Archive for the ‘news’ Category

Survival of the Weakest

Posted on: September 20th, 2019 by erabadie

Professor Brice Noonan Puts a New Spin on Evolutionary Biology

JP Lawrence photo of poison frog.

Dyeing Poison Frog (Dendrobates tinctorius) from the Kaw Mountains, French Guiana. Photo by J.P. Lawrence


When he was a teenager in south Florida, Brice Noonan discovered a new love that ultimately shaped the course of his life.

“I became enamored of frogs in high school,” said Noonan, an associate professor in the Department of Biology.

His fascination increased when he learned about a specific species of South American frogs: poison dart frogs, so called because several indigenous peoples have used them to tip blowgun darts. The frog secretes a life-threatening bitter poison as its natural defense.

Noonan discovered a store near his childhood home that imported reptiles and amphibians, including poison dart frogs, so he had a ready supply to study.

Decades later, his homespun investigations evolved into the scientific article, “Weak Warning Signals Can Persist in the Absence of Gene Flow,” published earlier this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study was featured last Thursday in the New York Times.

“There are several variations of this species of poison dart frog, and they have different colorations,” said Noonan. “Most are blue and black with bright yellow markings, but some populations of the same species have white stripes instead of yellow ones. That type of variation within a species is incredibly rare. It was a conundrum as to why the species was so variable.”

The answer was unexpected. The yellow-marked frogs have a stronger poison than their white-striped counterparts. Their predators, chiefly birds, spot the brilliant yellow from afar and know to stay away. Yellow reads as “danger.”

The white-striped frogs have a less potent toxin, which would seemingly make them more vulnerable to the same predators—but they’re not.

“These frogs live close to the bold and ostentatious yellow frogs, but not among them—about five miles away,” said Noonan. “But they are harder to detect and far less recognizable to birds. Birds are more afraid of something they’ve never seen than something that they’ve tried that has toxins. So, they stay away.”

Noonan’s research, funded by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France), was a collaboration with a nine-member international team that was led by one of his former students, J.P. Lawrence. Now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at Irvine, Lawrence served as the lead author on the PNAS article.

Noonan is dedicated to mentoring not only graduate students but also undergraduates. He teaches a section of UM’s introductory biology class as well as upper-level courses. During the upcoming winter session, he will teach a course in the Caribbean for UM students.

“I’ve loved reptiles and amphibians since I was a little kid,” he said. “Then, when I was at a community college in south Florida, I discovered scientific journal articles, which changed my life.”

Now, he’s writing them.

Saving marine life one shopping bag at a time

Posted on: May 6th, 2019 by kdbyrd

Ole Miss Conservation Biology Students and members of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Research at the University of Mississippi  provided complimentary reusable shopping bags to Kroger customers.


Plastics in the world’s oceans.  Scientists are alarmed at the amount of waste plastics that find their way into our landfills, waterways, and oceans each year. Eight million tons of plastic are thrown into the oceans annually. Unfortunately, many marine organisms cannot distinguish between a floating piece of plastic trash and their normal food items. For example, to a sea turtle, a floating plastic shopping bag appears to be a jellyfish, an important food item. Sea turtles consume the bag and that can be a death sentence. Plastics cause intestinal blockage and can rupture internal organs. One study found that green sea turtles consumed plastics 62% of the times they came across it. What can you do? Reusable shopping bags. We suggest that you place the shopping bags in your automobile after you unload your groceries at home so that you will have them on your next shopping trip. Your continued use of these bags will reduce the amount of plastic trash entering our environment. While this may be a small change for you as an individual, the combined effect of many shoppers reusing these bags can be significant and may help save these beloved ocean creatures.

*For more information about the CBCR and to donate toward helping Ole Miss Students save the world visit:

Dr. Patrick Curtis receives an International Space Station Flight Opportunity Award

Posted on: April 3rd, 2019 by kdbyrd

Dr. Patrick Curtis has been awarded an International Space Station, or ISS, Flight Opportunity Award.  He will be sending bacteria grown in his laboratory here at Ole Miss to the space station in the coming years.

