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News and Announcements

If you have a news item or announcement please send it to Joe Veech.

WISE conference is just around the corner

The Women in Science and Engineering Conference is coming up soon! The annual conference is now in its sixth year. It is a great opportunity for students to present research as well as interact and network with each other, faculty, and other conference attendees. This year the conference will be held on March 2, 2018, but there are several earlier deadlines in February. More information appears on the WISE website. Get involved!

NSF awards funding for research on ancient forest in New Mexico

Fossilized leaf from New Mexico
Fossilized leaf from ancient forest study site in central New Mexico. The leaf is well-fossilized and even shows damage possibly caused by insect herbivory, Photo courtesy of Dori Contreras

Dr. Gary Upchurch (Biology Department at Texas State) and Dr. Cynthia Looy (UC-Berkeley) recently received funding from NSF to continue research on a fossilized forest from the Late Cretaceous. The forest was very diverse with angiosperm plants that existed about 75 million years ago in the central part of present-day New Mexico. Of special note, the funded project also supports the research activities of two graduate students: Joan Parrott at Texas State and Dori Contreras (née Thompson) at UC-Berkeley. Dori is also one of our own having graduated in 2012 from Texas State with a B.S. degree in Biology. (Posted December 13, 2017)  

Biology faculty participating in new STEM grant from NSF

Dr. Garcia and Dr. Daniel
Dr. Dana Garcia (left) and Dr. Kristy Daniel (right)

Dr. Dana Garcia and Dr. Kristy Daniel (both in Biology) have teamed up with Dr. Shetay Ashford (Department of Occupational, Workforce, and Leadership Studies) on a recently-awarded STEM grant from The National Science Foundation. The $300,000 grant will allow the researchers to study and launch a pilot program that coordinates university, public school, and community resources in preparing under-represented students for success in pursuing STEM degrees in college. Dr. Ashford is the PI for the two-year project which officially started on December 1.  (Posted December 8, 2017)

New faculty in Fall 2017

New faculty in fall of 2017
New faculty members, clockwise from top left, Sarah Fritts, Shobhit Sharma, Hayley Gillespie, David Johnson, and Hugo Pedrozo

This fall we welcome several new faculty to the Department. They are Dr. Sarah Fritts (Assistant Professor), Dr. Shobhit Sharma (Senior Instructor), Dr. Sunni Taylor (Senior Instructor), Dr. Hayley Gillespie (Instructor), Dr. David Johnson (Instructor), and Dr. Hugo Pedrozo (Instructor).(Posted October 4, 2017)

Ph.D. student wins award for outstanding dissertation

Matt Milholland
Matt Milholland holding a recently captured rodent.

Matt Milholland recently won the Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Graduate College. Matt's dissertation is titled Ecological Factors of Rodent Assemblage Structure Affecting Hantavirus Prevalence at Varying Spatial Scales and his adviser is Dr. Ivan Castro-Arellano. Matt's dissertation will also be entered into a national level competition. Congratulations to Matt for winning the award and being the latest Ph.D. graduate in the Biology Department. (Posted July 6, 2017)

Grad student wins award at scientific conference

Timothy accepting the award.

Timothy Cioffi (M.S. student in the Dharmasiri lab, left in photo) won third place for his research presentation on “IBR5 may regulate auxin responses in Arabidopsis through interaction with SCF Complex” in the graduate students’ oral presentation competition at the 2017 American Society of Plant Biologists - Southern Section meeting recently held in Orlando, Florida. Congratulations to Timothy! (Posted June 1, 2017)

Fulbright Scholar arrives from Turkey

Benjamin Schwartz, Okan Külköylüoğlu, and Joe Veech

Dr. Okan Külköylüoğlu from Abant Izzet Baysal University (Bolu, Turkey) recently arrived to begin his Fulbright Fellowship at Texas State University. Dr. Külköylüoğlu is a leading expert on the taxonomy and ecology of ostracods. These are very small aquatic crustaceans in the Class Ostracoda. They inhabit a variety of aquatic ecosystems, including marine and freshwater. There are about 65,000 – 70,000 described species including extant and fossil forms. However, there are likely thousands more undescribed species. Examining samples sent to him in the past few years, Dr. Külköylüoğlu has described seven new genera from Texas. In comparison, only 52 species had previously been described for Texas. Over the next year, Okan will continue examining local samples and will no doubt discover additional new species. Okan’s host during his stay is Dr. Joe Veech whom he will be working with to learn new statistical techniques for analyzing species diversity. He will also be working closely with Dr. Benjamin Schwartz and other local scientists in his quest to discover and learn more about the diversity of this group of interesting organisms here in Texas. Okan’s wife Hati is also a biologist and has accompanied him on his visit along with their two sons, Poyraz (age 10) and Uras (age 7). We welcome Okan and his family to the department and university. (Posted February 24, 2017)

