Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Living the Atheist Hoax

      Last week I had a bit of a surprise waiting in my inbox. It was a message from a co-conspirator, "Dr." Greg Wilson, that we had been caught white-handed in our atheist hoax. Our nightmare became real, and we were exposed.
      An incriminating photograph taken in Montana in 2013 shows Greg and myself using plaster of Paris to create a dinosaur bone. Dinosaurs are one of the best tools we of the evolutionist/secular/atheist super-crew use to gobble up kiddos for indoctrination. I feel like an idiot for wearing such a blatant shirt, but honestly, I never thought this photo would surface.
      What's worse is that we were also caught trying to brainwash capable K-12 educators we had tricked into joining us through the DIG Field School. We were also joined by a young clone of Joe Felsenstein, seeking eternal earthly life.


        Okay, enough garbage. I am not sure how I feel about this image. At first I was amused, but over time it has just become sort of a bummer. Sitting in a biology department in Seattle I don't often enough confront the anti-science mindset that is so thoroughly spread around much of our society. The group that made this may just be a group of internet trolls trying to stir up trouble, but their 'message' will still resonate with some of the populace-- and that is cause for concern. Mull it over as you spread out over the country for the holidays.

Gallup's long-running Human Origins question for the American public, with this summer's data.

        On a lighter note, the dinosaur bone that we are JACKETING FOR TRANSPORT TO THE BURKE MUSEUM IN SEATTLE is the very large scapula (or shoulder-blade) of a Triceratops from the Hell Creek Formation, aged to just over 66 million years. This bone, and many others, have been collected by groups of primary and secondary educators who have come to Montana to learn about the scientific method, geology, evolution, and paleontology from Greg and his students. I have had the pleasure of acting as a field assistant for the DIG (Discoveries in Geosciences) Field School for multiple summers and it is an absolute delight to spend time with eager teachers who go home excited and ready to discuss evolution, deep time, and science with their classes. If you know an educator who needs an enrichment course point them to the DIG Field School!

~Brandon Peecook

Monday, December 1, 2014

GCC: A scientific conference for graduate students, by graduate students.

Ocean chemist, meet atmospheric dynamicist; Salmon biologist, meet environmental lawyer. Now that we’re all friends, let’s get started.

I recently had the opportunity to help organize the Graduate Climate Conference. The meeting is a competitive-entry, grad student only conference created by UW students and hosted in alternating years by UW and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This opportunity to interact with grad students from distantly related fields was extremely valuable. On a sociological level, it was interesting to see the different approaches to research and presentation across fields. On a scientific level, the meeting offered an update on the latest climate (change) research. On top of all that, it was just really fun. The meeting took place at the Pack Forest Conference Center in the foothills of Mt. Rainier, where the summer camp feel was not lost on attendees. Shared cabins, pick-up Ultimate games, s’mores over the fire pit and forest hikes offered plenty of opportunity to mingle outside of the science. The Halloween party with a “dress as your science” theme gave everyone a chance to show off their …errrr… creative side. The best costume ultimately went to #OccupyJupiter, whose picket sign read, “Redistribution of mass! One planet controls 70% of the mass of the solar system.” But with representation from the biogeochemical cyclists (think Nitrogen and spandex) to the famous Luchador, el Doppler Effecto (think fast train and spandex), this group rivaled any Halloween costume party I’ve ever seen.

But more about the meeting. The GCC is a National Science Foundation-funded annual meeting for graduate students interested in climate-related research. Invited grads get travel support from NSF funding and sponsorship from departments within the hosting institution, allowing students from international and national institutions to participate at limited expense: a critical element of making this meeting so successful. This year’s meeting brought together equal numbers of women and men from 7 countries, 31 US institutions and 8 departments within UW. How’s that for interdisciplinary?

Group photo of the GCC2014 attendees outside of UW Pack Forest Conference Center.

Originally created to bring together oceanographers and atmospheric scientists, the meeting is expanding to include biological and human interactions with climate and climate change. 2014 was the first year of sponsorship from the Department of Biology at UW, a relationship we hope to strengthen in the future. Sessions were expanded to include ‘Ecoclimate’ (chaired by Greg Quetin from Dr. Swann’s lab, ‘Biological Change’ (chaired by me) and ‘Human Dimensions’ (represented by law and anthropology students from UW). The result was a multidisciplinary meeting spanning topics from climate dynamics, carbon cycling, sea ice formation and predicting coral bleaching to the future of coffee and human vulnerability to climate change (check out the abstract book here).

