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Biological Sciences

News Jan 2015 - Dec 2016

In Memoriam: Mary Rast

Portrait of Mary Rast

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Ms. Mary Rast on August 5.  As the Lab Manager in the Department of Biological Sciences for 45 years, Mary made an enormous contribution to the operation of the department.  We will miss her friendly smile.  In honor of Mary's many years of dedicated service and her helpfulness to our students, a Senior Award will be created in her name.  If you would like to make a donation to support this award, please contact Pam Cunningham.

The following is an extract from Mary's obituary on CaringBridge.

Mary Corle “Pete” Rast went home on August 5th. Born at Christian Welfare Hospital in East St Louis on August 1, 1944 to Virginia F. and Marcus J. Rast. She lived in East St Louis through 1966. She was a cheerleader and graduate of East St Louis Senior High School. Mary was awarded the W T Grant Foundation College Scholarship which enabled her to attend and graduate from Monmouth College.
Following graduation Mary worked for Ralston Purina and then was the Biology Lab Manager at SIUE for 45 years. It was there that she met her husband, Bob Cunningham. They were together for more than 33 years. She was known for her smile and pleasant personality. Mary loved watching birds and wildlife, gardening, and traveling with her husband. Through that travel she became well known and loved by the hockey community throughout the nation. She also was a passionate St Louis Blues fan.

Mary is survived by her husband Bob Cunningham, sisters Dixie (Ray) Reedy, Titusville, FL and Patti Ovies, Swansea, IL. She is also survived by her nieces and nephews: Daniel Ovies, Swansea IL, Lynn Bauman, Grants Pass, OR, Debbie (John) Spadt, Micco, FL, Suzie (Tony) Brees, Mims, FL, Scott (Jody) Reedy, Johnson City, TN and numerous great nieces and nephews.
The family would like to thank everyone who cared for Mary. She was well cared for by Barnes Jewish Hospital, The Rehabilitation Institute of St Louis, and Hospice of Southern Illinois. Their care was magnificent.

In lieu of flowers memorial donations in Mary’s name are requested. Please make these to any of the following: Missouri Botanical Gardens, Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, The Gardens at SIUE.

Services for Mary will be September 10, 2016 with a gathering of friends at 10:00AM at the Barry Wilson Funeral Home, 2800 N Center St., Maryville, IL. Services will follow at 1:00PM. The family would like to invite everyone to a dinner and celebration of Mary’s life at the Lewis and Clark Mannie Jackson Center, 1210 N Main St, Edwardsville, IL from 2:30 PM-7:30 PM. To ensure that appropriate arrangements can be made for all please RSVP you’re attending to Bob Cunningham by September 1st. You can reach him at or 314-941-5625.

In Memoriam: Dr. Ralph Axtell

Ralph Axtell, PhD

It was with great sadness that we heard of the passing of Dr. Ralph Axtell, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences. Dr. Axtell, 88, passed away on Friday, July 1, 2016 at his residence. He was one of the original faculty of the Department, indeed one of the original faculty of SIUE itself. On his retirement in 2015, he had been on the faculty for 55 years. He taught many, many graduate and undergraduate students throughout the years, and was a passionate supporter of student research activities in the biological sciences. He personally funded many of the Senior Awards in Biological Sciences. A substantial donation by Dr. Axtell to the Department several years ago will support student research in the years to come. In recognition of his generosity and years of service, the ecology teaching lab (SLW 0340) was named after him. Dr. Axtell will be greatly missed by his colleagues and students.

Please click here to view the obituary.

In Memoriam: Dr. Marian Smith

We were saddened to lose our colleague and friend, Dr. Marian Smith, who passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by loved-ones. Marian was a Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences until her retirement several years ago. She is best known for her work on the rare and endangered plant, Boltonia decurrens, which is native to the floodplains of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. The species occurs in only 20 locations in Illinois and Missouri. Marian was an accomplished botanist and population ecologist, who mentored many undergraduate and graduate students and was an active and productive member of the department. She will be missed. The photo below shows Marian with a Boltonia decurrens plant.

Please click here to view the obituary.

Dr. Marian Smith in the field with a Boltonia decurrens plant

Dr. Dave Duvernell Awarded NSF Grant

We congratulate Dr. Dave Duvernell, Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, on being awarded a research grant by the National Science Foundation, which will fund his ongoing research on the population genetics of two species of topminnow fish. Click here to see the story on This Week is CAS. Portrait of Dr. David Duvernell

Dr. Tom Fowler is our new Graduate Program Director

Dr. Tom Fowler has agreed to serve as the Director of the Department of Biological Sciences Graduate Program.  He takes the reins from Dr. Rick Essner, who has been Director for several years.  We thank Dr. Essner for his service and wish Dr. Fowler the best of luck in his new role. Portrait of Dr. Tom Fowler

Large Lecture Room (SL 1105) Has Been Renovated

Over the summer, renovation of the large lecture room in the Science East Building that is used for several Biological Sciences courses (SL 1105) was completed.  The new room has comfortable seating for more than 200 students.  Check out the photos below (photo credits: Katie Durbin).

