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New director appointed to lead UT Lake Erie Center

The University of Toledo named a new leader for the Lake Erie Center, a freshwater research and science education campus focused on finding solutions for water quality issues that face the Great Lakes, including harmful algal blooms, invasive species and pollutants.

Dr. Tom Bridgeman, algae researcher and UT professor of ecology, will serve as director effective May 14. A welcome reception will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 9, at the Lake Erie Center.

Bridgeman

“It is an honor to be appointed the director of a center that has done so much toward improving our ecological understanding of western Lake Erie and its watershed, not just in an academic sense, but in ways that translate into policies for protecting the lake, its fisheries and our drinking water supplies,” Bridgeman said.

“Dr. Bridgeman is one of the leading researchers studying harmful algae blooms, and his insights and leadership as the new director will be important in continuing to move the Lake Erie Center forward, and in solidifying its key contributions toward solving the problems threatening Lake Erie and the Great Lakes in general,” said Dr. Karen Bjorkman, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy; and Helen Luedtke Brooks Endowed Professor of Astronomy. 

Bridgeman plans to continue to build relationships with state and national funding agencies to grow the Lake Erie Center’s research programs, which consist of faculty, staff and student researchers, and connect water treatment plant operators, legislative policymakers and the public with UT water quality expertise.

Bridgeman also plans to make the Lake Erie Center the hub of the UT Water Task Force, which is composed of faculty and researchers in diverse fields spanning the University and serves as a resource for government officials and the public looking for expertise on investigating the causes and effects of algal blooms, the health of Lake Erie, and the health of the communities depending on its water. The task force includes experts in economics, engineering, environmental sciences, business, pharmacy, law, chemistry and biochemistry, geography and planning, and medical microbiology and immunology.

“I would like to help this diverse group find a cohesive voice to communicate their research to the public under the banner of the Lake Erie Center,” Bridgeman said.

Water quality is a major research focus at UT. With more than $14 million in active grants underway, researchers are looking for pathways to restore our greatest natural resource for future generations to ensure communities continue to have access to safe drinking water.

“I’m excited about pursuing some new ideas that will increase our research and education collaborations across UT and with other universities in the region so that the Lake Erie Center becomes the core facility for anyone who wants to conduct research involving Lake Erie,” Bridgeman said. “For anyone who loves water and loves Lake Erie, I would like them to feel that the Lake Erie Center is their center. It’s a place where they can be involved, send their kids to summer science camp, or meet and organize for improving the lake. For area students, I want them to know that UT offers unparalleled opportunities for them to learn about the environment, studying our Great Lake and its tributaries.”

Dr. Tim Fisher, geology professor and chair of the UT Department of Environmental Sciences, has been serving as interim director of the Lake Erie Center.

“I want to thank Dr. Fisher for his dedication and willingness to serve in this capacity for the past 18 months,” Bjorkman said.

Director of freshwater research at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium to speak at UT

Dr. Andy Casper, director of freshwater research at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, will speak at The University of Toledo about invasive Asian carp in rivers around the Great Lakes Wednesday, April 11, at 4 p.m. in Bowman-Oddy Laboratories Room 1049.

The free, public event is titled “The Contrasting Ecological Influence of Pollution, Policy and Invasive Species: Long-Term Data Sets Reveal Complex Trends in the Ecology of the Illinois River.”

Casper (Photo courtesy of Shedd Aquarium)

“The Illinois River has been impacted by two species of invasive carp, the silver and bighead, which do not have populations in the Great Lakes,” said Dr. Christine Mayer, aquatic ecologist and professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences. “A related species, grass carp, has recently been found spawning in Lake Erie tributaries.”

“The University of Toledo is doing important work on key issues in the ecosystem,” Casper said. “I am excited about the possibility of sharing information and potential collaborations on important Great Lakes concerns, like the influence of urban development and invasive species on our common Great Lakes resources.”

In 2015, a UT graduate student was the first researcher to discover grass carp eggs in the Sandusky River providing the first proof of spawning in a Great Lakes tributary. Grass carp are a type of invasive Asian carp. Last year, a UT researcher also found grass carp eggs in the Maumee River.

