Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources


Ecology and Evolution Graduate Program Newsletter


August - September 2007


Previous newsletters may be found at:



With this issue, we welcome Henry John-Alder, our new department chairperson.

Henry has provided the following biographical sketch:


I began my Rutgers career in 1985 as an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.  I transferred into the Department of Animal Sciences and became Director of the Graduate Program in Animal Sciences in 1997, a position I held until becoming Chair of the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources in 2007.  Since coming to Rutgers, I have been an active member of the Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution, the program through which all of my successful graduate students have completed their degrees.


I describe myself as an ecological and evolutionary physiologist, with particular expertise in ecological endocrinology.  My general approach is highly integrative, crossing traditional levels of biological organization from biochemical to behavioral and blending descriptive and experimental studies in the laboratory and the field.  I stress the importance of field experiments solidly grounded in natural history.  While the dissection of underlying biological mechanisms can require controlled laboratory experiments, the integration of complex physiological and behavioral interactions of importance in organismal biology can be fully understood only in the milieu of the natural environment. 


My primary research involves comparative and experimental studies on growth and the attainment of adult body size, one of the most important quantitative traits of an organism.  In recent years, my group has worked mainly with Sceloporus lizards, in which both male-larger and female-larger sexual dimorphism in body size has evolved in extant species.  We have discovered that adult dimorphism in body size is caused by sex differences in growth rate earlier in development, which is at least partially controlled by testosterone.  In species in which males grow faster to become larger as adults than females, testosterone promotes growth.  In contrast, in species in which males grow more slowly and remain smaller as adults than females, testosterone inhibits growth.  Interestingly, experimental effects of testosterone on growth are dramatically evident in experiments conducted on field-active lizards but can be completely absent in the laboratory.  This observation reiterates the critical importance of experimental work in the field and raises questions about testosterone-induced energetic trade-offs responsible for effects on growth and expressed only in the behavioral context of the natural environment.  Most of our work on growth and sexual size dimorphism has been done in collaboration with Bob Cox (, a former graduate student, and more recently with Marguerite Butler ( and Emily Taylor ( We are currently investigating the underlying molecular endocrinology [with Wendie Cohick ( and Kevin Kelley (]as well as organismal energetic mechanisms that may contribute to the opposing responses.  Very recently, we initiated collaborative studies with Dr. Lukas Kratochvil (Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic; ) to extend our studies to eye-lid geckos (Eublepharidae).


A second ongoing project involves integrative studies on stress and social status, adrenal hormones, and adrenocortical cell function (with Rocco V. Carsia, UMDNJ-SOM;  This work is motivated by the ubiquitous observation of cyclic changes in glucocorticoid hormones in vertebrates and by the work of a previous graduate student, Dr. Linda Smith (, who reported striking seasonal changes in responsiveness to social stress in Eastern Fence Lizards.  Carsia’s expertise enables us to investigate the stress axis at the level of glucocorticoid-secreting cells of the adrenal cortex, a level that has been conspicuously overlooked in most research.  We have found that functional capacities of adrenocortical cells are highly malleable, depending on gender, season, gonadal hormones, and nutritional status.  Overall, our work emphasizes the importance of including adrenocortical cells themselves in studies on functional variation in the vertebrate stress axis.


Finally, I have recently begun to collaborate with Rick Relyea (University of Pittsburgh; to investigate why agrochemicals can be far more lethal to larval amphibians in the presence of predators.  Rick discovered that the mere presence of a natural presence greatly increases the lethality of carbaryl and other toxic agrochemicals.  Together, we are investigating how the stress axis in tadpoles may mediate this synergism between predator and toxicant.  We conduct our organismal experiments in Relyea’s facilility at the University of Pittsburgh’s Ecology Laboratory on Pymatuning Lake in northwestern Pennsylvania.  Hormone extractions and assays are done in my laboratory at Rutgers.



We also welcome our new graduate students:

The fall 2007 semester brings us eight new graduate students. They come from diverse backgrounds and will be doing their graduate work in many different areas.


