Biology students host free lecture series for graduate research presentations


Thomas Allison

A squirrel pauses while drinking from a sprinkler head outside the SAC.

Tiffany Hinman

Rain did not stop the Austin community from learning about the relationship between animals and humans in urban societies at October’s Science Under the Stars lecture.

Patrick Stinson, an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student, spoke at the free lecture series at Brackenridge Field Laboratory Thursday evening to discuss how human and animal interaction is affected by urban ecosystems. Stinson’s graduate research investigates the effects traffic noise has on the environment of cricket frogs, attempting to determine if males can acclimate to the noise or need to adapt their calls.

“There is no Austin without the interaction we have with other organisms,” Stinson said. “People are raised thinking, ‘I’m not interested in biology.’ With this attitude, you are cutting yourself off from understanding what is actually going on.”

Stinson presented examples in which urbanization affected ecosystems, including peppered moths adapting exterior colors to match the color of tree bark chemically altered by factory emissions. He stressed the difference between acclimation and adaptation, acclimation being a constrained behavior not passed down to offspring and adaptation being a change between generations passed down to offspring. He said in urban environments, adaptation to noise is evident in the increase in volume of animal calls.

While the lectures are normally presented outside, the risk of rain forced Science Under the Stars volunteers to move operations inside Brackenridge Field Laboratory.

Graduate students in the Section of Integrative Biology founded Science Under the Stars in 2009. Eben Gering, an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student, has worked with Science Under the Stars since it began. Gering said the program was originally designed to give graduate students the chance to develop public speaking skills and develop opportunities for the public to learn about the research conducted in UT’s biology program.

“As graduate students we are trained how to apply for research grants and how to write scientific publications, but we receive zero training in how to tell the public what we do in a way that the public will find understandable and interesting,” Gering said. 

Science Under the Stars will meet again Nov. 8 to present a lecture by Chintan Modi, a cell and molecular biology graduate student, to discuss vaccine development and fluorescence.

Printed on Friday, October 12, 2012 as: Student lecturer studies effects of urbanization on local wildlife