Weekly Update: Spring Break, Emily Bernhardt's Election to Fellow, Doyle & Messer Earn USDA Award, and more....

March 9, 2018

A weekly roundup of Nicholas School news, awards and grants from Dean Jeff Vincent

Alexandra Wisner
Alexandra Wisner T'18 catches sooty terns with a butterfly net to band them as part of a 50-year-long population monitoring program in Dry Tortugas National Park. This is part of Stuart Pimm's Seabird Dispersal & Survival Analysis field course held every spring for undergrads and graduate students. Photo by Ryan Huang.

Hi everyone,

As spring break gets underway, it’s a good time to reflect on an essential component of our educational programming: our field courses and field trips.
The new buildings and renovated facilities that our generous donors and Duke have funded in Beaufort and Durham have advanced our educational mission through state-of-the-art classrooms, teaching labs, and student workspaces. For some topics, however, there’s just no substitute for being outdoors.
Spring break is a popular time for some of our field courses; see the above photo from a past edition of Stuart Pimm’s spring-break course on Seabird Survival and Dispersal Analysis, in Dry Tortugas National Park. Our faculty take our students into the field at many other times of year, too; see the story and accompanying photo below about a recent day trip to Pilot Mountain led by Alex Glass.
Our strategic plan, Working Together, recognizes the need to get our students into the environment, with specific recommendations to renew and strengthen our commitment to outdoor education for undergraduates and increase support for PhD fieldwork. These are important fundraising areas for the school, especially as travel costs rise.
Field courses and field trips can require substantial amounts of backroom work to ensure that faculty and students are transported safely to and from the field and stay safe while they’re there. This work isn’t celebrated in photos, but we’re fortunate to have a dedicated staff with the skills to carry it out. Our faculty and students depend on them.
Whether you’ll be in the field next week or not, I hope you have a great week. If you see something interesting, snap a photo and submit it to the I Am Duke Environment photo contest. You might win a Sonos One smart speaker or a $100 Amazon gift card. You can get more info on the contest here.
Safe travels,

  1. Please join me in congratulating Emily Bernhardt on her election as a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) last week. In selecting her for the high honor, Emily’s peers at ESA cited the broad impacts of her seminal research on watershed biogeochemistry and global environmental change, as well as her influential advocacy promoting sound science as a critical component in environmental management and policy decisions. Emily is the sixth Nic School faculty member named an ESA Fellow since 2012. You can learn more here.
  2. USDA has awarded Martin Doyle and former postdoc Tiffany Messer a $498,000 grant to study the photodegradation of insecticides in rivers. Insecticide pollution in these rivers poses potential risks to both wildlife and humans, since much of our nation’s drinking water supply comes from these waters. The new USDA-funded research will rely on a technique Martin’s research group developed to monitor water quality. Tiffany, now an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska, will serve as lead principal investigator.
  3. Brian Silliman and PhD student Qiang He have co-authored an article in Nature Ecology & Evolution showing that secondary foundation species – such as seaweed, mussels and mistletoe – boost biodiversity and ecosystem function by enhancing the abundance and richness of habitat-associated organisms across a wide range of ecosystems. Their findings provide added evidence why conservationists need to recognize the major roles these secondary species play and integrate them into their management plans.  
  4. Postdoc Lin Yuan recently published a paper on the effects of silver nanoparticles on aquatic and wetland plants. The article was co-authored by faculty member Curt Richardson, associate in research Mengchi Ho and former associate in research and Duke Wetland Center lab manager Wes Willis. Silver nanoparticles increasingly are being used as antimicrobial agents in consumer products, biotechnology and medicine. They are released into aquatic ecosystems through wastewater. Lin’s new study expands what we know about their potential impacts on aquatic food chains.
  5. Alumna Bronwyn Llewellyn MEM’06 wins this month’s Above and Beyond Award for taking part – all the way from Tanzania – in a Virtual Career Conversation we held for students earlier this week about working abroad for the U.S. government. Bronwyn leads a team of four experts as Natural Resource Management and Water Team Leader for USAID in Dar es Salaam. She previously has worked for the agency in Nepal. The Duke Conservation Society, the Nic School’s Office of Development & Alumni Relations, and the African Environment Initiative cosponsored the career session. 
  6. PhD student Anna Wade traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to participate in the annual Congressional Visits Day on behalf of the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). Alongside a group of other graduate students and scientists, Anna met with members of Congress to advocate for continued federal support for research on natural resources and the environment.
  7. Last month, Alex Glass led a daylong field trip for the Duke Wild Ones, a group of undergraduate wildlife enthusiasts, to explore the geology and landscapes of Pilot Mountain State Park and Stone Mountain State Park. Field trips like this give students opportunities to apply classroom learning in ways that that would never be possible inside Environment Hall or LSRC.  Kudos to Alex for going the extra mile to make it possible. See photo below.
  8. Flip Froelich, a member of our Board of Visitors, has coauthored a new peer-reviewed paper that reveals levels of dissolved silica in the deep Pacific were about 12 percent higher at the onset of the last deglaciation than they are today. The findings are based on silica measurements taken from the spicules of five deep-ocean sponges ranging in age from 5,000 to 18,000 years – making them some of the world’s oldest living animals. Understanding how silica content in the deep oceans has changed over geological time provides scientists with a critical context for understanding the changes taking place in Earth’s climate and atmospheric CO2 levels today.
alex glass.jpg
Alex Glass led a daylong field trip for "The Wild Ones," a group of undergrad wildlife enthusiasts. See item #7.

Keep me up to date on what you are doing. Submit your items here.