Highlights from the Symposium Talks

by Leah Everitt, Elisabeth Sorrows, and Emily McGrew

Our favorite talks from the University of Michigan’s Early Career Scientist Symposium on March 29:

Leah: Cool Cow Genes

My favorite talk at the symposium was entitled “From the Aurochs to the Anthropocene: domestication and global movement of cattle in the past 10,000 years”. This talk focused on cattle genetics and when bovine were domesticated. I found it really interesting to hear that bovine were actually domesticated in two different places around the same time. Because of these two distinct domestication events there are marked morphological differences between the two different types of domestic cows. But the most interesting thing to me was how the data was analyzed. They took DNA from different groups of cattle and determined how much of their DNA was from each of the two domestications. By doing this they could map where different groups of cattle had come from and how they had moved across continents. They have done similar studies like this in humans and I thought it was so cool that they were now doing this in other animals.

Elisabeth: “Climate-induced shifts in flowering phenology: demographic consequences and community-level responses” from Amy Iler

Dr. Amy Iler’s presentation was titled “climate-induced shifts in flowering phenology: demographic consequences and community-level responses”. Dr. Iler started off by discussing how scientists often focus on when plants started flowering, when the snow first fell and melted. She showed that the ranges of start times for an event are is not the only important piece of data to record. They must also record the end and the peak because it is important to see how the whole range is and if the whole range shifts. however the whole range does not have to uniformly shift, the first date, last date, or peak could shift. For many years people have recorded the first snow-melt but this is not as accurate, so Dr. Iler looked at the runoff to be a more accurate representation of snow-melt. Dr. Iler was focused on looking at the plants. She found that the amount of time the flowers were in bloom had been extended by a month over a significant period of time. Even though the flowering period had been lengthened the number of flowers that were recorded each year stayed the same.

Emily: “Synergistic interactions between eutrophication and climate change: implications for water quality in lakes” from Cayelan Carey

Cayelan not only had a cool topic, but the techniques she utilized in her presenation made everyone sit up and pay attention. To get into her research question, she presented the idea that the combined effects of global climate change and increased nutrient pollution synergistically interact to increase cyanobacterial algal blooms in freshwater lakes. After explaining this idea, an enormous, bleeding, gaping zombie appeared as her next slide. Cayelan waited for the laughter to die down before calling out the “synergistic interaction” theory as a “zombie idea, preying on the brains of unsuspecting grad students”. Her research focused on debunking the synergistic interaction idea. She used a combination of historical studies and current experiments to investigate the factor most strongly correlated with increased cyanobacterial blooms. Through these analyses, she identified water column mixing as the most indicative factor of increased algal blooms. When different layers of water are allowed to mix, the number of algal larvae pulled up from the bottom of the lake increases and leads to population explosions. However, the current trend in water column mixing is actually trending to more stable lakes with less mixing, and therefore fewer algal blooms. Cayelan very effectively “killed” the zombie idea of synergistic interaction leading to increased algal blooms, through careful research and engaging presentation.


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