News

  • Two Biology (formerly Zoology) graduate alumns were elected to the National Academy of Sciences this past May! Check out the full announcement here

    Dr. Hopi E. Hoekstra: investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology,
    departments of organismic and evolutionary biology and of molecular and cellular biology, Harvard University,
    Cambridge, Mass.

    Dr. Stephen R. Palumbi: Jane and Marshall Steele Chair of Biology and director, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford
    University, Pacific Grove, Calif.

    Fri, Jun 24 at 10 AM
  • Biomechanics expert Prof. Adam Summers advised Pixar on its sequel to Finding Nemo, released this past weekend. Check out this Q&A in Nature with the "fish guy" himself.

    Wed, Jun 22 at 10 AM
  • Robert Treat Paine III
    April 13, 1933 – June 13, 2016

    Dr. Robert (Bob) Paine holds iconic status within ecology, and his death brings both immense loss and a reminder that he will always be with us through his shaping of ecological ideas and practices.

    He is justly famous for coining the term “keystone species” in reference to predators whose effects indirectly maintain the diversity, structure, and functioning of ecological communities. Like the keystone in an arch, these species hold a system together. Bob’s field study of a keystone species is so familiar as a textbook example that it hardly needs repeating: When he removed ochre sea stars from a rocky shoreline, mussels began to monopolize space, halving the number of species attached to the rocks. The description of the rocky shore food web, originally published in 1966 (with the keystone term appearing in a subsequent paper), has been cited several thousand times and reprinted as one of the key papers in the development of the discipline in “Foundations of Ecology” (1991). The global value of understanding how predators shape ecosystems comes to life in a recent video, including recollections of and interviews with Bob. 

    Bob helped rescue the keystone species concept several decades after its inception, when its application to any species considered for conservation had diluted its original meaning. The effort generalized the keystone term to encompass strong single-species impacts that were out of proportion to the species’ abundance. “The Importance of Species” book (2002) arose from a retirement tribute to Bob, highlighting his commitment to learning about strong species interactions. In recent collaborations, he has pointed out the shambles of structure and function resulting from trophic downgrading, or the loss of top predators from ecosystems.

    Bob also transformed how ecology was carried out, ushering in to the last half of the 20th century an era of field experimentation rather than relying primarily on observations of the environment. The drawback of observations is that patterns or changes can happen for any number of reasons, whereas an experiment tests specific, plausible drivers. Bob’s commitment to field experimental ecology permeates his book, “Marine Rocky Shores and Community Ecology: An Experimentalist’s Perspective” (1994), where he wrote of “experimental manipulation as the surest means of both testing and rejecting hypotheses and generating novel insights.”

    Bob was recognized internationally for his contributions to ecology, including eminent ecologist to deliver the Tansley Lecture to the British Ecological Society (1979), the MacArthur Award for lifetime achievement from the Ecological Society of America (1983), the ECI prize from the Ecology Institute in Germany (1989), and the International Cosmos Prize (2013). He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1986. The accompanying explanations for these awards often make no mention of keystone species, but emphasize other foundational contributions to ecological ideas on food webs, patch dynamics, non-equilibrial nature of communities, or implications for biodiversity conservation.

    How can one person contribute so many game-changing ideas? By his own assessment, these did not emerge from the intellectual milieu at the time, or from theoretical explorations, but from careful examination of living systems. Scientifically, he was inspired by nature.

    From the start, Bob’s wooded neighborhood near Cambridge, Massachusetts was a paradise for a free-roaming, curious child. He was a self-described “boy birder” with a keen eye for detail and penchant for the outdoors. As he grew up, this study and care of nature became central elements of his vocation. He received his bachelors degree from Harvard University (1954) and PhD from the University of Michigan (1961). Bob joined the faculty of the Department of Zoology at the University of Washington in 1962, where he remained throughout his career, including eight years as chair. Even after reaching emeritus status, he maintained an active research program at his long-term study site on Tatoosh Island, among the best- studied ecological systems on the planet as recorded in his chapter of “The Ecology of Place” (2011, with C. Pfister and J.T. Wootton). Work on Tatoosh has been carried out with the permission of the Makah Tribe, for whom the island is part of their cultural home.