The diversity of topics could be detrimental if presenters were unable to speak across disciplines. So, we structured the conference to bridge these divides. Total participation at GCC is limited to about 90 participants to make sure everyone could attend every talk. Prior to the meeting, the session chairs coordinated with the speakers to develop a general introduction to set up the talks and make sure presentations were accessible to a wide audience. It was truly an incredible experience to sit down in a ‘Climate Dynamics’ session, get a 12-minute crash course in models and acronyms, and then BOOM! understand each talk like it was my job… The live tweets (#GradClimCon14 or #gradclimateconf on twitter of the event showed the broad range of take-home messages. It’s well worth reliving the experience through twitter while you put off those paper revisions.

GCC chairs Leah Johnson (UW Oceanography/APL) and Karl Lapo (UW Atmosphere) delivering closing remarks.

While discussion of the breadth of the conference is beyond the scope of this post (and occasionally my comprehension), the experience was something every grad student should have. The GCC delivers fresh insight into the current debates in climate related fields in a unique structure, or should I say ‘climate’, that encourages interaction. In conversations with my peers, I felt myself challenged to explain my own research in a way that was accessible to researchers from different disciplines. Yet through these discussions I observed my research from a different perspective, in a different context. This broadened perspective of my own field and how it relates to a much larger body of research, in addition to the new friendships and collaborations created, made the GCC one of the best conference experiences I have had in my research career. 

~Alex Lowe

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jen Day: How do Molecular Ecologists use Jaguar Scat for Conservation Science?


Step One:  Since jaguars cover a lot of ground – we need to too. 
We have surveyed two locations in southern Mexico to date for jaguar and puma scat, in partnership with University of Veracruz’s Centro de Investigaciones Tropicales (CITRO) and the Reserva Ecologica El Eden.  There are not many jaguars left at these sites, so we were not sure what we would find.  It turns out that the Conservation Canines are experts at finding jaguar scat.  In the Uxpanapa Valley of Veracurz, we ended up with 28 jaguar locations confirmed, and 8 unique multilocus genotypes from scat samples (genotypes are genetic information that allow us to tell individuals apart, relatedness between individuals, and to assess genetic diversity).  That may not sound like a big number, but that's potentially a THIRD of the entire population of the valley!

WITH YOUR HELP, we’re headed to the Lacondona region of Chiapas in January, in collaboration with Dr. Rodrigo Medellín (current president of the Society for Conservation Biology and known as Mexico’s “Bat Man”.  We can’t wait to cover some new ground!    

Photo Credit: IGNACIO GIL
Step Two:  Waste not, want not. 
When species are rare, endangered, or just hard to find, getting every scrap of information from each sample is vital.  Scat contains an amazing amount of information, but it takes a lot of hard work to pull that information out.  Many of the genetic or hormone tools available today do not work well on feces, or require a special set of protocols to get accurate results.  We at UW's Center for Conservation Biology have spent many years developing ways of getting genetic, hormone, and toxin data from fecal samples – you could call us expert scatologists!
          After a lot of trial and error in the early years of my PhD program, I now have a great set of molecular markers to tell species apart, assign multi-locus genotypes, and even measure T3 thyroid and glucocorticoid stress hormones from jaguar scat!

Step Three: Show me the Data!   
From scat locations, we evaluate what constitutes jaguar habitat via resource selection probability functions (RSPF).   RSPF specifically tells us what features in the landscape attract or repel jaguars.  This phase of the analysis will help us answer questions like:  Are jaguars really as sensitive to human activity as we once thought?  Is their attraction to water stronger than their avoidance of roads or villages?  From the results of the RSPF analysis, we can predict the level of connectivity of the landscape with geographic models that apply electrical circuit theory to model wildlife movement.  The best part of this type of connectivity analysis is that it identifies out specific ‘pinch-points’ on the landscape.  These pinch-points are places that can be targeted for conservation efforts, because they provide the biggest benefit to the connectivity of the whole system.  This is a great way to focus limited conservation resources to specific geographic locations that will provide the most benefit to the population as a whole! 