Researchers awarded funding to study endangered lizard species

Dunes Sagebrush Lizard (photo credit USFWS)

Dr. Thom Hardy and Dr. Mike Forstner have been awarded a $930,000 research contract from the Texas Comptroller’s Office to conduct field surveys and develop a habitat model for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus arenicolus) in west Texas. The lizard is a candidate for endangered species listing with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. It has primarily been threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation. Thus there is a need to better identify the distribution of current and potential habitat and find ways of preserving that habitat. (Posted February 23, 2017)

Good showing by the Biology Department at recent wildlife conference

TCTWS 2017 Conference in San Antonio. James Tolliver with his award (top left), students preparing to compete in the Quiz Bowl (top right), and group photo of some Texas State University attendees (bottom).

Faculty, grad students, and undergrad students recently attended the annual conference of the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society in San Antonio. Several grad students presented their thesis research in oral presentations or posters. James Tolliver won an award for Best Poster Presentation (“Influences on black rail detection and implications for survey techniques”), selected among dozens of others. Other presenters included Michelle Adcock, Anne Beckman, Meagan Bell, Sarah Durham, Alyssa Fink, Anna Matthews, Silas Ott, Rebekah Rylander, and William Wunderlich. Among undergrad students, Howell Pugh was awarded Outstanding Student from a University Chapter. Also of note, the Quiz Bowl team consisting of undergrad students came in second place after a very close overtime finish. The Quiz Bowl is a competition in which student teams compete by correctly answering questions on ecology, wildlife management, statistics, and environmental law. Team members included Autumn Yarosz, Kristin Dyer, Jacquelyn Tleimat, Karen Alvarado, Hannah Salem, Alexa Brown, Robert Tyler, David Klingele, Sonia Duran, and Atessa Szeglin. Finally, Matt Wagner, a part-time faculty member in the department and retired employee of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was presented with the Lifetime Membership Award. Congratulations to Matt and all the students that represented the department and university at this year’s meeting. (Posted February 23, 2017)

Research on kangaroo rat featured on television program

The weekly TV series produced by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recently featured research on the Texas kangaroo rat being conducted by Dr. Randy Simpson and graduate student Silas Ott. The 7-minute feature is currently airing on PBS stations throughout the state and can be viewed at The Texas kangaroo rat (Dipodomys elator) is a little-known species whose entire geographic range is confined to a few rural counties west of Wichita Falls in north Texas. Current research is examining the distribution, abundance, and habitat affinities of the species. Other research team members include Dr. Joe Veech, Dr. Ivan Castro-Arellano, and graduate student Grady Terry. (Posted February 22, 2017)

Texas kangaroo rat out of its burrow in the early morning light (left) and peeking out from its burrow (right). The species is strictly nocturnal and rarely seen out of the burrow during daylight.

Faculty member receives award for her exemplary contributions to graduate education

Dr. Paula Williamson

Dr. Paula Williamson, Professor, has received the Award for Outstanding Contributions to Graduate Education from the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools.  The award honors Dr. Williamson for her excellent contributions to graduate education worthy of recognition regionally and nationally, from among the 200 plus universities that belong to CSGS.  Dr. Williamson first arrived at Texas State (then Southwest Texas State University) in 1988. Over the years, her research and that of her graduate students has mostly focused on the conservation biology of plants. Dr. Williamson’s noteworthy involvement in graduate education includes appointment by the Ecological Society of America and United Negro College Fund to serve as Partner in the Strategies for Ecology Education, Development and Sustainability Program (SEEDS).  Her accomplishments in that capacity included improving instruction in ecology courses and increasing the number of minority students majoring in ecology and entering graduate programs. She has also successfully promoted initiatives to increase the participation of graduate students in professional organizations and societies such as the Southwestern Association of Naturalists. Lastly, Dr. Williamson served as Associate Dean of the Graduate College at Texas State from 2005-2014 during which time she instituted many improvements to graduate education throughout the university.  Congratulations to Dr. Williamson for the much deserved award! (Posted January 27, 2017)

Texas State – Aquatic Biology represented at a recent scientific conference

The Texas State Aquatic Biology group poses for a picture at the Corpus Christi meeting.

Faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students from the department recently attended the meeting of the Texas Chapter of the American Fisheries Society in Corpus Christi, January 19 – 21. It appears that everyone had a fun time. Fourteen students were in attendance and all together seven of these students were involved in giving ten oral and poster presentations – an excellent showing. Of note, Ph.D. student Cody Craig won a Student Scholarship Award and Dr. Tim Bonner won the Fisheries Worker Award for Research.  Congratulations to Cody and Tim! (Posted January 27, 2017)

Major funding acquired to aid in the conservation of mussels

Smooth Pimpleback mussel from the lower portion of the Colorado River

The Texas Comptroller’s Office has dedicated $2.3 million in funds toward research on the distribution and abundance of five mussel species in basins of the Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe Rivers. The research will be directed by Dr. Tim Bonner, professor in the Department of Biology. In general, mussels are a highly imperiled group of species particularly in the Midwest and southeastern USA. However, much remains to be learned about the basic ecology and distribution of many species, including those in Texas. Beginning this year, Dr. Bonner and colleagues will start filling in the knowledge gaps. Their research is intended to help the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in their official assessment of the conservation status of the five species. In addition to field surveys and habitat assessments, the research will also aim to develop techniques for captive propagation. (Posted January 12, 2017)

Professor earns university recognition for career accomplishments

Dr. Dittmar Hahn

Dr. Dittmar Hahn (Professor and Chair of Biology Department) was recently named a Texas State University System Regents' Professor by the Board of Regents. The recognition is based on an exceptional record as scholar, teacher, advisor, and leader. Dr. Hahn has been with the university since 2004. His main area of research is microbial ecology. Congratulations to Dr. Hahn! (Posted January 2, 2017)

Four undergrad students in Biology receive university research funding

Four undergrad students in the Department of Biology have been awarded funding from the university's Undergraduate Research Fund. They are Amanda Patillo (pictured to the left), Aiko Amano, Kayley Smith, and Ashley Summers. Amanda is working in the lab of Dr. Dana Garcia on a project studying how mouse eyes undergo retinomotor movements under changing light conditions. The project investigates a transporter protein that exports a chemical signal out of the retina and into the subretinal space where it can then travel to the RPE to induce pigment granule movements. Aiko is working in the lab of Dr. Noland Martin and Kayley and Ashley are both working in Dr. Shannon Weigum's lab.  Congratulations to these students! (Posted December 9, 2016)

The Kushlan Research Award in Ciconiiform Biology and Conservation at the 40th Annual Meeting of the Waterbird Society in New Bern, North Carolina. (Posted November 2016)

Sarah Durham (M.S. Wildlife Ecology student) was awarded the Kushlan Research Award in Ciconiiform Biology and Conservation at the 40th Annual Meeting of the Waterbird Society in New Bern, North Carolina. The research grant will go towards funding Sarah's thesis on the Population Viability of the Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) in Texas: An Analysis of Management Actions and Implications.

A book entitled Behavioral Ecology of the Eastern Red-backed Salamander: 50 years of research. (Posted November 2016)

Dr. Caitlin Gabor (Professor of Biology) along with co-authors Robert G. Jaeger, Birgit Gollmann, Carl D. Anthony and Nancy R. Kohn recently published a book entitled Behavioral Ecology of the Eastern Red-backed Salamander: 50 years of research. The Eastern Red-backed Salamander is the most abundant salamander in eastern North America and has served as model species for numerous fields of biological inquiry. This book provides and overview of a research program spanning 50 years and focuses on the behavioral ecology of the species including intra- and interspecific competition, aggression, cognition, reproductive and foraging strategies and territoriality. For more information about this book

Nowlin, Team Ramp Up for EAHCP Refugia Study (Posted July 2016)