    The outer coast of Washington, of which Tatoosh is the western-most gem, reveals stunning pattern and rich biodiversity at low tide. On simple two-dimensional surfaces, where different species appear with small changes in inundation time, the wave-exposed rocky intertidal zone became Bob’s natural laboratory. Working on a remote island was not easy: leaps of faith across surge channels, slippery algae that could take down the most sure-footed, boats overturned and scientists bodily moved by rogue waves, all supplies hefted from the beach to the top of the island via a hundred home-made steps. Every two weeks during the summer, when the tides reached their extreme lows, and at longer intervals in winter for tides in the dark, Tatoosh Island had its vital signs checked and challenged. Bob wrote his observations in bold strokes on plastic slates, each one then run through a copier for transfer to paper and permanent archiving by being taped into a leather-bound book. This series is now up to more than 20 volumes, containing decades of records of weather, bird lists, contents of the wrack line on the beach, as well as experimental results. As each tide rose and chased ecologists from their intertidal studies, Bob doled out a measure of box wine into a mug and sat down with his current scientific family to talk about what each had seen and learned.

    Generations of students and colleagues have been touched directly and indirectly by Bob’s ideas. He instilled a love of natural history in those who shared time with him in the field, including field courses which he led not just at the University of Washington but worldwide. He held deep respect for nature and an esthetic appreciation of patterns, while nurturing the curiosity and interventions to find out how complex systems work. He remained true to his ideas that consumers – predators, grazers, herbivores, everything that eats – shape the world. In his honor, we can always ask, with a gleam in the eye and intent to spark a spirited discussion, “What would have happened in that study if the consumers were caged out?” He leaves a lasting legacy as a keystone ecologist, whose contributions – disproportionate even to his imposing biomass – influence the diversity of ideas about how to study and interpret the complex systems of the living earth.

    This spring, I had the pleasure of leading a graduate seminar on modern ecological game-changers. Bob regularly weighed in by email, though he couldn’t attend in person. The “game-changer” topic had been chosen prior to Bob’s cancer diagnosis, but ended up providing a weekly opportunity for me to reflect on him. I was reminded of the graduate seminars that he organized himself, decades ago, which the students affectionately dubbed “Paine-bull” to reflect the exchange of perspectives, sometimes deliberately extreme to draw out debate. I was also reminded of Bob’s career-long commitment to graduate mentoring, which has grown a rich extended family of successful ecologists in their own right. Bob always held to the opinion that individual efforts were more cost-effective than Big Science, and that graduate students should practice independent research, rather than be cogs in bigger wheels. A perfect example of this opinion was his establishment of an endowed fund in Biology to support graduate research, re-named to include his name on the occasion of his 80th birthday: the Robert T. Paine Experimental and Field Ecology Award. This spring, the “game-changer” seminar raised an unexpected challenge of trying to figure out, given the three-year time window to which we had limited ourselves, what was really going to transform ecology, rather than be a weird splash or a dead end. So I asked Bob: how did you know that you had contributed a game-changer? He told me that a couple of months after his 1966 paper was published, he had received a letter from Robert MacArthur, the most prominent American ecologist at the time and a strict adherent to community structure driven by competition. MacArthur had read about sea stars as predators maintaining the diversity of rocky shores and was willing to admit, in writing to Bob: “This changes everything.”

    Indeed it has. Thanks, Bob, for everything.

    Bob's strong and loving daughters have concurred with Bob's own wishes to support graduate students, and that there would be no better place for memorial gifts than to the Paine Experimental and Field Ecology Endowed Fund in Biology at the University of Washington.

    Sincerely, Jennifer Ruesink 

    Gifts in honor of Bob can be directed to the Robert T. Paine Experimental & Field Ecology Endowed Fund. Please make checks out to the University of Washington, with "Paine endowment" on the memo line. For questions, email <lisatran@uw.edu> or call 206.685.2185

    From Bob Paine’s Family:

    We will be forever grateful for the outpouring of sympathy and support we have received from the University of Washington, and dad’s friends and many other professional and personal associates during the ordeal of his illness and passing. And our thanks go out to Swedish Hospital, Group Health, and the doctors and caregivers who provided the wonderful care that helped Dad through this difficult process and eased his pain.

    This has been difficult for all concerned, and especially for his family. All of us are grateful that so many of Dad’s closest companions from his long career as a dedicated biologist traveled from places near and far to his bedside to show their loving support. All these visits, letters, and expressions of affection were enjoyed and appreciated by him – and all of us – gave us peace and closure through this ordeal.

