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Rosenstiel students come out on top

VIRGINIA KEY, Fla. Four University of Miami (UM) Marine Biology and Fisheries students have received recognition from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Ross Cunning and John Parkinson were awarded fellowships for their research on coral reefs in the laboratory of Dr. Andrew Baker, an assistant professor in the Division of Marine Biology and Fisheries at UM's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. This marks the second year in a row in which two of Baker's students have received these prestigious fellowships. Additionally, fellow Rosenstiel students, Sean Bignami and Kevin V. Brix, received Honorable Mentions from the NSF.

Cunning, a native of Indianapolis, Ind., graduated in 2007 from Duke University with a degree in Biology and Environmental Science. Prior to joining Baker's lab at the Rosenstiel School, Cunning studied the microbial ecology of corals at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., with Dr. Kim Ritchie. Last year he received an Honorable Mention in the NSF competition.

At the Rosenstiel School, Cunning has been studying the interactions between corals and their symbiotic algae and bacteria in order to understand how differences in symbiont comunities affect the ecology of corals, especially in relation to climate change. The types of algae and bacteria associated with corals are important factors in determining the ability of corals to tolerate environmental stress, including rapidly warming oceans. Variation and flexibility in these symbioses may be a key mechanism by which corals can acclimatize to environmental change.

John Parkinson, a native of Warwick, N.Y., graduated summa cum laude from UM with a Marine Science and Biology degree in May 2009. He began to work at the Rosenstiel School after he received a Summer Fellowship in 2006, and has continued to work primarily in Baker's coral lab. Parkinson also spent a semester abroad at Australia's James Cook University to study corals in the Great Barrier Reef.

Parkinson was awarded the NSF fellowship for his proposal to examine the response of coral larvae and their symbiont communities to stressors associated with climatic change, such as rising sea temperatures and increased ocean acidity. This summer, he will begin his graduate degree in Biology, working with Dr. Iliana Baums, a Rosenstiel School alumnus currently at Pennsylvania State University.

For two consecutive years, students in Baker's laboratory have received these coveted fellowships. Last year, Rachel Silverstein and Nitzan Soffer were recognized with Graduate Research Fellowships from the NSF.

Sean Bignami received an Honorable Mention from the NSF for a proposal on the carry-over effects of conditions such as high and low food availability between life stages of larvae, juveniles, and adult marine fishes. Bignami, who is working with Drs. Su Sponaugle and Robert Cowen, will participate in both field and laboratory experiments, use aquaculture for raising larvae in captivity. Bignami entered the Ph.D. program at the Rosenstiel School in summer 2008 after he earned his degree in Aquatic Biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Kevin V. Brix also received an Honorable Mention from the NSF for his research on the evolutionary physiology of osmoregulation in aquatic organisms. Working with Dr. Martin Grosell, he is using pupfish, Cyprinodon sp., as a model organism to comparatively investigate the sodium transport mechanisms fish have evolved to osmoregulate in fresh water environments. Brix entered the Ph.D. program at the Rosenstiel School after earning his degree in Biology from the University of North Florida, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2008.


Contact: Barbara Gonzalez
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

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