When springflows reach extremely low flows during dry weather conditions, the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP) triggers protection measures for the EAHCP covered species relying on those springs for survival. The species will be collected and placed in manmade facilities known as "refugia." The program anticipates being able to save animals for possible reintroduction back into the environment after drought of record conditions subside. An important step in implementing this program has been initiated by Dr. Weston Nowlin, Associate Professor of Biology at Texas State University. He recently briefed the EAHCP’s Science Committee on his Refugia Captive Propagation Study. Dr. Nowlin and his research team will focus their studies on the Comal Springs Riffle Beetle, Peck’s Cave Amphipod and Texas Troglobidic Water Slater, all found in and around Comal Springs. Collecting these very small creatures to study is a major challenge in itself. Nowlin said the team will use a combination of lures and nets to capture the species before bringing them back to the lab to separate them. A refugium is an artificial setting where the species can be housed when taken out of the wild. It is particularly important to be prepared when natural and human activity combine to place the habitat of the species in jeopardy. While at these refugia laboratory facilities, researchers will also study the species to expand knowledge of their biology, life histories and effective reintroduction techniques. Another aspect of the overall refugia program is the collection of endangered species known as "standing stock," which will always exist in laboratories for drought of record reasons and catastrophic events such as a large oil or fuel spill in the river. This effort provides the EAHCP the capability to reintroduce the covered species into their habitat after a catastrophic event. You can listen to an interesting interview with Dr. Nowlin at this EAHCP website link.

Tiny Beetle Big Bug on Campus in Texas State Lab (Posted July 2016)

Amid the valves, water lines, PVC, gauges, plywood and dark mesh coverings in a lab in San Marcos, several Comal Springs Riffle Beetles have settled into their new homes outside of the wild. While only about the size of strawberry seed, these tiny insects are endangered and living in the Comal Springs. Consequently, they are protected in the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP). "Essentially, we started from scratch in learning about the Comal Springs Riffle Beetle," said Dr. Weston Nowlin, biology department associate professor at Texas State University. "There was some anecdotal information about these guys, but no one had done any kind of research on this species. We are trying to learn its tolerance to varying water temperature or dissolved oxygen concentrations because low flows in the Edwards Aquifer during droughts can raise water temperature and reduce dissolved oxygen." Nowlin explained that capturing these riffle beetles in spring openings is done by putting out cloth lures, which the beetles seem to like. He said that standardizing this capture method will also help in determining whether populations of the beetles are growing or declining. The Comal Springs Riffle Beetle feeds on biofilm growing on organic matter that comes from overhanging tree leaves and wood. In the lab, they get a steady diet of decomposing leaves. Nowlin also mentioned that it took weeks to figure out which of the beetles were male and female. They are now using that new information to determine how to successfully breed them in a lab. "So, why should we care about this minuscule invertebrate? One, it is on the endangered species list outlined in our federal permit. The other notion is that the more we know about these species, the better we can manage Edwards Aquifer levels because we will know at what points the habitat in the springs begin to suffer during droughts. We think these creatures may have been around for millions of years. We need to take time to learn about them. ‘Overall, our research is off to a good start. But this is painstaking work given this beetle is so, so small.".

Dr. Dana Garcia selected as Presidential Fellow 

Dr. Dana Garcia, Professor of Biology, has been selected to serve as the Presidential Fellow for 2016-2017.  During the coming academic year, Dr. Garcia will serve as a member of the President’s Cabinet and will work with President Trauth on special projects. Dr. Garcia is a Materials Science and Engineering Doctoral Program Core Faculty and has been since the inception of the program.

Dr. HongGu Kang awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant.

Kang lab group

Dr. HongGu Kang was recently awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant. His research will focus on the "Characterization of epigenetic factors and their regulatory roles in modulating transposable elements, plant immunity and transgenerational inheritance". For more info, please visit the Dr Kang Lab.

Dr. Weckerly receives the Graduate College Outstanding Mentor Award: 


Dr. Floyd (Butch) Weckerly, professor in Department of Biology, is the 2015 recipient of the Graduate College Outstanding Mentor Award. This award recognizes a faculty member who has had outstanding success in mentoring graduate students.  Congratulations to Dr. Weckerly for his excellent work, particularly with master’s students!  Dr. Weckerly will be recognized at The Graduate College’s award ceremony next April.