass Senior Visiting Scientist at the Field Museum in Chicago and Research Associate in Duke University’s Center for Tropical Conservation, as well as Todd Palmer, the Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Florida.

The keynote speaker was Nigel Pitman, Robert O. Bass Senior Visiting Scientist at the Field Museum in Chicago and research associate in Duke University’s Center for Tropical Conservation.

Pitman discussed the abundance and diversity of Amazonian trees explaining that even with 16 thousand tree species, 227 hyper-dominant tree species make up 50 percent of the individual trees in the Amazon.

“A study is being conducted on the correlation between deforestation and specific tree species,” said Pitman.

The second keynote speaker was Todd Palmer, associate professor of Biology at the University of Florida. He talked about ant-plant mutualisms in tropical Africa.

In his lecture, Palmer joked about the relationship between ants and trees, saying that they are  “in a complicated relationship,” because although some ants are sterilizing, they increase the fitness of their host tree.

The Tropical Biology Symposium is an excellent opportunity for undergraduate students to begin to rubbing elbows with researchers with field work projects.

“What began as a way for grad students to be exposed to their professors’ research is now including undergraduates with an interest in tropical biology,” Feeley said.

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