BioOne Ambassador Awards

2024 BioOne Ambassadors

Excellence in Science Communication

BioOne is proud to present the 2024 cohort of BioOne Ambassadors, and we invite you to read their exemplary submissions in this showcase.

Now in its seventh year, the BioOne Ambassador Award recognizes early-career authors who make scientific research more accessible to a wide audience including funders, the general public, and scholars in related fields. By clearly and creatively summarizing the impact of their work, they encourage greater scientific literacy and aid in the broader understanding of our natural world. Selected from among early career researchers published in BioOne Complete journals, BioOne Ambassadors represent the next generation of excellence in science communication.

Dr. Elis Fisk

Dr. Elis Fisk

Draw and Learn: A Bighorn Sheep Mystery
Nominated by the Wildlife Disease Association

This video is in reference to:

Abortion and Neonatal Mortality Due to Toxoplasma gondii in Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)

Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 59(1): 37-48 (2023)
Elis A. Fisk, E. Frances Cassirer, Katey S. Huggler, Allan P. Pessier, Laura A. White, Joshua D. Ramsay, Elizabeth W. Goldsmith, Holly R. Drankhan, Rebecca M. Wolking, Kezia R. Manlove, Todd Nordeen, John T. Hogg, Kyle R. Taylor

Dr. Carina Nebel

Dr. Carina Nebel

Advancing Our Understanding of an Important Flagship Species, the Golden Eagle, by Combining Scientific Methods and Cultural Traditions

Ecosystems are increasingly affected by human activities while resources for conservation are limited, forcing researchers to prioritize species or populations and habitats, and to continuously develop more efficient monitoring methods. However, traditional approaches often entail a direct interaction with animals, for example through capturing, marking and GPS tagging. While these methods are incredibly important, they can lead to stress, or risk altered behaviours or habitat abandonment.

This dilemma is especially pronounced when studying species that are sensitive to human disturbance. Among these are eagles, hawks and falcons, which also play important stabilising roles as top predators ensuring ecosystem health. Finding new efficient ways to comprehensively study raptors while minimizing disturbance is a fundamental component of my research.

Mongolia, a landlocked country in Asia, is a unique destination for studying wildlife and a rare hotspot for raptor diversity. Although the country’s landscapes are largely untouched, raptors are under pressure, specifically due to the expansion of energy infrastructure. Because of this, I made Mongolia a research focus to advance our understanding of its biodiversity and potentially emerging threats and genetic bottlenecks.

A fascinating aspect of Mongolia’s cultural heritage is the traditional falconry practice among the Kazakh eagle hunters in the remote Altai mountains. These people live in close relationships with Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), which are used for hunting mammals like foxes and hares to supply fur. This tradition has been practiced for centuries and provides a unique opportunity for scientific research as these eagles are collected as nestlings or trapped as juveniles on passage, and traditionally returned into the wild after the hunting season. By collaborating with local Kazakh eagle hunters, we accessed a large number of Golden Eagles, to gather morphometric and genetic data without causing additional disturbance to the wild population.

Using feathers collected from these falconry birds and combining them with data from museum collections, allows us to study their population genetics and phylogeographic history. In this field, we try to understand how past conditions have created present patterns of genetic variation, how populations are connected today and importantly, how we can conserve this connectivity. Bridging the gap between fundamental research and applied conservation is a core principle of my research activities.

My studies showed that the Golden Eagles in the Altai mountains harbour high levels of genetic diversity, which makes this population not only valuable in terms of individual numbers, but also a true stronghold in terms of genetic diversity. Furthermore, we were able to make inferences about the species’ distant past: the relatively high relatedness of eagles in Mongolia and Northern Europe suggests that Northern Europe was repopulated from Asia after the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago. Contrary, the incomplete phylogenetic separation of eagles from Mongolia and North America indicates that there has been continued geneflow between the continents not too long ago. This leads to the hypothesis that Golden Eagles used Beringia, a former land bridge between Asia and North America during the last Ice Age as a corridor to move from one continent to the other. Likely, geneflow between the continents has ceased with the disappearance of this land bridge.

My research advances the field and our collective understanding of the genetic diversity and distribution of Golden Eagles, providing fundamental insights for future conservation action. Leveraging novel approaches to study wildlife fosters a more sustainable relationship between research and local cultural heritage. By advocating for the protection of vulnerable species and ecosystems, I am committed to leaving a positive legacy on the natural world for future generations and use my research as a vehicle to achieve this.

This response is in reference to:

Genetic Analysis of Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) from the Mongol-Altai: A Hotspot of Diversity and Implications for Global Phylogeography

Journal of Raptor Research, 57(3): 359-374 (2023).
Carina Nebel, Elisabeth Haring, Megan Murgatroyd, Shane C. Sumasgutner, Sundev Gombobaatar, Petra Sumasgutner, Frank E. Zachos

Dr. Thalles Pereira

Dr. Thalles Pereira

Partnerships for the Goals: Citizens and Scientists Find and Describe a New Species​

When I first moved from Bahia-Brazil (+30°C) to Alaska-USA (-30°C) to study fly diversity, I had no idea how this move would change my world and how the results of my research could change the world. Working with insects can be challenging and rewarding, most of the time. These tiny creatures can help you answer questions about Nature that could be impossible with other groups.

