News from the Werren Lab

Munni ready for Rochester summer

Three new members are welcomed to the Werren lab and Biology Department.  Mrinalini (Munni) arrived in April from Bangor University, Wales. She is researching the function and evolution of parasitoid venoms. Aisha Siebert is an MD/PhD candidate at UR who is investigating function and medical implications of parasitoid venoms. Matthias Williams is a new technician, also working on venoms.


Dylan Sacks, an undergraduate scholar studying wing size evolution, has received an EDEN (Evo-Devo-Eco Network) Undergraduate Summer Internship to continue his work on positional cloning of a male specific wing size quantitative trait locus (QTL) causing wing size differences among Nasonia species.


Congratulations to David Loehlin (Biology PhD 2011)! He received the Outstanding Dissertation Award from the University of Rochester School of Arts and Sciences for his work on the genetics of wing size and growth evolution.

Dave, being Dave

Spring bloom in the desert

About this time of year in Rochester, we are still early in the spring. However, in the Sonoran Desert spring bloom is almost over. One of the last plant species to bloom in the spring is the saguaro cactus, Carnegiea gigantea. Rob Laport and Bob Minckley were in Tucson and surrounding areas from 25 April to 7 May doing field work and giving presentations at a conference ( that meets every 8 years to discuss science and management issues of the Sky Island region (=northwestern Chihuahuan and northeastern Sonoran Deserts).

During the visit, we took this picture. Saguaros flowers produce tremendous amounts of pollen and nectar at night that attract bats. What is left over is cleaned up the following morning by bees and white-winged doves (Zenaida asiatica). The bees in the picture are honey bees (Apis mellifera).

Desert Plant Succession and Fire-con’t

Bob Minckley and amigos relocated and resampled all the vegetation plots in Mexico that had been established in 2000. Some of the plots, especially those that are near water, have changed considerably.

Towards the end of the trip, a few individuals of Colorado River Toad (Bufo alvarius) and Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum) were out in anticipation of the rainy season.

Colorado River Toad

Gila monster

The Horseshoe fire in the Chiricahua Mountains burns on and the worst part of it will be when the rains begin and there is no vegetation to slow the water and the soil suspended in it. Here are some pictures from El Coronado Ranch on the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains in east Turkey Creek Canyon. It is remarkable to see how variable fires can be. In some areas the understory grasses and shrubs burn and most trees appear to live and in other nearby areas everything burns.

14 June 2011, El Coronado Ranch, Cochise Co., Arizona

The hillside below was a hot spot, as you can tell by comparing the two pictures taken two weeks apart.

Hillside 14 June 2011, El Coronado Ranch, Cochise Co., Arizona

Hillside 19 June 2011, El Coronado Ranch, Cochise Co., Arizona

Desert Plant Succession and Fire

The largest impact of humans on deserts is grazing. In western North America, cattle have been present continuously since the 1700’s. Along the Mexican-U.S. border two large tracts of land were removed from grazing in the late 1970’s. The San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge ( was established in 1979 because it contains the headwaters of the Rio Yaqui, the largest river in Sonora, Mexico. A number of fish species and a spring snail occur in the U.S. only in this refuge. Directly south, in Mexico, Rancho San Bernardino has not been grazed since 2000 ( We are re-measuring sites first established in 2000 with the vegetation found there today. The data are repeat photography and documentation of species composition and cover. The picture below is one site in an abandoned agricultural field. Major differences are the modest increase in mesquite trees. The mesquite tree in the middle of the picture in 2000 died (probably due to winter freezing). Photos such as these will be compared in sites in riparian, desert marsh, desert scrub, mesquite forest and grassland habitats.

The fire in the Chiricahua Mountains has crossed to the western side of the mountain last Sunday or Monday (22, 23 May). It is now larger than 40,000 acres and will probably burn until the rains begin in early July (