    Many thanks to you all!

    Other announcements:

    ABC News | Associated Press | The Atlantic | WA Post | NAS | ESA | The Scientist | SNS Blog

    Wed, Jun 15 at 8 AM
  • Prof. Sam Wasser was featured in a New York Times article on his career and experience in conservation biology. 

    Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

    Tue, Jun 14 at 11 AM
  • Arthur R. Kruckeberg
    March 21, 1920 – May 25, 2016

    Art Kruckeberg, Emeritus Professor of Botany, died yesterday at age 96. Art left a legacy as a scholar, teacher, promoter of gardening with native plants, and conservation activist.
    Art joined the Botany Department as an Assistant Professor in 1950 after completing his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley. He grew up in California and was imbued with all things botanical from an early age; his family owned a publishing house called Kruckeberg Press, which published gardening and horticultural publications. He began grad school in 1941 at Stanford, where he spent the previous summer as a field assistant for the famous botanical research team of Jens Clausen, David Keck, and William Heisey (Clausen, Keck, and Heisey rolls off the tongue of most botanists the way Tinker, Evers, and Chance does baseball aficionados).

    Due to forces beyond his control, graduate study would have to wait. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Art enlisted in the Navy and was recruited into their language program, where he learned Japanese. He spent the rest of the war years and a year of postwar occupation, translating Japanese documents and interpreting interrogations of captured Japanese prisoners. To the very end of his life, Art was proud of his mastery of Japanese. I had the occasion to spend a week at a conference in Japan with Art in 1989; he could still speak the language AND remembered the plants he had seen there even though it had been over 40 years since he had left Japan.

    After the war, he returned to California to start grad school again, this time at Berkeley. He completed his Ph.D. under the supervision of Herbert Mason, with Hans Jenny and G. Ledyard Stebbins on his committee. Mason had recently begun studying the unique flora found on serpentine soils in California. Art’s dissertation (An Experimental Inquiry into the Nature of Endemism on Serpentine Soils) helped bring the descriptive work on serpentine endemism into the realm of experimental science. Art maintained a research program on serpentine plants throughout his career, writing several books for both academic and lay audiences, in addition to a significant body of scientific publications.
    Once Art’s academic bona fides were well established, he increasingly devoted his attention to public outreach through his writings, promotion of conservation activism, and pushing for the establishment of environmental legislation to preserve lands for their value to biodiversity. In 1972, he led the movement to create the Washington Natural Area Preserves Act, in 1973, he developed the first list of rare and endangered plants in Washington, in 1976 he helped found the Washington Native Plant Society, in 1982 he helped create the Washington Natural Heritage Program within the Department of Natural Resources to oversee management of natural area preserves and endangered species, and during those years also served on the US Forest Service commission to identify parcels of federal land to preserve as Research Natural Areas. Art was awarded the prestigious Peter Raven Award for public outreach in botany by the American Society of Plant Taxonomists in 2006.

    Art leaves a living legacy in the form of the 4-acre garden he and his wife Mareen developed over the course of 50 years in Shoreline. This is the “type garden” for his most widely known book “Gardening with Native Plants in the Pacific Northwest.” This book has turned on generations of gardeners to the joy and conservation value of using our native flora in home gardens. When the book was first published, it won the “Governor’s Award” for outstanding books published by Washington authors. The Kruckeberg Botanic Garden is now a public garden owned by the City of Shoreline and managed by the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden Foundation.

    Art served on my Ph.D. committee and I have a debt of gratitude for Art’s support over the years. During the last few weeks, I have been sorting through the detritus of a career left behind in Art’s last office in the Plant Lab. With news of his passing, the many memories into the man who influenced me so, take on additional meaning. A legion of friends, colleagues, and many who never met him, but were influenced by his work, will mourn his passing.
    --Dick Olmstead 

     

    Gifts in honor of Art can be directed to the Kruckeberg Foundation or to the endowment he created in the Department of Biology for Plant Biology. Please make checks out to the University of Washington, with "Kruckeberg endowment" on the memo line. Questions? Contact Lisa at <lisatran@uw.edu> or 206.685.2185.