Although considered a species of Asian carp, wild adult grass carp pose significantly different risks to the Lake Erie ecosystem than bighead carp and silver carp. Both bighead carp and silver carp consume plankton, and if these species were to make their way into the Great Lakes basin, they would compete for the same source of food that ecologically and economically important native fish species need to survive. Silver carp are well-known for their jumping ability and are a hazard to boaters.
Grass carp pose a risk to waterfowl habitat and wetlands, but they do not eat plankton and are unlikely to compete directly with native fish. Grass carp do not jump and are primarily herbivorous.

Later this spring, Mayer will give a seminar in Chicago at the Shedd Aquarium about the importance of healthy river habitat to Lake Erie fish and the need for tailored restoration in each river. She targets the Maumee, Sandusky and Detroit rivers.

“The rivers and river mouths are a small area compared to the whole lake, but they hold some key habitats for fish, such as the type of environment required for reproduction,” Mayer said. “Some fish species, such as walleye, spawn both in the lake and in the rivers, but having river stocks helps increase the diversity of our ‘fish stock portfolio,’ just like your financial portfolio.”

While the river habitats are important to native fish to Lake Erie, Mayer said there also is potential for invasive species, such as grass carp, to use rivers for spawning.

“Rivers are highly affected by human alteration of habitat and inputs from the land,” Mayer said. “It is important to try to envision what kinds of conservation or restoration are best suited for the three big rivers entering western Lake Erie to contribute the most benefit to Lake Erie fisheries. Each river has unique issues.”

Water quality is a major research focus at UT. With more than $14 million in active grants underway, UT experts are studying algal blooms, invasive species and pollutants. Researchers are looking for pathways to restore our greatest natural resource for future generations to ensure communities continue to have access to safe drinking water.

Alumna to receive Turin Award, give lecture on photonics

Dr. Anca Sala will return to her alma mater to receive the John J. Turin Award for outstanding career accomplishments.

The dean of the College of Engineering at Baker College in Flint, Mich., will receive the award and give a free, public lecture Thursday, March 29, at 4 p.m. in McMaster Hall Room 1005.

Sala

In her talk titled “Integrated Photonics — An Applied Perspective,” Sala will discuss photonic integrated circuits and their potential to advance the fields of communications, signal processing and sensing.

She is one of the nation’s leading high-technology educators and innovators in the development of college programs in optics and photonics. In addition, Sala is a founding member of Mi-Light, the Michigan Photonics Cluster that supports Michigan’s photonics-related businesses with the goal of growing the state’s talent pool to expand the photonics industry and stimulate innovation.

“It is a huge honor for me to be recognized with the Turin Award,” Sala said. “I received an excellent education from great professors and mentors as a graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UT. It gave me the ability to thrive in research and development in the industry, as well as a professor in a college environment.”

The Turin Award is presented each year by the UT Department of Physics and Astronomy to a former undergraduate or graduate student for his or her outstanding career accomplishments.

Sala received her PhD in physics from UT after earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Polytechnic University of Bucharest in Romania.

UT scientists awarded $400,000 grant to study wildlife in Oak Openings region

A team of ecologists at The University of Toledo was awarded a two-year state wildlife grant from Ohio and Michigan to study flagship species of the Oak Openings region to better inform conservation and management strategies.

Using radio telemetry, Dr. Jeanine Refsnider, evolutionary ecologist and assistant professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Henry Streby, ornithologist and assistant professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences, will focus on the productivity and survival of red-headed woodpeckers, eastern box turtles and spotted turtles particularly in the oak savanna and wet prairie habitats in northwest Ohio and southern Michigan.

Spotted turtles like this one in the Oak Openings region will be monitored by UT researchers thanks to funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The two-year study will include conservation strategies for three species.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are funding the work with a $400,000 grant through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Oak savanna and wet prairie habitats have drastically declined in this area during the last century,” Refsnider said. “We are interested in three flagship species of Oak Openings ecosystems. If they’re doing well, the ecosystem is probably doing well. But if the animals are there yet not successfully producing offspring, the populations will continue to decline and possibly go extinct. We want to give conservationists a powerful tool to optimize the landscape and maintain wildlife populations, and that requires knowing not just whether rare species are present, but also whether they are reproducing successfully.”

Work begins in the spring on the study, which is titled “Distribution, Density and Demography of Red-Headed Woodpeckers, Eastern Box Turtles and Spotted Turtles in Oak Openings of Ohio and Michigan.”

The eastern box turtle also is part of the UT study funded by a $400,000 grant through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“If the habitat is good for charismatic mega fauna, there’s a good chance it’s right for the whole system,” Streby said. “If it’s bad for one of these, it’s likely representing underlying problems for all species.”