 I am particularly interested in how landscape features impact not only movement, but also gene-flow within and between populations.  Gene-flow is the ultimate measurement of functional habitat connectivity (not only where could they migrate, but where they actually migrate AND reproduce).  Using the multilocus genotypes from scat, I am analyzing genetic patterns within (landscape genetics) and among (population genetics) putative populations.  With the addition of this third field site, we will have an amazing ability to compare how different human pressures affect gene-flow.  The goal of this analysis will be, again, to make conservation efforts most effective.  For example, to maximize gene-flow, should we focus efforts on protecting the remaining forest fragments, or improving the connectivity between them with corridors?  WITH YOUR HELP, we will have an entirely new set of genetic data to add to our analysis – from an area that has never been studied before!

Check out the fundraising page here!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Yasmeen Hussain: Ciliate vs. Urchin Egg

One summer day, I was counting sea urchin eggs and saw one moving. Now, the classical delineation of sperm and eggs is that one of them (sperm) moves and the other (egg) does not. When eggs start moving, I get a little concerned. I moved the hemacytometer (a neat device invented over a century ago that helps people count the number of objects per unit volume) with this egg to our lab's bigger microscope, which has better optics and higher magnification. This is what I saw:

A ciliated, single-celled organism appeared to be either trying to break into the egg and eat its nutritious insides or is feeding off of the egg’s jelly layer, which is full of polysaccharides, peptides, and other potentially nutritious substances. While it moves around the egg (in my head this makes a slurping noise), the egg appears to be moving. This is pretty fun!

But, you may ask, why am I in lab, counting sea urchin eggs on an otherwise perfectly nice day? I’m trying to understand how sperm chemotaxis, how sperm find eggs using chemical signals from the eggs, affects fertilization success, which I determine by counting how many eggs get fertilized. I could just put a drop of sperm into a vial of eggs, or put two spawning sea urchins (that white stuff is sperm) in a tank together, but that wouldn’t be very precise. The number of sperm in each drop, and the number of eggs from each female, can differ wildly, and my advisor showed in a PNAS paper that the ratio of sperm to eggs can make a big difference in the number of eggs that get fertilized. Knowing this, before I mix the sperm from one male urchin and the eggs from one female urchin together, I count the number of sperm in an average milliliter collected from the male and I also count the number of eggs in an average milliliter from the female. Then, I can calculate the appropriate amount of sperm and egg needed for a consistent sperm:egg ratio and mix them together in that proportion. When I look at the embryos a couple of hours later (see picture), I can count what percentage of eggs were fertilized.

In summary, counting cells can be boring, but the results can be useful and even kind of interesting!

-Yasmeen Hussain
PhD Candidate, Riffell Lab
University of Washington Department of Biology

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rochelle Kelly: Bats and Scat Dogs in the San Juan Islands

This originally appeared in the FHL newletter Tide Bites.

In the Santana Lab at the University of Washington, our research focuses on the relationship among ecology, anatomy and behavior in mammals. Much of our labs' research involves bats, as they are one of the most diverse groups of mammals — they comprise nearly a quarter of all mammalian species. Despite the incredible range of shapes, sizes, behaviors, and the ecological importance of bats, two common images seem to be perpetuated in the mainstream media: that of small brown flying rodents, and rabid vampires.

Batting a thousand…and then some: diversity of bats
While it is true that vampire bats exist, they are only three out of over 1,200 species of bats, and they only occur in the new world tropics. Of the remaining bat species, more than 70% feed exclusively on insects. Even though most species are small (less than 60 grams) and sometimes brown, they are far from being flying rodents. Bats evolved around 55 million years ago, and a recent genetic analysis suggests that their closest relatives are in fact carnivores, ungulates, and cetaceans1. Microchiropteran bats (a.k.a true echolocating bats) occur on every continent except Antarctica and exhibit high diversity even at higher latitudes. For example, the State of Washington is home to 15 species of bats, 10 of which have been documented to occur on at least one of the San Juan Islands.

