nutcracker

Department of Zoology and Physiology

Program in Ecology

Evolutionary Biology

Biodiversity Institute

Contact information:

Office: Berry Center 149
Lab: Biological Sciences 439

Mailing Address:
Department of Zoology & Physiology, 3166
University of Wyoming
1000 E. University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071

Office Ph: (307) 399-4785
Fax: (307) 766-5625
email


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, consistency, and strength of these and other plant-animal interactions? 2) How and why does reproductive isolation evolve between diverging lineages of crossbills? 3) Why has the South Hills crossbill (now Cassia crossbill Loxia sinesciurus) declined by 80% between 2003 and 2011, and what can be done to minimize future declines? Such a dramatic decline, apparently due to increasing temperatures that reduce seed availability in subsequent years, is especially alarming as this species 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.

 

For teachers:

CourseSource for a coevolution lesson plan based on the coevolutionary interactions between crossbills, squirrels, and lodgepole pine.

 

For everyone:

For information about finding the Cassia Crossbill see this page on Idaho Birds.

Article (July 2017) in High Country News by Nick Neely about the natural history and conservation concerns for the Cassia crossbill. Here's a podcast about this work by Laura Erickson.

The South Hills crossbill is evolving in a seriously bizarre way, an article in Wired magazine on our 2016 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 2018.

Berry Fellows will receive an annual stipend of $24,000 and a research fund of $4,000. They will be eligible for UW benefits.

Application procedure

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 2018. 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