Radio transmitters will be epoxied to the turtles and harnessed to the woodpeckers. They do not inhibit the animal’s movement.

For all three species, UT researchers will be conducting distribution and density surveys, monitoring adults with radio-telemetry, monitoring nests, and tracking juveniles with radio-telemetry when they leave the nest.

Researchers will then use nest and juvenile survival data to determine which landscape compositions and configurations result in the best overall productivity for any species individually and all three together. 

“We want to identify the recipe for a quality habitat and map where nests might have the highest success in getting what they need for a self-sustaining population,” Streby said. “The Oak Openings region is a complex patchwork of wetlands, uplands, thin forest, dense forest, prairie and wet prairie. This comprehensive study is necessary to demonstrate which parts of the habitat are working and inform conservation management in the future.”

Red-headed woodpeckers, like this one on the hand of UT graduate student Kyle Pagel, will be monitored in the Oak Openings region during the two-year study.

Science center CEO to discuss STEMM roles for women

Dr. Tonya Matthews, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Science Center in Detroit, will speak Tuesday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m. in the Driscoll Alumni Center Auditorium.

She will give the keynote address as part of The University of Toledo’s celebration of Women’s History Month.

Matthews

Matthews was selected by Crain’s Detroit Business as one of the 100 most influential women in Michigan in 2016. She also was honored as a Michigan Chronicle Woman of Achievement for her act of inspiring others through vision and leadership, exceptional achievements, and participation in community service.

Since she was named president and CEO of the Michigan Science Center in 2013, Matthews has worked to increase female involvement within STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine) fields. She has implemented several programs, including career exploration fairs, innovative professional development for teachers, and the STEMinista Project, an initiative supporting the science interest of middle school girls.

During her lecture, Matthews will discuss strong female leaders and their diverse management styles. She will provide emphasis on women in STEMM fields.

“I’m honored to participate in the Women’s History Month celebration at The University of Toledo,” Matthews said. “Women provide an important voice and perspective that is critical to innovation and progress. There is a need to better engage and encourage girls in STEMM and to support this need. It’s up to us to inspire the next generation of women scientists, engineers and innovators.”

Matthews also shares inspiration through poetry. She has published four poetry collections and is a Library of Congress Center for the Book honoree.

Danielle Stamper, interim program coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Student Success, believes Matthew’s lecture will be motivating to UT students.

“I believe that Dr. Tonya Matthews will encourage and empower women, especially women of color, to pursue STEMM careers,” Stamper said. “I am excited to hear from Dr. Matthews how her passions of poetry and writing have advanced her in the STEMM fields.”

Matthews received a bachelor’s degree in biomedical and electrical engineering from Duke University and a doctorate in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University. She was a biomedical engineer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and she worked at museums in Maryland and Ohio.

The free, public event is sponsored by the Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Office of Multicultural Student Success, with additional support from the Jesup Scott Honors College and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Faculty member who advocated for STEMM, minority students passes away

Dr. Anthony Quinn, associate professor of biological sciences and assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, died Wednesday at the age of 59.

Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday, March 19, at Warren AME Church, 915 Collingwood Blvd. Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 20, at the church. A funeral reception will follow from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Radisson Grand Ballroom on the Health Science Campus.

Quinn joined The University of Toledo Department of Biological Sciences in 2001 and was a renowned immunologist known for his work in deciphering the interplay between diabetes and immunity.

Quinn

He was passionate about the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students and created in 2015 the We Are STEMM initiative to bring high-profile underrepresented minority scientists to UT in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine as role models for University students of color, inspiring them to engage in STEMM fields of study.

“Dr. Quinn was a very valuable contributor to his home Department of Biological Sciences, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and the entire University. He was a tireless advocate who worked very hard toward increasing and supporting diversity in STEMM,” said Dr. Karen Bjorkman, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy, and Helen Luedtke Brooks Endowed Professor of Astronomy. “Tony will be greatly missed by all of us. He leaves a huge hole that will be very difficult to fill, but his legacy will continue. We all feel fortunate to have had him as an important part of our lives.”

Quinn also co-directed the Multicultural Emerging Scholars Summer Bridge and Living Learning Community Program, and led the Brothers on the Rise mentoring program.

