The 2015 Desert Ecology & Biogeography course just returned from an extraordinary tour of deserts in the American Southwest! Over the last week (spring break), co-instructor Brett Mattingly and I took 14 Eastern students on a journey to the Great Basin, Mojave, and Sonoran deserts. Highlights included camping at the base of the Sierra Nevada, exploring the lowest elevation in North America, running (or crashing) down Kelso Dunes, and encounters with three different rattlesnake species! We owe many thanks to George Graham, Jef Jaeger, Tasha La Doux, and our students for making this a safe, productive, and memorable first trip.
Graham, M. R., Hendrixson, B. E., Hamilton, C. A., Bond, J. E. (2015), Miocene extensional tectonics explain ancient patterns of diversification among turret-building tarantulas (Aphonopelma mojave group) in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. Journal of Biogeography. doi: 10.1111/jbi.12494
Top: Adult Aphonopelma mojave displaying its chelicerae and fangs.
Bottom: Landscape interpolation of pairwise genetic distances among populations of A. mojave group tarantulas.
*Neither image was included in the manuscript.
Dr. Brett Mattingly and I are finally kicking off our first semester teaching a new course on desert ecology and biogeography, topics that have long excited us both. In addition to standard lectures on ecological interactions and biogeographic process in the North American deserts, thirteen students will accompany us to the Mojave, Sonoran, and Great Basin deserts for a week of exploration during spring break. Many of these students (true New Englanders) have never visited a desert and picture them as barren expanses of sand and cacti. We can’t wait to blow their minds! Deserts are just so much more than that. Stay tuned as we document our travels and the unique organisms that call these extreme environments their home. A map outlining our tentative itinerary is provided below.
Dr. Paula Cushing of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and I just completed a successful collecting trip in the southeastern United States. We met in Atlanta, rented a stylish new Fiat, and traveled throughout Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, staying at state park and national forest campgrounds… all of which included showers! Field work in the south is sure a whole lot easier, and more relaxing, than in the western deserts. Let’s see, we encountered salamanders, a copperhead, two canebrake (timber) rattlesnakes, a black bear (from a distance), hot n’ salty boiled peanuts, delicious pizza in the deep south, a bona fide river baptism, and most importantly, lots of southern unstriped scorpions (Vaejovis carolinianus). By the end of the trip we were so good at finding scorpions that we were letting them go. Many thanks to the CSU-AAUP Faculty Research Grants Program for funding this productive research trip.
The 2014 Tropical Biology class had a safe, productive, and all around good time this year in Costa Rica… this group definitely knows how to work and play hard! Congratulations to the students for great work on their research projects and to Drs. Elliot and Szczys for orchestrating another successful excursion. Some of the highlights included sloths, an anteater, howler monkeys, white-headed capuchins, several snakes (including a fer-de-lance!), scorpions, lots of birds and anurans, a tour of a pineapple plantation, a chocolate tour, and of course rafting! I’m already looking forward to our next trip in 2016.
Congratulations to Brandon Chatfield, Tara Holm, and the rest of the Class of 2014!
Brandon and Tara were exceptional students and integral to the development of our phylogenetics lab. They will definitely be missed, but we are excited to see where they go from here and what they accomplish next!
Many thanks to Rich Ayrey and Michael Soleglad for describing Vaejovis grahami, a new sky island scorpion from the Santa Rita Mountains of southern Arizona. Their paper can be found a the link below.
Ayrey, R.F. & M.E. Soleglad. 2014. New species of Vaejovis from the Santa Rita Mountains, southern Arizona (Scorpiones: Vaejovidae). Euscorpius, 183.1-13. LINK