Faye Benjamin, a Ph.D. student working with Mike May, has a B.S. in Neuroscience from Brown University.


Suzanne DeCoursey has her undergraduate degrees in Anthropology and English from Notre Dame University. Suzanne will be working towards her Master’s with Rebecca Jordan.


Karena DiLeo will be a Master’s student in John Dighton’s lab. Karena has a double undergrad degree in Biology and Environmental Science from Ursinus College


Emma Green-Beach will be working towards her Master’s with Dave Bushek. Emma received her undergrad degree in Biology from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.


Jean Rothe, co-advised by Rick Ostfeld and Peter Morin, has a B.S. in Biology from Boston College and a M.A. from Columbia University in Conservation Biology. Jean will be working towards her Ph.D.


Craig Ruzicki, a Master’s student working with Joan Ehrenfeld, has an Associates degree in Medical Technology from George Washington University, a B.A. in Biology from Wilkes University and a Master’s in Environmental Management from Webster University.


Jason Turnure, a Master’s student working with Ken Able received his B.S. in Marine Science at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.


Yiwen Zhao will be a Ph.D. student in John Dighton’s lab. Yiwen received her B.S. in Biology from Xiamen University and is completing her Master’s at the University of Vermont in Soil Ecology.



Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting with Society for Ecological Restoration, San Jose CA; August 5th to 10th.

Oral Presentations:


Aabir Banerji gave a presentation coauthored with Peter Morin titled “Dynamics and adaptive significance of inducible defenses and offenses in phenotypically plastic ciliates.”


Kyle Bennett, a Ph.D. candidate in Rich Lutz’s lab,  gave the following presentation :

K. F. Bennett, A. J. Reed and R. A. Lutz.  “Habitat partitioning and phenotypic plasticity in the marine bivalve Brachidontes exustus cryptic species complex.”


Kenneth Elgersma, a Ph.D. candidate in Joan Ehrenfeld’s lab, gave a presentation titled: “Long-term legacies and short-term changes in soil microbial community structure and function after Japanese barberry invasion.” Co-authors: S. Yu, T. Vor, and J.G. Ehrenfeld. 


Shannon Galbraith-Kent and Steven Handel presented a talk titled “Above and below ground interactions on growth between the invasive Norway maple (Acer platanoides) and the native red maple (Acer rubrum).”


Rebecca Jordan presented a paper titled “Assessing Ecological Understanding through a Citizen Science Project.”  Joan Ehrenfeld and David Howe were coauthors. 


Jenni Momsen, a Ph.D. candidate in the JeanMarie Hartman lab, gave a presentation titled “Plant community change and 20th century land use history in a suburban wetland.”


Peter Morin spoke in a symposium titled “Flexible Foragers in Food Webs” on August 7. The title of his talk there was “Adaptive foragers and community ecology: scaling individuals to communities”.


Kristen A. Ross, a Ph.D. candidate in Joan Ehrenfeld’s Lab, gave an oral presentation titled, “Effects of Leaf Litter on the Growth of an Invasive Annual Grass”. This presentation was coauthored with Joan Ehrenfeld.


Jonathon Schramm, a Ph.D. candidate in Joan Ehrenfeld’s lab, gave a talk at ESA titled: "Using land-use history in combination with local factors to understand invasion patterns of an exotic grass."


Emilie Stander, a Ph.D. candidate in Joan Ehrenfeld’s lab,  gave a talk at ESA titled "the effects of atmospheric deposition on nitrate retention and loss in urban wetlands."


Ai Wen, a Ph.D. candidate co-advised by David and Joan Ehrenfeld, gave a talk at ESA titled: "The habitat use by birds of active and abandoned cranberry farms in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey".



Wes Brooks and Rebecca Jordan presented a poster titled “Differential interspecific territoriality and the invasion of the Florida Everglades by the Spotted Tilapia, Tilapia mariae”.