The first time I read the UNESCO and Sustainable Development Goals, the number 17 – “Partnership for the goals” caught my attention, it is magnificent to make a difference through Partnership! During the development of this project, I thought, why not make a partnership between scientists and citizens for the goal of describing a new species to science?

This project started back in 2007 when a citizen from Ester-Alaska contacted one of my coauthors asking if he knew about the thousands of weird small insect larvae that migrate together in a snake-like configuration! 15 years later, when I started working at the University of Alaska Museum of the North
, we found out that it was a new species of snakeworm gnat that we needed to describe. Snakeworm gnats are members of the family Sciaridae, and are commonly known as dark-winged, dusty-winged, or black fungus gnats.

They are called snakeworm gnats because they form larval masses moving in columns, which most of the time resemble a snake. In a conveyor-belt fashion, they crawl on top of one another in multiple layers. The larvae in the rear crawl over the top of their companions and make faster forward progress than those on the bottom, who eventually are exposed and start moving on top of those who have already progressed and gained contact with the substrate. Since so little is known about the remarkable behavior of snakeworms, both citizens and scientists are curious to know more about these creatures. When I discovered that it was a citizen who had first reported this species in nature, I felt inspired to include more lay people in the process of describing a new species. Therefore, my colleagues and I decided to invite adults and children who participated in the University of Alaska Fairbanks bug camp to vote on the new species name, as this is an essential step in the process of describing new species. Of the three potential names, Sciara serpens (Latin for snake) received the most votes, which is fitting as the larvae migration looks like a snake. To describe the new species we used morphological characters, molecular data from the COI (Cytochrome c oxidase subunit I) gene, and citizen science data.

Using citizen data from emails, Facebook groups, and iNaturalist, we found that there have been more observations of this behavior throughout Alaska than we imagined, including one in the Denali National Park.

But why is describing a new species so important? Scientists estimate that there are around 7.5 million species of plants and animals still to be found and described. Naming a new species is one of the first steps to deeply understand nature, physiology, ecology, and evolutionary aspects of a species. Using a species name is one way to unify the studies about an organism and compare it across the world. This is especially important when studying invasive and endemic species because without determining which species exist in an area it is impossible to determine which are invasive. For example, the snakeworm species that we described is endemic to Alaska and therefore would give scientists a baseline for understanding potential changes in Alaskan biodiversity. Such changes are occurring at a faster rate in Arctic and subarctic regions, like Alaska, where also the global change has its impact amplified, compared with other places.

Finally, engaging citizens in the process of doing science has been growing every year around the world, with free apps and social platforms making it easier and easier to do so. In an ever-changing world, where species extinction may be faster than species description, inviting citizen scientists to describe a new species allows them to help change the world through scientific discovery and improve their scientific literacy. This project changed my world when reiterated the importance of connecting with citizens and the local community through science. And it probably changed the world of many people involved, I bet this topic still reverberates in family conversations as “I helped describe a new species!”

This response is in reference to:

Discovery of snakeworm gnats in Alaska: a new species of Sciara Meigen (Diptera: Sciaridae) based on morphological, molecular, and citizen science data

Integrative Systematics: Stuttgart Contributions to Natural History, 6(2): 91-111. (2023).
Thalles P. Lavinscky Pereira, Kai Heller, Mitsuaki Sutou, Derek S. Sikes

Michael T. Stewart

Michael T. Stewart

An Urban Success Story? Tracking Gray Hawks in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas

In a world where natural habitats are rapidly disappearing, my research focuses on the little-known Gray Hawk, a Neotropical raptor that ranges from the southwestern United States to northern Costa Rica. This species, particularly its population in Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley, remains shrouded in mystery, prompting my exploration into its natural history, ecology, and conservation needs. Published in the Journal of Raptor Research, this recent article addresses significant knowledge gaps for the Gray Hawk, which is state-listed as threatened in Texas. While my research is specific to a single species, it carries potential implications that extend far beyond raptors and avian species, encompassing mammals, reptiles, plants, and various other species impacted by the challenges of urbanization and habitat loss.

Through field observations and GPS tracking of both juvenile and adult hawks, this research sheds light on dispersal patterns, juvenile winter territories, and adult annual home ranges. Surprisingly, we discovered that Gray Hawks are not confined to wild areas but are utilizing unexpected urban environments within their US range. Almost half of the 54 monitored territories were located in urban or suburban settings, challenging the conventional perception of this species. This adaptability, coupled with an estimated larger state population, suggests promising conservation opportunities for Gray Hawks in Texas through raptor-friendly urban practices.