    "Art in the field -- dashing as ever" (Snoqualmie)

    Thu, May 26 at 3 PM
  • Clément Vinauger and Chloé Lahondere from the Riffel lab were featured in an article in The Stranger

    They are determining how the mosquito makes decisions on whom to feed on by identifying how the mosquito brain processes information about hosts, and the underlying genes associated with those decisions. This information can be used to identify gene targets for their control, which is especially important given the rapid spread of the Zika virus, and the continued and growing presence of mosquito-borne arboviruses (eg, West Nile, Dengue) in Washington state and the Pacific Northwest.

    Art by Levi Hastings
     

    Wed, May 18 at 9 AM
  • We are thrilled to announce the University of Washington Life Sciences Building received the American Institute of Architect's (AIA) Washington Council 2016 Civic Design Citation Award! It was the only on-the-boards project selected for a Civic Design Award this year.

    This is the fifth Civic Design Award in the last ten years for the Perkins+Will Seattle office, including a previous Honor Award for the UW Husky Union Building in 2013.

    The Life Sciences Building embraces three core concepts: Science is a Gateway + Connections + Engagement. These core concepts enhanced the building’s relation to the campus, students, faculty, and environment.

    The new 207,000-square foot building on the UW Seattle campus will become the nucleus of the Department of Biology, which occupies multiple buildings, and serve as a campus and public gateway to science. The public ground level includes a café, lounge, active learning classroom, student collaboration rooms, and teaching labs. The lower levels include state-of-the-art greenhouses that display the university's plant research adjacent to the building’s entrance and the gateway to Main Campus. The upper levels have research labs, offices, and a public zone of breakrooms and conference rooms adjacent to the glassed-in open stair. Targeting LEED Gold certification, the highly sustainable design elements of the building are on display, including glass photovoltaic fins facing the Burke-Gilman Trail, which both shade the offices and generate electricity to power the open office lighting.

    The facility has a unique civic opportunity to connect with the campus and community by engaging with the Burke-Gilman Trail, a popular biking and walking path for students and the public, which draws thousands of regional users daily through the campus. In addition to displaying the greenhouse research along the trail, a civic plaza is located where the trail intersects with the pedestrian bridge connecting to South Campus—a unique “watering hole” of educational and social activity along this regional thoroughfare of bike commuters.

    We are proud of the project team for making this project such a success!

    Tue, May 10 at 8 AM
  • The work of Reserach Prof. Megan Dethier was featured in UW Today and on KUOW recently, showing the cumulative effects of shoreline armoring on the ecosystem. Congratulations to Megan and the entire team she assembled for these studies, published in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science!

    A seawall along Harbor Avenue Southwest in West Seattle PC//H. Shipman

    Fri, Apr 22 at 1 PM
  • Some animals are more equal than others: Keystone Species and Trophic Cascades -- it is widely known that UW Biology Prof. Emeritus Robert Paine has had an incredible impact on ecology and how we think about it today. This short film by HHMI tells the story of how the concepts of keystone species and trophic cascades were first established through the pinoeering experiments of two young researchers, Bob Paine and James Estes. 

    Fri, Apr 22 at 12 PM
  • The 2016 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellows have been announced, and UW Biology is well represented! 

    NSF award:
    Ryan McGee
     
    NSF honorable mention:
    Kelsie Morioka
    Ryo Okubo
    Molly Phillips
    Luke Weaver
    Megan Whitney
    Gideon Dunster
    Ethan Linck
    Katie Stanchak
    Will King
     
     
    Congratulations everyone!
    Wed, Apr 6 at 1 PM
  • Congratulations to graduate student Ethan Linck (Klicka lab), named a 2016 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellow! 

    Mon, Apr 4 at 10 AM
  • Teaching assistant in environmental and forest sciences and Botany Greenhouse docent, Jorge Tomasevic, received a 2016 Excellence in Teaching Award, giving a shout out to our outreach programs -- "Thank you for giving me the chance to expand my teaching skills with such diverse audiences as the ones coming to the Botany Greenhouse and the Medicinal Herb Garden!" 

    Congratulations Jorge! 

    Fri, Apr 1 at 9 AM
  • Prof. and Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, Christian Sidor was exclusively quoted in Nature on the impact of NSF's recent announcement regarding the indefinite suspension of funding to maintain biological research collections. 

    The Field Museum's extensive collection of eggshells helped to reveal the destructive power of the pesticide DDT.

    Wed, Mar 30 at 11 AM