The University recently established the Tony Quinn We Are STEMM Initiative in recognition of his service to UT to expand the existing We Are STEMM lecture series to include fellowships for graduate and professional education and mentoring programs. The Tony Quinn We Are STEMM Fellowship Fund has been created to support the initiative. To make a donation, visit utfoundation.org/give/quinnfellowship.

Quinn’s service to the University included co-chairing the strategic planning committee that created The University of Toledo’s Path to Excellence plan approved last year by the UT Board of Trustees. He also served as president of the Association of Black Faculty and Staff.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Mid-American Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., a master’s degree in biology from the University of Missouri in St. Louis, and a PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.

Quinn, who received the UT Outstanding Teacher Award in 2013, was a member of the American Association of Immunologists, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International, Immunology of Diabetes Society, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, and Clinical Immunology Society.

Frame it: Winners of Lake Erie Center Photo Contest announced

A total of 142 phenomenal entries were submitted for the 2017 Lake Erie Center Photo Contest.

The contest theme, “The Nature of Our Region, From Oak Openings to Maumee Bay,” invited participants to submit up to three photos featuring various areas of northwest Ohio.

All entries are displayed in the Lake Erie Center lobby.

“The display consists of many fabulous images showcasing the nature of our region, through the eyes of the photographer, for us all to enjoy.” said Rachel Lohner, education program manager for the Lake Erie Center.

First-place winners took home $25. Listed by category, they are:

• Youth (7 to 12 years old) — Annika Padhye;

• Teen (13 to 18 years old) — Dustin Canada; and

• Adult — Dr. Sashi Bhatt, associate professor of anesthesiology.

Lohner said the purpose of the photo contest is to inspire all camera enthusiasts and others to explore more of the nature within the Lake Erie area.

Visit facebook.com/lakeeriecenter to see more photos from the contest.

Dr. Sashi Bhatt won first place in the adult division.

Dustin Canada took top honors in the teen category with this photo of downtown Toledo.

Annika Padhye placed first in the youth category with this shot.

STEMM initiative established in honor of UT faculty member

The new Tony Quinn We Are STEMM Initiative recognizes the immunologist in the Department of Biological Sciences for his work in deciphering the interplay between diabetes and immunity, as well as his dedication to the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students.

Dr. Anthony Quinn, associate professor of biological sciences and assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, created in 2015 a We Are STEMM initiative designed to bring high-profile underrepresented minority scientists to UT in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine as role models for University students of color, inspiring them to engage in STEMM fields of study.

Quinn

In recognition of his contributions during his 16 years of educational leadership, UT has created the Tony Quinn We Are STEMM Initiative that will build upon the existing We Are STEMM lecture series to also include fellowships for graduate and professional education and mentoring programs.

“Tony’s dedication and contributions of energy and intellect to the full participation of individuals from marginalized groups in the scientific enterprise has benefited The University of Toledo and our community greatly,” said Dr. Amanda Bryant-Friedrich, dean of the College of Graduate Studies. “His work has impacted our students at all levels through the creation of a diverse and inclusive campus. This work must continue.”

While battling pancreatic cancer, Quinn co-developed UT’s strategic plan, co-directed the Multicultural Emerging Scholars Summer Bridge and Living Learning Community Program, and led the Brothers on the Rise mentoring program.

“We recently visited Dr. Quinn and his family where we shared with them this recognition. They are pleased to have this honor in recognition of Tony’s contribution to the University,” said Dr. Willie McKether, vice president for diversity and inclusion.

The Tony Quinn We Are STEMM Fellowship Fund has been created to support the initiative to ensure ongoing support of underrepresented graduate students in STEMM disciplines — scholars so important to Quinn.

For more information about donating to the fund, visit utfoundation.org/give/quinnfellowship.

UT to host training for forecasting algal toxin increases

The University of Toledo is hosting a training workshop to teach water treatment plant operators, scientists and public health officials how to use software that forecasts increases in algal toxins during algal bloom season so that swimmers and boaters can be warned to avoid exposure and water treatment plants can take measures to appropriately treat the raw water.

The workshop will take place Thursday, March 1, at the UT Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bayshore Road in Oregon.

For the last three years, researchers at The University of Toledo have been collecting environmental data in Lake Erie during algal bloom season to help the U.S. Geological Survey develop a model to estimate the probability of exceeding a threshold that indicates an increase in harmful algal bloom toxins, like microcystin, in Ohio waters.

