Searching for Salamanders – April 2021

It’s a very special season in Rochester! With the first few warm, rainy nights of the year comes an assortment of amphibians! Last week, several groups from the department went out to the nearby Mendon Ponds Park in search for salamanders and other pond pals. We specifically looked for vernal pools, bodies of water that form in the early spring due to snowmelt and evaporate away as the year goes on. These temporary ponds are perfect nurseries for many organisms, including frogs and salamanders, because predatory fish cannot access them.

Heading out around 9-11PM, each of the groups found a wide range of species! Including …

Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer): These small frogs produce a lot of noise as their chorus of raspy chirps can be heard throughout the night.

Northern Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans melanota): A common frog in ponds, if you think you hear someone plucking a banjo, it might just be a green frog!

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus): These toads are big and will further deter predators by secreting a bufotoxin, a poisonous substance that makes the toad unpalatable.

Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens): These can be found in a juvenile stage called an eft (shown here). Due to their color during this stage, they are often called “red efts”.

Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum): A medium sized mole salamander, these animals spend most of their time in burrows. They emerge this time of year to feed on worms in the rain and reproduce.

Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus): These small salamanders have a color polymorphism: some have red stripe (“red-backed”) while others have grey backs (“lead-backed”). The red striped individuals are also less likely to run away from predators, possibly relying on camouflage or aposematic coloration.

Yellow-Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum): The main goal of our trips, this large mole salamander is extremely hard to find outside of March-May. On only a few nights during this period, large masses of salamanders will move into vernal pools to breed all at once. Here’s hoping a later outing will catch this!

Fairy Shrimp (Eubranchipus vernalis): These are freshwater shrimp that only appear in vernal pools. They reproduce while the pool is full and their eggs remain dormant for the rest of the year until the pools form again in the spring.

Overall, these trips were a great way to familiarize ourselves with local wildlife and appreciate the biodiversity of vernal pools!

2020 Review

Last year introduced us all to a new set of challenges that have brought hardship and tragedy to many. However, despite these difficulties, good news did exist during 2020, and here I will present some of the reasons for celebration that occurred for the E2G2 graduate students!

  • Three new graduate students started their PhDs with us! Maria Castaño, Matthew Lindsay, and Xiaomi Liu!
  • Rose Driscoll, a PhD student in the Brisson Lab, received the GRFP, recognizing her great skills as a researcher and promising contributions to science!
  • Emery Logan received the Edward Peak Curtis Award for excellence in teaching as a graduate student!
  • The University of Rochester hosted the second Great Lakes Annual Meeting of  Evolutionary Genomics! Despite needing to shift to an online platform, the meeting has a huge success with many fascinating presenters!
  • Four PhD students passed their qualifying exams: Rose Driscoll, Lauren Gregory, Jeremy Summers, and Nilima Walunjkar!

2021 will be sure to offer its own set of challenges, but we hope that the members of our community will continue to do great things!

Journal Club Sept 15, 2020

After a certainly unique summer featuring many adjustments but also many great online conferences, classes are back in session at UR. To bring back something familiar, here are the papers that will be discussed during this week’s Journal Club on Tuesday the 15th at 11:05 (see department emails for access to the zoom link).

The focus is on the Bateson-Dobzhansky-Muller Model and will include a classic 1936 paper by Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Studies of hybrid sterility. II. Localization of sterility factors in Drosophila pseudoobscura hybrids” and a 1995 by our own Allen Orr, “The population genetics of speciation: the evolution of hybrid



Science Now!

Last Thursday the Chen and Meyer labs set up booths at Wayne Central Middle School for the Science Now Expo. The night was a chance for students of the middle school and their parents to talk to members of the local STEM community and see some of the demonstrations. The booths included a guessing game of genetic inheritance, 3D printing, and a box of live bumblebees!

Journal Club Dec 10, 2019

Please join us this Tuesday at 11:05 – 12:15 in Hutch 316. Lindsey and Songeun will be presenting these papers:

“Disruptive selection and the genetic basis of bill size polymorphism in the African finch Pyrenestes” by Smith (1993)

“Growth factor gene IGF1 is associated with bill size in the black-bellied seedcracker Pyrenestes ostrinus” by vonHoldt et al (2018)

“Divergence and Functional Degradation of a Sex Chromosome-like Supergene” by Tuttle et al (2016)

Journal Club Nov 26, 2019

Please join us this Tuesday at 11:05 – 12:15 in Hutch 316. Rose and I will be presenting these papers:

“Barson et al. 2015. “Sex-dependent dominance at a single locus maintains variation in age at maturity in salmon”

Ruzicka et al. 2019. “Genome-wide sexually antagonistic variants reveal long-standing constraints on sexual dimorphism in fruit flies”.

Journal Club Nov 19, 2019

Please join us this Tuesday at 11:05 – 12:15 in Hutch 316. Songeun and Lauren will be presenting these papers: “Rapid and adaptive evolution of MHC genes under parasite selection in experimental vertebrate populations.” by Eizaguirre et al., 2012 and “Immunogenetic novelty confers a selective advantage in host-pathogen coevolution.” by Phillips et al., 2018.

Journal Club Nov 12, 2019

Please join us this Tuesday at 11:05 – 12:15 in Hutch 316. Emery and Rose will be presenting these papers focusing on negative frequency dependent selection: “Mating advantage of rare males in wild guppy populations” by Hughes et al., 2013 and “Herbivore-Mediated Interaction Promotes the Maintenance of Trichome Dimorphism through Negative Frequency-Dependent Selection” by Sato and Kudoh, 2017.

Halloween for the Department

Last week many people in the department got involved in some holiday festivities. Whether it was handing out candy in Hutchinson Hall for the Society of Undergraduate Biology Student’s trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, or just getting dressed up in costume, we had a spooky time!