View from front of renovated SL 1105

View from back of renovated SL 1105

Lice in 25 States Show Resistance to Common Treatments

Dr. Kyong Yoon's research into insecticide resistance in head lice has attracted national attention!

Click here to read the story on

Map of USA showing states with resistant lice

Biology Student Research Featured in This Week in CAS

This Week in CAS for April 26 features a story on Biological Sciences students whose research presentations won awards at the 107th annual conference of the Illinois State Academy of Science, which took place at Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL on April 10-11, 2015. The piece highlights the research of undergraduates Aaron Alexander, Noah Dell, and Savanna Stabenow. Click here to read the story.

Students and their faculty advisor, Dr. Peter Minchin, at the ISAS 2015 Conference

From left: Noah Dell, Dr. Peter Minchin, Aaron Alexander, Savanna Stabenow (Photo: Lawrence Werner, II). Noah's talk on forest succession in the SIUE Nature Preserve won 1st prize in the Botany section, Aaron won 1st prize in the Zoology section for his talk on estimating the white-tailed deer population on SIUE campus, and Savanna won 2nd prize in the Botany section for her poster on the abundance and distribution of lianas (woody vines) in oak-hickory forest.

Dr. Rick Essner's Sabattical Research Featured in Science News

During his sabbatical at Ohio University, Dr. Rick Essner collaborated with an international group of colleagues in a study of locomation in toads. The results were recently published in a paper in Functional Ecology and have been featured in an article in Science News. The work showed that toads save energy by doing a bounding gait rather than stringing together individual hops. Previously, regular use of this type of gait has only been observed in mammals. Efficient locomotion is likely one of the keys to the evolutionary success of toads and may explain in part why Cane Toads have been such successful invaders in Australia and elsewhere. To read the Science News article click here.

Photo of a cane toad jumping

Research by Two Graduate Students Featured on the Blog "Anole Annals"

Seth Griffis and Eric Mueller, two graduate students working with Dr. Dave Jennings, have had their research projects featured on the blog "Anole Annals", which is written and edited by scientists who study Anolis lizards. In both cases, writers learned about their research from their presentations at the 2015 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology conference (see news story below). For more information, click on the links below.

How do anoles get big?

Growth hormone and body size in anoles.

Darwin Day 2015

Please be sure to attend our 2015 Darwin Day event, which will take place in the Meridian Ballroom, Morris University Center on Monday, January 26 at 3:00 PM. Renowned geneticist, Dr. Alan Templeton, Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology Emeritus, Washington University in St. Louis, will present a lecture entitled "Do Biological Races Exist in Humans?". Birthday cake, pizza, and punch will be served. For more information click here.

Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference

The Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference (MEEC) is an annual student-hosted research conference held at various institutions within the Midwestern United States. The conference provides an outstanding opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students to showcase their research and network with students and faculty from nearby institutions. MEEC provides a great environment for emerging scientists to discuss new ideas, hone presentation skills, and make connections in the local science community.

In 2015, MEEC takes place at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, March 28-29. MEEC will include oral and poster sessions, panel sessions on outreach and career development, as well as what promise to be extraordinary plenary talks by Dr. Cathy Pfister (University of Chicago) and Dr. Alan Templeton (Washington University in St. Louis). The abstract call and registration are both from February 1-28. Registration for MEEC is only $50!

For more information, visit the MEEC 2015 web site or facebook page.

In Memoriam: Dr. Jamie Edward Thomerson

We were sad to hear that Dr. Jamie Edward Thomerson, Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences passed away on January 4, 2015 in Austin, Texas. Born May 7, 1935 in Menard, Texas, he grew up there, as did his father and grandfather. Graduating from Menard High School in 1953, he received a B.S. in Geology, University of Texas at Austin, 1957, a M.S. in Geology at Texas Tech, Lubbock, 1961, and PhD. in Zoology at Tulane University, New Orleans, 1965. He was recognized as an expert on killifishes, making many trips to Venezuela, Belize, Colombia, Guyana and Peru to collect freshwater fishes. He and his students also studied the fish populations of the small streams of southern Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. He was a research associate at the Field Museum in Chicago. With David Greenfield of the University of Hawaii, he co-authored a book, Fishes of the Continental Waters of Belize, University Press of Florida. Dr. Thomerson was a well-respected and active member of the faculty of Biological Sciences at SIUE for many years, receiving the university's Outstanding Scholar Award in 1994. To read more, click here.

Portrait of Dr. Jamie Thomerson

Graduate Students Present at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology 2015 Conference.

Several graduate students from the Department of Biological Sciences presented their research at the annual conference of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), which was held at the Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida from January 3-7, 2015. The students were Seth Griffis, Eric Mueller, Larry Werner, Fred Cornwell, Kyle Wilm, Kevin Jones, and Tyler McKibben. In the photo below, Kevin Jones is explaining his poster on the effects of FMRFamide-related peptides on the contractions of the earthworm body wall to another conference attendee. His research has shown that these peptides increase the level of contraction of the body wall which means that the body shortens more fully allowing the animal to move a greater distance with each contraction.

Kevin Jones presents a poster at the 2015 SICB conference.

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