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Sustaining Biodiversity Faculty Research Cluster
Biodiversity is the richness of life on earth, past and present. It encompasses genes, genotypes, populations, species and ecosystems, essentially all levels in the extraordinary hierarchy of organization and structure of organisms. It also is the natural capital of our planet, through which we derive vital resources that underpin all livelihoods and cultures. Humans have greatly accelerated the loss of biodiversity to our own detriment, thus creating an urgent need for outstanding research and effective public outreach. Increasing scientific knowledge and public understanding of biodiversity can lead to decisions that yield more sustainable economic growth and reduce human impacts on ecosystems.
The University of Utah and the Natural History Museum of Utah announce the establishment of a new faculty cluster focused on Sustaining Biodiversity, where biodiversity research is combined with learning research for a novel interdisciplinary emphasis that strongly supports the University’s commitment to sustainability. This new research emphasis will combine science, practical applications and learning science in the areas of genomics, conservation biology, paleoecology, digital visualization, and informal learning. It will complement and build on current, related research at the Natural History Museum of Utah, in the departments of Anthropology, Biology, Educational Psychology, Geography, Geology & Geophysics, and at the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute.
By connecting biodiversity science to conservation and public understanding, the Sustaining Biodiversity faculty can assist University of Utah researchers and students in addressing and communicating important issues facing resource management in the Western US and beyond. The Museum will serve as the bridge for understanding the connection between formal and informal learning and testing educational ideas in an authentic context with diverse audiences. We are seeking collaborative faculty who will join us in exploring the diversity in the world around us and communicating its value and impact on the public.
In the 2015-2016 academic year—Phase I of the establishment of this cluster—the search committee hired Dr. Bryn Dentinger as Associate Professor jointly between the Museum and the Department of Biology, filling the genomics position. He formerly was Senior Research Leader of Comparative Fungal Biology at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Dr. Dentinger is broadly interested in documenting, describing, and understanding the origin and evolution of global fungal diversity. His research makes use of diverse lines of enquiry and tools that attempt to synthesize principles of fungal evolution and relationships of fungi with other organisms to understand who, how and why fungi are so diverse and ecologically critical. Collections-based studies that integrate fieldwork and molecular data form the core of my research that encompasses many areas, such as molecular ecology, comparative genomics, historical biogeography, coevolution, taxonomy, and conservation. His lab employs a variety of techniques, from simple field experiments to high-throughput sequencing, microscopy and culturing to molecular phylogenetics. He currently has external funding for fieldwork in Cameroon and will be conducting basic mycological surveys across the poorly documented Intermountain West region.
Photo caption: Dr. Dentinger holds a Lentinus tuber-regium fungus. It is emerging from a dormnant structure called a sclerotium, which is an unusual feature for mushrooms. The species is found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but this one was found in Madagascar. Both the mushroom and the sclerotium are edible, the latter is sometimes ground into a flour and made into “bread”.
Phase II of the establishment of this cluster, hiring the remaining three positions, will take place in the 2016-2017 academic year. Please see the Positions tab on this web page for details.
Museum and University Research Resources
The Sustaining Biodiversity cluster will be centered in the Natural History Museum of Utah, with research based in the collections, public galleries, and outreach programs. Museum collections total 1.5 million specimens, with strengths in archaeology, botany, entomology, paleontology, and vertebrates. Collections databases currently are being converted to EMu or Arctos, for networking and digital image storage capability. The Museum has on-site and statewide access to both public (families, adults) and school audiences of more than 500,000 individuals annually, which may serve as a resource for research and as an audience for outreach. The Museum’s new home, the spectacular, award-winning Rio Tinto Center, opened in late 2011 with new offices, exhibits, laboratories, and collections storage.
The University’s Global Change and Sustainability Center provides coordination of multidisciplinary research, graduate student fellowships, grant-writing support, and other opportunities to member faculty. The Sustaining Biodiversity cluster will complement the recently created Society, Water, and Climate cluster. Centers and Institutes on campus, including the DIGIT GIS Lab and the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute (SCI), may provide further opportunities for collaboration. Extensive analytical capabilities are available campus-wide as part of core facilities.
The University of Utah has a network of field stations that provide valuable environments for research and teaching. These include Range Creek Canyon (managed by the Museum), Rio Mesa, Taft-Nicholson, plus Red Butte Canyon Research Natural Area.