Our results showed adult Gray Hawks within our study area display year-round residence and site fidelity within relatively small annual home ranges averaging around 500 hectares. Unpaired “floater” males maintained larger home ranges and moved widely across the landscape, often visiting other hawks’ territories for a short time. These habitat types ranged from riparian corridors to suburban neighborhoods, with range size varying more by landscape type than by sex.

Juvenile Gray Hawks exhibited diverse movements after departing their natal areas, with a median dispersal date of August 11th. While most juveniles wintered in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, some embarked on longer journeys, travelling to El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The timing of departure from the study area for the three juveniles who travelled to Central America coincided with the timing of fall migration for Gray Hawks in Arizona.

Notably, two female siblings took divergent paths, with one staying in the study area near Brownsville, Texas, and the other traveling over 1,600 km to spend the winter in El Salvador. The average date juveniles settled on winter territories was November 25th, with many of these territories in urban areas. Around March 23, 2021, juveniles resumed their exploratory movements across the study area. None of the juveniles we tracked attempted to breed in their first year.

As a state-threatened raptor that was barely studied in Texas before this research, our data significantly enhances baseline knowledge. Our findings offer valuable insights for conservation planning, from urban development policies to habitat protections on public and private lands. The adaptability showcased by this species, particularly within urban areas, highlights the need for a reevaluation of traditional conservation approaches. Gray Hawks, as a state-threatened species, could potentially play a crucial role as an umbrella species for the entire Lower Rio Grande Valley ecosystem. Focusing conservation efforts on this charismatic raptor may indirectly protect countless other species within this ecological community, fostering a more comprehensive and interconnected approach to biodiversity preservation.

Furthermore, understanding the intricacies of Gray Hawk adaptability can provide valuable insights into the delicate balance required for species to thrive in urban landscapes. This adaptability might serve as a blueprint for other wildlife struggling with similar challenges. If Gray Hawks can successfully navigate and flourish in urban areas, deciphering the underlying factors behind this success could revolutionize conservation strategies. This knowledge not only benefits the Gray Hawk but could potentially be applied to aid the adaptation and conservation of various other species impacted by the encroachment of human development. These insights offer a beacon of hope for biodiversity preservation in the face of increasing urbanization, guiding us towards more effective and tailored conservation efforts.

This response is in reference to:

Adult Home Range Size and Juvenile Movements of Gray Hawks in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas, USA

Journal of Raptor Research, 57(1): 1-11. (2022).
Michael T. Stewart, William S. Clark, Brian A. Millsap, Brent D. Bibles, Timothy Brush

Dr. Sarah Wright

Dr. Sarah Wright

A Window Into the Marine Mammal Immune System: A One Health Connection
Nominated by the Wildlife Disease Association

This video is in reference to:

Agreement Study between Total Leukocyte Count Methodologies in South American Sea Lions (Otaria byronia) and Peruvian Fur Seals (Arctocephalus australis)

Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 59(2): 315-321 (2023)
Sarah E. Wright, Michael J. Adkesson, Amy N. Schnelle, Matthew C. Allender, Susana Cárdenas-Alayza

To read more from early-career authors in BioOne Complete publications, visit the 2024 BioOne Ambassador Award Nominee Research Collection.

Meetthe Judges

Dr. Leilton Luna

Dr. Leilton Luna

Dr. Leilton Luna is an evolutionary biologist and currently a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University. His research focus is understanding how species adapt and persist in response to recent human-driven environmental changes. Dr. Luna addresses these questions using a combination of genomic and ecological approaches, particularly focusing on endangered bird species. He enjoys communicating how advances in genetic technology and animal monitoring inform biodiversity conservation programs and was awarded as a BioOne Ambassador in 2023.

Mira Waller

Mira Waller is the Associate University Librarian for Research and Learning Services and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Virginia Library. She oversees the subject liaison program, the teaching and learning program, faculty programs, information services and public spaces, and specialized user services including those for digital scholarship, multimedia production and use, and data management and analysis. She holds a Masters in Library Science from North Carolina Central University and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Trinity University. Previously, Waller was the Department Head of Research Engagement in the North Carolina State University (NSCU) Libraries. Before joining the NCSU Libraries, Waller was Director of Publishing Services for Project Euclid, an online community and platform for mathematics and statistics scholarship, managed jointly by Cornell University Library and Duke University Press. In a previous life Waller was also an archivist.

Dr. Robbie Hart

Robbie Hart is a scientist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, where he directs the William L. Brown Center, a team of researchers dedicated to the study of useful plants, understanding the relationships between humans, plants, and their environment, the conservation of plant species, and the preservation of traditional knowledge for the benefit of future generations. He won the BioOne Ambassador Award in 2018 and has been a member at large of the BioOne Board since 2021.

BioOne extends its thanks to Dr. Leilton Luna, Mira Waller, and Robbie Hart, who offered their time and expertise in selecting this year’s winners.

BioOne Publishing
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