Benkman Lab at the University of Wyoming
I'm an evolutionary ecologist whose recent research has focused on mostly four questions. 1) How do interactions between crossbills (Loxia) and conifers influence crossbill diversification, and what influences the form and strength of these and other plant-animal interactions? 2) What are the most important factors causing reproductive isolation between diverging lineages of crossbills? 3) Why has the South Hills crossbill declined by 80% since 2003 and what can be done to minimize future declines? Such a dramatic decline, apparently due to increasing temperatures that reduce seed availability in winter, is especially alarming as this genetically distinct crossbill is confined to two small mountain ranges in southern Idaho. 4) Why and how do certain interactions between mammals and plants lead to trait-mediated indirect interactions that cascade to other community members and ecosystem processes?
The great naturalist and myrmecologist from Cornell University, Dr. William L. Brown, Jr. (1922-1997), wrote in The Quarterly Review of Biology in 1957 "Were I an ornithologist, I think that the finches of the genus Loxia would take up most of my research time. No group of birds seems to offer more tantalizing problems in that area of biology where systematics, ecology, zoogeography, population dynamics, and ethology overlap." I agree.
CourseSource for a coevolution lesson plan based on the coevolutionary interactions between crossbills, squirrels and lodgepole pine.
The South Hills crossbill is evolving in a seriously bizarre way, an article in Wired magazine on our recent paper in Molecular Ecology.
A Small Mammal With Outsized Impact, a post of our blog on our 2014 publication in PNAS.
For those applying to be a graduate student in my department (Z&P):
Berry Graduate Student Fellowships
Berry Graduate Student Fellowships are intended for outstanding students interested in pursuing a MS or PhD with an emphasis in ecology, evolution, and/or conservation. Applicants must have a faculty advisor from the Department of Zoology and Physiology. The fellowship period is one year. Starting date is August 2017.
Berry Fellows will receive an annual stipend of $24,000 and a research fund of $4,000. They will be eligible for UW benefits.
The applicant must first contact a faculty member in the Department of Zoology and Physiology to arrange sponsorship. Once an advisor is arranged, the applicant needs to submit, in a single PDF file: a cover letter including the name of their faculty sponsor, a two-page research interest and goals statement, a CV, and GRE scores. Separately, applicants need to ensure that three letters of recommendation and a letter of support from their faculty sponsor are received by the Committee. All materials should be sent to the Berry Fellowship Committee <cbenkman [at] uwyo.edu> by 10 January 2017. You will also need to apply to the Graduate Program in the Department of Zoology and Physiology: http://www.uwyo.edu/zoology/grad%5Fdegrees/apply_grad.html