Fig. 1: Example of two species in the genus Myotis caught on San Juan Island: M. volans and M. evotis. It is important to note that M. evotis cannot be distinguished from M. keenii in the field; genetic analysis is needed to confirm species. Photo credit: R.M. Kelly.
Tales from the cryptic diversity:
Among the San Juan Islands, 6 of the 10 bat species that have been documented are in the genus Myotis (Figure 1). Commonly referred to as “mouse-eared bats”, species in this genus abide the stereotype, as they are small bats (between 4 and 25 grams) and usually some shade of brown. Despite their general morphological similarity, these species exhibit high “cryptic diversity”. This means that while they may look very similar, or even indistinguishable in some cases, they are in fact separate species that differ in terms of their ecological roles. For example, research in Germany suggests that differences in ear size between two closely related Myotis species explains their differences in hunting strategies and diet2. This partitioning of resources enables Myotis bats to coexist together without direct competition. However, untangling these differences in bats is particularly difficult, as it is logistically challenging to study their behavior in nature.

Background behind my research:
For my research, I am interested in understanding whether ecological differences among closely related species influence their patterns of dispersal. Bats are the only mammals capable of flight, and are often assumed to be unaffected by barriers to dispersal (e.g. habitat fragmentation or geographic barriers)3. However, dispersal ability in bats may be more closely linked to their ecological requirements4,7. Barriers to dispersal can reduce genetic diversity and increase risk of extinction8,10. Therefore, comparative studies can improve our understanding of the relationship between ecology & dispersal in bats and help inform their conservation. Using a comparative approach, I began investigating whether differences in dietary and/or roosting ecology influence patterns of dispersal and gene flow among bat species in the San Juan archipelago and northwest Washington State.

Pilot field study:
I began my research this July on San Juan, Orcas, and Vendovi islands. While I based my research out of Friday Harbor Labs, I needed access to field sites across the islands. Therefore, I sought collaboration with San Juan County Landbank, The San Juan Preservation Trust, and the San Juan Island National Historic Sites: English and American Camps. These organizations granted me access to their preserves throughout the islands, where I carried out my fieldwork. At this point you may be wondering, how exactly one goes about studying bats? This was a common question I received while in the field. Biologists need to employ a combination of methods in order to carry out a comprehensive survey of bats, including mist netting, acoustic monitoring, and roost surveys.

Fig. 2: Rochelle getting ready to record the echolocation call of a Townsend’s Big-eared bat. Photo credit: R.M Kelly.

In the bat toolbox:
While this dearth of sampling methods can make things labor intensive and costly, relying on solely one method underrepresents certain species, leading to biased and incomplete results11. Each method has pitfalls and may be biased towards specific types of species. For example, while passive ultrasonic detectors are great for monitoring bat activity, it is impossible to distinguish individual bats based on their calls. Therefore, one cannot draw any reliable inference about population size from this type of data alone. Similarly, mist netting (capturing bats in a fine-mesh net) can be biased toward low-flying species. For my study, I combined acoustic sampling with mist netting, which allowed me to confirm species, sex, and age information, and also collect tissue, fecal samples, and record their echolocation calls (Figure 2). I am now processing the samples back at UW to analyze the population structure and diet of bats on the islands.

Fig. 3: Handler Liz Seeley and detection dog (Tucker) in search of tree roosting bats. Photo credit: R.M. Kelly.

Additionally, I collaborated with UW Professor Sam Wasser to employ scent detection dogs (a.k.a conservation canines) to locate tree roosts of bats on the islands (Figure 3). It turned out that going from finding Orca scat to sniffing out bats was more challenging for the dogs than we initially anticipated, and much of the summer was dedicated to refining our sampling design. Despite these obstacles, the dogs showed remarkable ability to track the scent of bat feces in trainings, and we successfully confirmed one tree roost. Using infrared video, we were able to survey bats exiting the roost and are analyzing fecal samples we collected to confirm species. We hope to refine this sampling methodology for future field seasons as well as more broadly in the field of roosting ecology, as this approach represents a non-invasive alternative to many traditional studies of roosting ecology.

This pilot field season would not have been possible without support and advice from my advisor: Sharlene Santana, Jim Kenagy, Ruth Milner, and my collaborators at San Juan County Landbank, the San Juan Preservation Trust, and San Juan National Historic Sites. Additionally I must thank my field assistant Elena Cheung, as well as all the volunteers from Friday Harbor that helped out in the field and all of the residents on the islands that invited us onto their properties to collect this valuable data. Funding sources for this project include the Washington Research Fellowship & Benjamin Hall scholarship, Friday Harbors Labs' Richard and Megumi Strathmann Fellowship, and the Carrington Travel Award.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Grad publication: Tracy Larson

New Neurons Replace Naturally Dying Neurons in the Adult Brain

            Neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons in the adult brain, occurs widely across animal species, including mammals (and humans) but to a more limited degree than birds and fish. In mammals, neurogenesis occurs in its highest levels after physical injuries to the brain following stroke and traumatic brain injuries. This type neurogenic response to injury-induced neural death is called reactive neurogenesis and is thought to repair neural circuit and restore ‘normal’ behavior.

