Dan Rabosky

Dan Rabosky

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The Rabosky lab seeks to understand how and why life on Earth became so diverse. We focus primarily on large-scale patterns of species diversification (speciation and extinction) and on the tempo and mode of phenotypic evolution, to better understand what regulates the “amount” of biodiversity through Deep Time. To this end, we develop theoretical frameworks and computational tools for studying evolutionary dynamics using DNA-sequence-based evolutionary trees (phylogenies), the fossil record, as well as phenotypic data from present-day species (morphology, ecology). We develop and apply a range of methods involving supervised and unsupervised learning, including Markov chain Monte Carlo, hierarchical mixture models, hidden Markov models, latent feature models, and more. We are increasingly interested in complex morphological and ecological traits, which – due to a rapidly expanding data universe – represent a tremendous opportunity for the field to answer long-standing questions about how organisms evolve. At these same time, we are embracing the analytical challenges of these data, because fully realizing their potential requires the development of new analytical paradigms that go beyond the limitations of traditional parametric models for low-dimensional data.

Automatic feature identification from a large-scale evolutionary tree (phylogeny) using a compound model of the generating process (speciation, extinction) developed in the Rabosky lab. Colors correspond to distinct evolutionary rate regimes as estimated using Markov chain Monte Carlo. This method revealed widespread heterogeneity in the rate of species formation during 350 million years of ray-finned fish evolution. Warm colors = fast rates; cool colors = slow rates.

Automatic feature identification from a large-scale evolutionary tree (phylogeny) using a compound model of the generating process (speciation, extinction) developed in the Rabosky lab. Colors correspond to distinct evolutionary rate regimes as estimated using Markov chain Monte Carlo. This method revealed widespread heterogeneity in the rate of species formation during 350 million years of ray-finned fish evolution. Warm colors = fast rates; cool colors = slow rates.

Photograph of Alison Davis Rabosky

Alison Davis Rabosky

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Our research group studies how and why an organism’s traits (“phenotypes”) evolve in natural populations. Explaining the mechanisms that generate and regulate patterns of phenotypic diversity is a major goal of evolutionary biology: why do we see rapid shifts to strikingly new and distinct character states, and how stable are these evolutionary transitions across space and time? To answer these questions, we generate and analyze high-throughput “big data” on both genomes and phenotypes across the 18,000 species of reptiles and amphibians across the globe. Then, we use the statistical tools of phylogenetic comparative analysis, geometric morphometrics of 3D anatomy generated from CT scans, and genome annotation and comparative transcriptomics to understand the integrated trait correlations that create complex phenotypes. Currently, we are using machine learning and neural networks to study the color patterns of animals vouchered into biodiversity collections and test hypotheses about the ecological causes and evolutionary consequences of phenotypic innovation. We are especially passionate about the effective and accurate visualization of large-scale multidimensional datasets, and we prioritize training in both best practices and new innovations in quantitative data display.

Photograph of Nate Sanders

Nate Sanders

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My research interests are broad, but generally center on the causes and consequences of biodiversity loss at local, regional, and global scales with an explicit focus on global change drivers. Our work has been published in Science, Nature, Science Advances, Global Change Biology, PNAS, AREES, TREE, and Ecology Letters among other journals. We are especially interested in using AI and machine learning to explore broad-scale patterns of biodiversity and phenotypic variation, mostly in ants.

