Latin names don’t go in titles

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In work spearheaded my my postdoc mentor Shannon Murphy and colleague Mayra Vidal,  we found that including a Latin name in your title decreases your citation rate! Check out our recent paper to find out more tips on writing a compelling title.


Cricket Party

The first annual St Ambrose Cricket Party was a roaring success! Twenty-seven seniors presented original research at Rozz Tox, a quirky coffee shop/pub in Rock Island, IL. The space was filled with members of the public, friends, family, and SAU affiliates. There were cricket themes drink specials and even cookies and brownies made with cricket flour (yes real dead crickets but not our research animals). I’m so proud of the research my students completed and the enthusiastic expert way in which they presented it. #proudmentor #purringcrickets

Community engagement in Davenport

Nahant Marsh invited us to present our research to the public. Friends of Nahant joined for a breakfast where my freshman presented original research, which they conducted at the marsh last fall. Thank you Andrew Powell, Collin Link, Spencer Schlarmann, Jacob Mulvihill, and Liv Skelly-Williams for representing SAU with such poise. They discussed their research expertly and with confidence. #proudmentor

Slug hunting!

It’s finally warm enough for fieldwork, so SAU Intro Bio students headed to the woods to collect slugs. We caught three different species and lots of them. This week we are setting up experiments to test lots of original hypotheses including how far slugs will go for a beer (one of their favorite foods), whether hormones like melatonin effect food consumption, and even if dubstep music deters slugs. Stay tuned!

Rhizobia homes!

SAU Inro Bio students uprooted their clovers to see if the legumes had formed symbiotic relationships with the soil bacteria, called rhizobia. Success! It differed across treatments, and almost every tiny clover plant formed root nodules to house rhizobia bacteria. The rhizobia fix nitrogen for the plant in exchange for food and a home. Science is SO COOL!

Everything’s coming up clovers

Intro bio students are studying the relationship between nitrogen-fixing bacteria (rhizobia) and legumes (clovers). These tiny clovers have been in different soil treatments forming nodules to house rhizobia. This week we get to count them!

Cricket wrangling…

…requires creativity and patience. Just ask Ambrose seniors who started researching cricket mating behavior in their capstone evolution course. We start independent research projects this week. Stay tuned! #purringcrickets


Sex is important for conservation

I worked with a great undergraduate, Emily Mensch, at Colorado State University as well as the guppy gene flow dream team (pictured below minus John) to ask how mating behavior might impact the success or failure of translocations. When we move animals to a new location as a conservation/management strategy, we usually think only of genetic diversity. But what about the role of mating behavior, which may be complex and shaped by plasticity and gene-by-environment interactions? Emily watched immigrant guppies have sex for months. Check out our new publication to see what she discovered: A potential role for immigrant reproductive behavior in the outcome of population augmentations.


Shutdown: Field season part 3

The government shutdown canceled our field season. A protestant pastor and a group of nuns made our evolutionary research possible.

The famous purring crickets live in Kalaupapa, which is a National Park on the island of Molokai. Kalaupapa is very difficult to access, and we had to set up a sponsor (Dr. Paul Hosten) through the NPS system and permits months in advance. Due to the shutdown, all NPS employees were banned from entering the park, even though many of them live there! Without a sponsor, we could not enter…

Let me tell you a bit more about Kalaupapa. The park was historically a prison for Hawaiians with Hanson’s disease (leprosy). People were exiled there to die beginning in the 1840s. The bacterial disease was cured with the the invention of antibiotics in the mid 1940s, but patients were not allowed to leave until 1969–most chose not to. The National Park Service manages the hundreds of historic properties, ancient ruins, thousands of grave stones, and endangered plants and animals on the islands. So, since all of the NPS staff were exiled from Kalaupapa, the only people there were the patients and some of the people caring for them including nurses and people officiated with religious institutions. There are 13 surviving patients, all of whom were cured of Hanson’s disease (leprosy) in the 40s.

At the last minute, Pastor Richard volunteered to sponsor us and host us. Richard used to work for NPS but is now in Kalaupapa as a pastor, so he wasn’t forced off the island like all of the other employees. We stayed at his church and were able to do all of our research there.  While working for NPS, Richard worked to preserve hundreds of gravestones and many of the historic buildings, including the 1889 Catholic Church where Father Damien was canonized in 2009.



The Catholic Church has had a big presence in Kalaupapa since the 1840s, and there is still an Abbey there where Sister Alicia and Sister Barbara Jean live—our purring crickets live on their front lawn. They were very supportive of our research. There was also a group of nuns and priests who were visiting on a mission trip. They spent hours helping us search the lawn of the Abbey for purring crickets. We learned so much about the history of the island and about the people who live there. We were welcomed and supported by everyone there. It was a very special experience and we are so thankful that the religious community allowed us to complete our evolutionary research.