            Neuroscientists were previously aware that injury-induced neural reactive neurogenesis occurs, however no previous studies had described reactive neurogenesis following ‘natural’ neural loss such as that which occurs with aging, depression, and other neurodegenerative diseases. To ask whether natural reactive neurogenesis occurs in the adult brain, the authors exploited the natural neuronal death that occurs in the brain circuit that controls singing behavior in Gambel’s white-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophyrus gambellii).

            This study discovered for the first time new neurons are produced in the adult brain to compensate for neural loss that occurs naturally in the brain. Moreover, the researchers found that if neuronal death is prevented, reactive neurogenesis does not occur, suggesting neuronal death is absolutely necessary for reactive neurogenesis to occur. Describing the phenomenon of neuronal birth following natural neuronal death in the adult brain will allow future exploration into potential mechanisms that give rise to this process and the function adult-born neurons serve. We can now ask: What genes and signals are naturally dying neurons producing to initiate the production of new neurons? Can we exploit these signals to prompt brain repair during aging, depression and other neurodegenerative conditions? If we can induce reactive neurogenesis in the pathological brain, will these new neurons restore normal behavior? Investigation of these questions could ultimately lead to the development of therapeutics that reduce neural death, stimulate neural regeneration, and restore lost functions and behavior in the human brain. Thus, this research has the ability to transform the way nonscientists think and the way clinicians treat patients with neural damaging disorders.

Written by: Marianne Cole, Undergraduate Student, University of Washington, Department of Psychology

Edited by: Tracy Larson, Graduate Student, University of Washington, Department of Biology
Original article: Larson TA, Thatra NM†, Lee B†, Brenowitz EA. (2014) Reactive neurogenesis in response to naturally occurring apoptosis in an adult brain. The Journal of Neuroscience. 34(39): 13066-76 doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3316-13.2014 PMID: 25253853

Related Press:
Local and National
S Hines, University of Washington News and Information. (2014) Dying brain cells cue new brain cells to grow in songbird
Three Sentence Science. (2014) Dying brain cells cue up new ones in songbirds


Monday, October 13, 2014

Carrie Glenney: Why lactation rooms matter

Edited to add: This post does not mean to imply that the University of Washington is not meeting the legal requirements for providing lactation facilities. There are 6 buildings on campus that provide lactation facilities

A lack of access to lactation rooms might be a widespread issue for women in academia. As demonstrated in the Biology Department at University of Washington, it can also be a relatively simple problem to solve. Ensuring lactation room access for all women in academia would send a very important message: we support you.
Although women make up more than 50% of science PhDs earned, they are more likely than men to leave the academic sciences at every stage on the way to obtaining a tenured position at a college or university. A study by Marc Goulden, Karie Frasch, and Mary Ann Mason suggests that becoming a mom may be one major determinant of this trend: married mothers with young children are less likely than both single and married women without young children, and 35% less likely than married fathers, to achieve tenure at a college or university.

PhD students and post-docs specifically may face obstacles that make having a child feel antithetical to continuing in academia: a lack of paid and limited unpaid parental leave, limited affordable childcare, or lack of advisor or departmental support. Although many of these issues affect fathers as well as mothers, surveys with University of California post-doctoral scholars at both the beginning and end of their programs showed that of those who had children during their post-doc, women were twice as likely as men to change their career goal away from “professor with a research emphasis”.

Why does having a baby seem to hinder a woman’s academic career but not a man’s? What unique obstacles do female PhD students and post-docs with children face on the pathway to a career in academia?

I had my son during the third year of my PhD and I anticipated and experienced some of the issues addressed above. But the complete lack of one resource in particular surprised me the most. In many cases, this resource is actually a legal right. It’s relatively straightforward to provide. And I think mandating its presence in every department would go a long way towards making mothers in academia feel more accepted and supported. 

Lactation rooms.