Amy Karpati and Steven Handel presented a poster titled “Potential for regeneration of Ageratina altissima (Asteraceae) in the presence of Microstigeum viminicum (Poaceae) invasion in a post-agricultural woodland.”


Carrie Norin presented a poster coauthored with Steven Handel titled “Improving restoration of native habitats: DELLA response plasticity in Arabidopsis thaliana as an approach for defining appropriate genotypes for stressful conditions.”


Monica Palta and Joan Ehrenfeld coauthored a poster titled “Nitrate removal in urban wetlands: Examining the roles of vegetation, soils, and hydrology in the creation of “hot spots” and “hot moments” of microbial activity.


Linda Rohleder, a Ph.D. candidate in Joan Ehrenfeld’s lab, presented a poster titled: "Using GIS and Floristic Quality to Assess Forests in Suburban New Jersey."


Jack Siegrist, a Ph.D. student in the Peter Morin lab, presented a poster  at the ESA meeting titled “A theory of relative abundance distributions parameterized by species-area relationships.”




Other venues:

In late June, Shannon Galbraith-Kent, a Ph.D. candidate in the Steven Handel Lab,gave an invited lecture to the Office of Research & Development at the USEPA in Cincinnati, which was titled: "Ecological restoration and management in urban lands: lessons learned from New York projects & similarities with the USEPA-ORD". 


Frank Gallagher, a Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Jason Grabosky’s Urban Forestry lab, gave two presentations on the role of soil metals in vegetative assemblage structure and development of an urban brownfield.  The first on Aug 1st was given at the International Society of Arboriculture conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.  The second on August 15th was given at the professional development lecture series for the Department of Environmental Protection in Trenton NJ.


David La Puma, a Ph.D. candidate in Julie Lockwood’s lab, gave a presentation on Radar Ornithology to the Bucks County Birders (club) at the Peace Valley Nature Center, Doylestown, PA. titled “Birding on a mega-scale - using Doppler radar to predict birding conditions in the Northeastern US  on July 25, 2007.


Bonnie McCay (Human Ecology and E&E Graduate Program) delivered the keynote address at a conference held  July 5-9, 2007 sponsored by the MARE institute, at the University of Amsterdam, “People and the Sea IV: Who Owns the Coast.”  Bonnie’s talk was titled: “The Littoral and the Liminal; Or, Why It is Hard and Critical to Answer the Question “Who Owns the Coast?”  


At the triennial meeting of the International Society for Theoretical and Applied Limnology held in Montreal, Canada, Peter Morin spoke in a symposium titled “Reconciling divergent views on trophic relationships: functional responses in aquatic environments” on August 14.  The title of his talk was “Predator-prey dynamics in simple microbial food webs.”

Joe Paulin, a Ph.D. candidate working with David Ehrenfeld,  presented a talk entitled, “The Effects Of Personal Experience And Wildlife Density On Public Attitudes Towards Black Bear In New Jersey,” at the 21st Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Joe Paulin also taught children at a local summer camp about black bear ecology and trained them in the proper ways to react when encountering a bear.

Patricia Ramey, a Ph.D. student in the Fred Grassle lab,  attended the 9th International Polychaete Conference in Portland ME and presented a talk titled” Undescribed diversity in the genus Polygordius: Pygidial glands as a useful taxonomic character.”



David La Puma, a Ph.D. candidate in the Julie Lockwood lab,  reports his first "popular science" article just came out in WildBird magazine. The article is about using radar to detect bird migration, and specifically how anyone could use the internet to do so. It's David’s  first article on the subject but it's the focus of a website he has been running since Inga and he moved to New Jersey  (
Here's the website preview of the issue:


Grabosky, J. and Gilman E.F.  2007.  Response of two oak species to reduction pruning cuts. Arboriculture & Urban Forestry 33(5):360-366.


Julie Lockwood reports two publications in press:

·        Cassey, P., J.L. Lockwood, J.D. Olden and T.M. Blackburn.  The varying role of population abundance in structuring indices of biotic homogenization.  Journal of Biogeography.