Elizabeth F. S. Roberts

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“Neighborhood Environments as Socio-Techno-bio Systems: Water Quality, Public Trust, and Health in Mexico City (NESTSMX)” is an NSF-funded multi-year collaborative interdisciplinary project that brings together experts in environmental engineering, anthropology, and environmental health from the University of Michigan and the Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública. The PI is Elizabeth Roberts (anthropology), and the co-PIs are Brisa N. Sánchez (biostatistics), Martha M Téllez-Rojo (public health), Branko Kerkez (environmental engineering), and Krista Rule Wigginton (civil and environmental engineering). Our overarching goal for NESTSMX is to develop methods for understanding neighborhoods as “socio-techno-bio systems” and to understand how these systems relate to people’s trust in (or distrust of) their water. In the process, we will collectively contribute to our respective fields of study while we learn how to merge efforts from different disciplinary backgrounds.
NESTSMX works with families living in Mexico City, that participate in an ongoing longitudinal birth-cohort chemical-exposure study (ELEMENT (Early Life Exposures in Mexico to ENvironmental Toxicants, U-M School of Public Health). Our research involves ethnography and environmental engineering fieldwork which we will combine with biomarker data previously gathered by ELEMENT. Our focus will be on the infrastructures and social structures that move water in and out of neighborhoods, households, and bodies.

Testing Real-Time Domestic Water Sensors in Mexico City

Testing Real-Time Domestic Water Sensors in Mexico City

Kevin Bakker

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Kevin’s research is focused on to identifying and interpreting the mechanisms responsible for the complex dynamics we observe in ecological and epidemiological systems using data science and modeling approaches. He is primarily interested in emerging and endemic pathogens, such as SARS-CoV-2, influenza, vampire bat rabies, and a host of childhood infectious diseases such as chickenpox. He uses statistical and mechanistic models to fit, forecast, and occasionally back-cast expected disease dynamics under a host of conditions, such as vaccination or other control mechanisms.

Thomas Schmidt

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The current goal of our research is to learn enough about the physiology and ecology of microbes and microbial communities in the gut that we are able to engineer the gut microbiome to improve human health. The first target of our engineering is the production of butyrate – a common fermentation product of some gut microbes that is essential for human health. Butyrate is the preferred energy source for mitochondria in the epithelial cells lining the gut and it also regulates their gene expression.

One of the most effective ways to influence the composition and metabolism of the gut microbiota is through diet. In an interventional study, we have tracked responses in the composition and fermentative metabolism of the gut microtiota in >800 healthy individuals. Emerging patterns suggest several configurations of the microbiome that can result in increased production of butyrate acid. We have isolated the microbes that form an anaerobic food web to convert dietary fiber to butyrate and continue to make discoveries about their physiology and interactions. Based on these results, we have initiated a clinical trial in which we are hoping to prevent the development of Graft versus Host Disease following bone marrow transplants by managing butyrate production by the gut microbiota.

We are also beginning to track hundreds of other metabolites from the gut microbiome that may influence human health. We use metagenomes and metabolomes to identify patterns that link the microbiota with their metabolites and then test those models in human organoids and gnotobiotic mice colonized with synthetic communities of microbes. This blend of wet-lab research in basic microbiology, data science and in ecology is moving us closer to engineering the gut microbiome to improve human health.

Karen Alofs

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My research focuses on how environmental change, including climate, invasion and habitat destruction influences freshwater ecological communities across space and time. I am involved in a collaborative interdisciplinary project funded by a MIDAS Propelling Original Data Science (PODS) Grant: CHANGES: Collections, Heterogeneous data, And Next Generation Ecological Studies.We are developing protocols for integrating heterogeneous natural science datasets to investigate the impacts of environmental changes on species. Our project focuses on climate change impacts on inland lake fish communities across Michigan, drawing on more than a century’s worth of data and specimens archived at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology (UMMZ) and the Institute for Fisheries Research (IFR), which is a cooperative unit of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Division and the University of Michigan.

Hernán López-Fernández

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I am interested in the evolutionary processes that originate “mega-diverse” biotic assemblages and the role of ecology in shaping the evolution of diversity. My program studies the evolution of Neotropical freshwater fishes, the most diverse freshwater fish fauna on earth, with an estimate exceeding 7,000 species. My lab combines molecular phylogenetics and phylogeny-based comparative methods to integrate ecology, functional morphology, life histories and geography into analyses of macroevolutionary patterns of freshwater fish diversification. We are also comparing patterns of diversification across major Neotropical fish clades. Relying on fieldwork and natural history collections, we use methods that span