Returning to work after having or adopting a baby can be HARD, no matter where you work, and no matter how much you might love your job. You might be operating on a handful of hours of sleep a night. Your body might be still healing from childbirth. You might feel a mix of emotions about returning to work and physically being apart from your baby. You might not feel physically or emotionally ready to come back to work but at the same time feel that you don’t have a choice. And for those mothers who are able and chose to breastfeed, there’s the where, when, and how to navigate around pumping

Logistically, continuing to breastfeed even when you’re not physically around your baby can be tricky. For those who aren’t familiar, here are some of the logistics. A woman’s body produces only the amount of milk it thinks the baby needs. The body forecasts how much milk it thinks it should make based on how much was used in the past. If less is used, less is made in the future. In order to convince your body to continue making the same amount of milk even when your baby isn’t around, you need to remove milk at least as frequently as your baby would (in the range of every 2 to 4 hours) and sometimes more often (because pumps don’t remove milk as efficiently as a baby). Pumping frequently and for enough time is important for maintaining milk production, but it’s also essential to prevent a very painful infection called mastitis. Once the milk is pumped, most moms store it in the fridge or freezer and it’s given to their baby through a bottle when the mom isn’t around to breastfeed. Removing the milk requires a pump (most women use electric pumps), plastic pieces that need to be washed after each use, cold storage, and a stress-free environment. 

The last requirement may surprise you. Milk flow actually requires the release of the hormone oxytocin (the “love” hormone), a process usually stimulated by baby. In the absence of baby, women use other methods to encourage milk flow (like looking at a photo of her baby), but stress, fatigue, or even being cold can make this very difficult. Therefore, a private, clean, comfortable space with a locking door is essential. Ideally, there is also a sink for washing parts, a fridge for milk storage, and desk space so work can continue if desired. Most PhD students and post-docs share an office with others so they cannot or understandably might not want to pump in their office. Often women are relegated to bathrooms to pump, but any place where you would not want to eat lunch is also not a place where a mom will want to pump milk for her baby. Pumping can take 10-30 minutes a session and has to happen every 2-4 hours, so location convenience is also an important factor for accessibility. 
When Hannah Kinmonth-Schultz (also a PhD student and mom) and I decided to ask the Biology Department for a lactation room, we first conducted a departmental survey to determine the need. We found that the need was far greater than we’d anticipated: 7 of the 86 total female respondents (8%) said they anticipated a need for a lactation room within the next 12 months or have a current need. 81% of respondents who already have children said they would have benefited from a departmental lactation room.  Convenience was an important factor: only 1 mom reported using the campus lactation facility located about a five minute walk away. Other moms used the bathroom (and one mom reported throwing all her milk away for sanitation purposes) or borrowed other people’s offices if they didn’t have their own. One mom commented, “I can't tell you how many uncomfortable places I have pumped!”

Beyond the need for a space to meet the physical needs of pumping moms, providing an accessible lactation room for every mom in academia sends an important message: we support you and your family. Many women in academia who want to have children are hearing a different message: this is not the time or place for a baby. In addition to the implicit message sent by the lack of resources and support from the institution itself, many women may be discouraged outright by mentors, advisors, or even peers. I have had personal experiences with this* and I’m sure others have as well.  Academia is an environment where there’s often little distinction between “work” and “life”, let alone a balance, and it’s easy to feel like family planning should take the back burner or you’ll risk harming your career. So returning to work to find that the most basic of necessities, like a place to pump, aren’t available to you can make you feel like your choice to have a child is not supported. In addition, some advisors may not understand the importance of providing the time and physical space for pumping (although my advisor was wonderfully accommodating); or a female graduate student might feel understandably reticent about broaching the topic of breastfeeding with a male advisor. In the comment section of our departmental survey, one mom addressed the emotional toll of having no place to pump by saying “having a lactation room in the biology department while I was nursing would have gone a long way towards helping me feel accepted. I felt extreme guilt and very alone. As a result I think that my research progress suffered much more than it would have if impacted just by my new time constraints.” Another said “stopping pumping because of lack of convenient facilities was especially hard for me and not ideal for baby.” Even though breastfeeding is hard, many moms want to keep at it because it can have such wonderful benefits: money savings from not needing to buy formula (~$100/month), nutritional and immunity benefits for baby, and the baby-mother bonding that breastfeeding facilitates. Yet ¼ of the respondents in our survey said they quit breastfeeding earlier than they wanted to because they had nowhere to pump. 