To read the full article —> click here.

Former graduate student wins International Environmental Award

Posted on: April 2nd, 2019 by kdbyrd

Dr. Bryan Brooks received his masters degree here at Ole Miss in the Biology Department. He is now a distinguished professor of Environmental Science and Biomedical Studies at Baylor College of Arts & Sciences.

Dr. Brooks received international recognition for his contributions and scholarly research on environmental sustainability and received the 2018 International Environmental Award.


To read the complete article —> click here.

Tri-Beta members visit the Marijuana Research Facility

Posted on: March 28th, 2019 by kdbyrd

Members of Tri-Beta Honors Society took a trip to the Marijuana Research Facility. They learned about the university’s research on medicinal drugs and cannabis products. Students were able to view the grow room, vault, laboratory, and museum showcase for an all around outstanding experience.

For more information on Tri-Beta visit their website,

Women In Stem speaker Zanethia Barnett

Posted on: October 26th, 2018 by kdbyrd

Ph.D. candidate, Zanethia Barnett, gave an inspiring 40-minute talk as the invited speaker at the U of MS Women in STEM fall dinner. She gave the audience a peak at crayfish diversity and the work of aquatic biologists. Congratulations are in order!!

Dr. Glenn Parsons Invents Device to Improve Fishery Operations

Posted on: October 18th, 2018 by kdbyrd

Design being tested by Gulf shrimpers reduces bycatch of untargeted marine life

Professor Parsons

Glenn Parsons

A University of Mississippi marine biologist has created a new device that could greatly improve shrimping operations and is putting the device to the test through partnerships with members of the Gulf of Mexico fishing industry.

Glenn Parsons, professor of biology and director of the UM Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Research, has invented a device that reduces unwanted fish and other creatures caught during the commercial fishing process – also known as bycatch – and thereby significantly increases the amount of shrimp caught.

“Bycatch slows down fishing, requiring extensive sorting to separate shrimp from bycatch,” Parsons said. “I have squatted on the back deck of countless shrimp boats, sorting shrimp from bycatch. It is back-breaking work – sort of like picking cotton.”

About a decade ago, Parsons noticed that previous bycatch reduction devices do not take advantage of flow quality changes that encourage fish to move to a place in the net where they can escape. With that in mind and through collaboration with Gulf Coast shrimpers and scientists at the Pascagoula Laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Parsons developed an improved version.

A typical catch on shrimp boats operating in the Gulf of Mexico contains many unwanted fish (bottom basket), known as bycatch, creating work for crews and reducing the amount of shrimp caught. Photo courtesy of Mark Kopsvywa

A typical catch on shrimp boats operating in the Gulf of Mexico contains many unwanted fish (bottom basket), known as bycatch, creating work for crews and reducing the amount of shrimp caught. Photo courtesy of Mark Kopsvywa

“Called the Cylinder Bycatch Reduction Device, it was developed to increase the amount of shrimp that is retained in the trawl and to eliminate a greater number of bycatch species,” he said. “This BRD creates a flow shadow that draws fish – but not shrimp – to it. The fish are then able to escape.”

Final design modifications of the Cylinder BRD occurred two years ago. The device has been tested by the National Marine Fisheries Service, passing with flying colors.

“A BRD has to deliver 30 percent or more bycatch reduction to be certified,” said Dan Foster, gear development specialist at the service in Pascagoula. “Ours came in at about 44 percent.”

Before administrative certification, Parsons and company decided that it should be placed on commercial shrimp boats to gauge its acceptance. It is being tested on about 10 boats in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

One boat captain using the CBRD gave it rave reviews.