·        Cassey, P., J.L. Lockwood, and K.H. Fenn.  Using long-term occupancy information to inform the management of Cape Sable seaside sparrows in the Everglades Biological Conservation.


Struwe, L., et al. “International education in biodiversity and biodocumentation - collaborative approaches.”  in Ecological Characteristics of Biodiversity. 2007. Khorog, Tajikistan: Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan p. 272-280.

Faculty Achievements and Activities:


Rebecca Jordan attended the World Conference on Science and Technology Education in Perth, Western Australia (July 9-12, 2007). The Perth Declaration supported by UNESCO in which a focus on global sustainability will be integrated with science and technology education was developed at this meeting.


Terry McGuire (Department of Genetics and E&E Graduate Program) reports the following activities: 

  • Terry was appointed as a Presidential CASTL Faculty Fellow - Graduate School and CAAT at Rutgers. (CASTL = Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning).  He will work with TA training. 
  • Accepted for faculty development workshop for CREATE ((Consider, Read, Elucidate hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, and Think of the next Experiment), Create is a new method for teaching science, and the nature of science, through primary literature. CREATE is an NSF dissemination project.  
  • Selected for a CASTL workshop at SENCER (one of 13). The workshop will be working to support publication in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 



Lena Struwe was interviewed by the Boston Globe about the gentian-flavored soda called Moxie.

and related to the above article


Judy Weis (Biological Sciences, Rutgers Newark and E&E Graduate Program) has served on two advisory boards this summer. In July Judy served on the EPA Science Advisory Board committee evaluating draft of EPA's Report on the Environment 2007(ROE) and contributed to the review of the Water Chapter and the Ecosystems Chapter in Washington, D.C. and in August she was a member of the  NRC Committee on Desalination in Woods Hole, MA.


Judy Weis reports her work is cited in a Nature news article about fiddler crabs depurating metals through molting.:


Student activities:

Linda Rohleder and Kristen Ross from Joan Ehrenfeld’s lab,  Denise Hewitt , in Bonnie McCay’s lab, Andrea Kornbluh, working with John Dighton, and  Eva Gonzales, a postdoc with Peter Smouse,  volunteered with The Nature Conservancy on June 30 at the Blair Creek preserve in northwestern NJ. The group was able to help them implement a pilot vegetation sampling effort that will serve as a baseline for the preserve.



Congratulations to the following:


  • Teresa Johnson (advisor Bonnie McCay) defended her Ph.D. on Sept 12th.


  • Jennifer Adams Krumins  (advisor Peter Morin) defended her Ph.D. dissertation on August 22nd. Jennifer has accepted a position as Substitute Assistant Professor in Department of Natural Sciences at Baruch College CUNY.


  • Jennifer Momsen (advisor JeanMarie Hartman) defended her Ph.D. on August 24th and will begin a post-doc immediately.  Jenni has accepted a postdoctoral position in biology education at Michigan State University with Diane Ebert-May in Plant Biology. 


  • Emilie Stander (advisor Joan Ehrenfeld) defended her dissertation on August 23rd and will start her a postdoctoral position with the Environmental Protection Agency's National Risk Management and Research Laboratory, which is a division of the Office of Research and Development in mid-October.  Emilie will be working for the Urban Stormwater Management Program in Edison, New Jersey.  The position involves researching the effectiveness of engineered stormwater retention structures and constructed wetlands in removing nutrients and pollutants before they reach receiving surface waters. 


Welcome to the DEENR/E&E family:

Julie Lockwood and Tabby Fenn welcomed their son, Henry Merritt Fenn on June 19th.

Henry weighed in at 7 lbs. 1 oz. and 21 inches in length. The family is all doing well.


Cesar Rodriguez –Saona (Entomology and E&E Graduate Program) and his wife, Corrine Williams, welcomed their new son Marcello Rodriguez (8 lb 5 oz. 21 inches) on August 6th .  Mom, baby and big brother, Renzo, are all doing well.