This is just a snapshot demonstrating the need for a lactation facility in one department at one university, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that other departments have a similar scenario- and they may not even know it.

As Stanford University stated in 2006 “… a woman's prime childbearing years are the same years she is likely to be in graduate school, doing postdoctoral training, and establishing herself in a career." If we want to support women in academia, one of the most important things we can do is acknowledge that some will want to start their families during this time and to support them when they do. I’m proud to be of a department that is taking steps in this direction by establishing a lactation room** (it should be available soon). Even when space is limited or money is tight, a little creativity can help convert a space to be used for this purpose. For example, our department is currently converting the departmental break room in the Kincaid building into a shared space that can function as a private lactation room during non-meal hours. 

Of course, we need a multi-pronged approach to support women in academia and to support both women AND men who want to start families while in academia. Ensuring access to lactation rooms is only one step… but a meaningful one. 

Other than the departmental survey we conducted last year, I don’t know of any studies that have been done to look at whether there is a widespread lack of access to lactation rooms in universities and colleges. In hopes of getting the dialogue about this issue rolling: if you are (or know of) someone*** at a university or college who needs a lactation room and doesn’t have access to one, or has a story about starting a lactation room at another department or institution, or just wants to lend your support, please visit our facebook group Lactademia

* I would like to extend a thank you to my own advisor (Ben Kerr) and the Kerr lab. They have given me nothing but support, including moving offices around so I would have a place to pump. Thank you!
** Special thanks to all who helped make the UW Biology Department lactation room a reality: Hannah Kinmonth-Schultz, Diversity committee members Horacio de la Iglesia, Andrea Prado, Rose Ann Cattolico, Greg Wilson, Linda Martin-Morris, Sarah Eddy, Julian Avila, and Camilla Crifo; Executive committee members Toby Bradshaw, Michele Conrad, Carl Bergstrom, David Perkel, and Jennifer Ruesink; Graduate Program Director Marissa Heringer.
*** The issue of access to lactation rooms also affects lab technicians, faculty, and many others in the academic world. This article focuses primarily on post-docs and graduate students because those are the individuals I’ve interacted with the most about this issue and the levels of academia with which I am most familiar. But the ultimate goal is “access for all.”

Monday, October 6, 2014

Grad publication: Camilla Crifò

Plant fossils consist mostly of isolated organs that are poorly informative of plant life form and ecosystem structure. Therefore, questions like “when did the first Neotropical forest originated?”  are still debated. We used leaf vein density (a trait visible on leaf compressions) as a tool to reconstruct the occurrence of stratified forests with a canopy dominated by angiosperms. In fact, this trait (similarly to others) is particularly variable in flowering plants, whereas it is scarcely plastic in all other plant groups. Leaf physiological traits are know to vary within a forest depending on the strata where a leaf is located, reflecting ecological adaptation to different microenvironments. The main trigger of these variations is light availability, especially in Neotropical forest, where no other factor is limiting plant growth. 

Leaf vein density is positively correlated with conductance and water vapor; increasing vein density allows more efficient transpiration. Previous studies had reported higher vein density in leaves from top tree branches (fully sun-exposed) and lower vein density in leaves from bottom tree branches (shaded). However this trend had never been studied before on a large spatial scale. 

Using a 40-meter-tall canopy crane equipped with a gondola, we were able to collect leaves from the very top of the tree. We measure leaf vein density of 132 species from two Panamanian tropical forests and one temperate forest in Maryland (US), and we compared the values of canopy-top and forest-bottom  leaves. We show that venation density is higher in the leaves located in the forest canopy and decreases in the lower levels. Furthermore leaves from the forest litter conserve this pattern. Because the forest litter is the closest analog to fossil floras, leaf vein density can be used in the fossil record to reconstruct the emergence of flowering plants in the upper forest strata. Vein density data from the literature from the Hauterivian (132.5 Ma) to the Paleocene (58 Ma) show that vein density values similar to present ones appeared at least 58 Ma. Therefore, the emergence of flowering plants in the canopy occurred at least in the Paleocene.

I plan in the future to extend this study to other environments (e.g. more open, gymnosperm-dominated), and to herbaceous plants.


Read the paper here! Excerpts of this came from a review written here.