Shrimpers using the Cylinder Bycatch Reduction Device have recorded dramatic decreases in the amount of bycatch (left basket), which means less work and more profitable catches. Photo courtesy of Mark Kopsvywa

Shrimpers using the Cylinder Bycatch Reduction Device have recorded dramatic decreases in the amount of bycatch (left basket), which means less work and more profitable catches. Photo courtesy of Mark Kopsvywa

“He said that it eliminated about half of the fish from the trawl and lost very little shrimp,” Parsons said. “The shrimp loss is a very important consideration for shrimpers.

“Most shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico are using a BRD called the ‘fish eye,’ and it loses about 10 percent of the shrimp that enters the net. The Cylinder BRD enjoys superior bycatch reduction but only loses 1.7 percent of shrimp.”

The new BRD is fully developed and is being distributed, free of charge, to shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico. While some changes will likely be required, early evaluation of the device by shrimpers has been extremely promising. Parsons will deliver the BRD to shrimpers wherever they are.

“Feedback from shrimpers is very important for gauging the performance of the device in a real-world situation,” Parsons said. “After using the device, we require a short questionnaire to be filled out. As an incentive, we’re offering a $250 honorarium to try the device.”

Parsons’ device is funded under his U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA cooperative agreement No. NA17NMF4720254, “Application of a New Bycatch Reduction Device for Use in the U.S. Shrimp Industry.”

To evaluate the new BRD, contact Parsons at 662-915-7479 or Learn more about the device at

Congratulations to Drs. Colin Jackson and Ryan Garrick for their NSF award to study genetic, phylogenetic, and microbiome diversity in freshwater mussels.

Posted on: October 10th, 2018 by kdbyrd

The holobiont concept proposes that the functional organism is the sum of the interactions between a host and its microbiome (i.e., the consortium of microorganisms associated with the host). Department of Biology faculty members Colin Jackson and Ryan Garrick are studying these host-microbiome interactions as part of a recent National Science Foundation award to determine the processes that generate and maintain phylogenetic, genetic, and functional diversity of the freshwater mussel holobiont across multiple geographic scales. Freshwater mussels are a highly imperiled, diverse group of animals that play critical roles in rivers through their filter-feeding activities, and contribute to cycling of nutrients. Although the ecological value of freshwater mussels is widely appreciated, little is known about how factors like the genetic diversity within individual mussel populations, species diversity within mussel communities, or interactions between mussels and their gut microbiomes influence the ecological services they provide, across different environments. Similarly, little is known about how host-microbiome interactions have structured the evolution of both components of the holobiont over time. Dr. Jackson and Garrick’s research, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Alabama, will address these questions. The award, funded through NSF’s Dimensions of Biodiversity program, brings almost $800,000 to the Department of Biology and includes funding for graduate students and a postdoctoral scientist to work with Drs. Jackson and Garrick on the project.


To read the full article click the link below.

Congrats to Zanethia Barnett!!

Posted on: October 10th, 2018 by kdbyrd

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and other federal land managers are responsible for maintaining the productivity of aquatic–riparian ecosystems, the associated native biota, and the ecosystem services they provide.

In this article, Zanethia Barnett, University of Mississippi Biology Department PhD candidate and USFS Natural Resource Specialist, along with a team of USFS scientist describe how disturbance and portfolio concepts fit into a broader strategy of conserving ecosystem integrity and dynamism and provide examples of how these concepts can be used to address a wide range of management concerns.

To see the article –>

Congratulations to Dr. Tamar Goulet for her new NSF award to study the genetic makeup of coral colonies.  

Posted on: September 17th, 2018 by kdbyrd

“Corals constitute the core of coral reef ecosystems.  In turn, coral reef ecosystems comprise an essential component for many countries, including the U.S., serving as barriers from ocean waves, providing food for the population, and income from the tourist industry.  The majority of corals are colonies of creatures living in a cup, coral polyps, that are connected to each other with tissue.  The underlying assumption about coral colonies, similar to the approach to cells in humans and other mammals, is that the polyps in a colony arose from a single coral genotype.   But, what if a single coral colony was actually composed of multiple coral genotypes, which is referred to as a biological chimera?  This study challenges the assumption of the genetic identity of coral colonies.”