Using the database of samples gathered at seven water treatment plant intakes and four recreational sites throughout the state, including the public beach at Maumee Bay State Park, the U.S. Geological Survey’s model can now be applied using the Virtual Beach Software developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The software is the same program UT uses to make daily E. coli bacteria forecasts for the public beach at Maumee Bay State Park during the summer. However, the new model for algal toxins also incorporates live data from the network of buoys in the western Lake Erie basin. The buoys are equipped with what is called the YSI EXO sonde, a black and blue instrument comprised of several probes to measure various water quality parameters, including how much blue-green algae is present, water temperature, clarity, oxygen levels, turbidity and pH.

“Instead of waiting for test results from water samples, we can make real-time predictions for increases in algal toxins using environmental factors such as turbidity, pH, phycocyanin, wind direction and rainfall,” Pam Struffolino, UT Lake Erie Center research operations manager, said. “The exposure probability model is ready to go once approved by the EPA, and we want to be sure the people we are training can add data, read results, and use the software to help their communities be safe.”

Trainers at the workshop are composed of representatives from UT, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Limnotech and NASA.

Struffolino said water treatment plants are expected to begin using the software once operators are trained. Leaders are evaluating how the results will be publicly posted similar to the E. coli testing and when that will begin.

“The model will improve every year as we go along because we will continue to add data,” Struffolino said.

Migration research reveals key to declines in rare songbirds

The annual long-distance migration of rare, tiny songbirds that reproduce in the Great Lakes region and Appalachian Mountains is no longer a mystery.

By tracking one of the smallest species ever monitored over thousands of miles using cutting-edge technology, a team of ornithologists led by scientists at The University of Toledo found that it is where golden-winged warblers spend the winter in the tropics that determines if a population is declining or stable, not factors associated with the breeding grounds thousands of miles north in the United States and Canada.

A golden-winged warbler carrying a geolocator in Minnesota.

Over the course of the five-year study, the scientists found that different populations of the birds, which are about the size of a ping-pong ball and weigh less than three pennies, do not mix between their separate northern nesting grounds occupied during the spring and summer and the tropical sites where they spend the winter.

Mapped using data from 76 light level geolocators recovered from the birds, each population shows strong migratory connectivity, or geographic segregation, that confirms that populations of the birds stay together in different locations for the seasons throughout the year. This strong link between breeding and non-breeding areas means that populations may be exposed to different threats and conditions during the winter.

According to the study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, golden-winged warblers from declining populations spend winters in northern South America. Stable populations of the species spend winters in Central America.

A team led by UT researchers tracked where golden-winged warblers traveled for the winter.

“They’re separate, and it’s remarkable,” said Gunnar Kramer, PhD student researcher in environmental sciences at UT. “Most species we track like this don’t show strong connections between breeding sites and wintering sites.”

“These golden-winged warblers that breed throughout the Great Lakes region and Appalachian Mountains are going to different areas in the winter,” said Dr. Henry Streby, assistant professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences. “That’s pivotal because those tropical areas experienced different rates of forest loss during the last 60 years. When we look at forest-loss rates, it correlates closely with golden-winged warbler population changes on breeding grounds thousands of miles away.”

When it comes to saving the species that is under consideration for federal Endangered Species protection, the researchers say conservationists should switch their focus away from places where their efforts cannot benefit the species and toward restoring habitat and preventing further deforestation in northern Venezuela, “which is, unfortunately, one of the most difficult places to do conservation work in the Americas,” Streby said.

Gunnar Kramer held a golden-winged warbler, which carried a geolocator. Researchers attached the tiny backpack to the bird in 2015 and recovered it in 2016. The data revealed the warbler’s migratory route and winter location.

“If the winter habitat keeps disappearing, the warblers that winter in northern South America won’t survive and come back to the Appalachian Mountains no matter how much breeding habitat is available to them,” Streby said.

Kramer and Streby tracked the birds using the geolocators attached to the birds with tiny backpacks around their legs. Figure-eight harnesses secured the geolocator backpacks, which contained a battery, a computer chip and a light sensor. The whole thing weighs less than half of a paper clip and does not inhibit flight or movement.

“The light sensor records ambient light and stores it with a time stamp on the unit every couple minutes,” Kramer said. “We used differences in day length and changes in how fast dawn and dusk occur to predict daily locations of the birds throughout the year. Based on how long the day and night are and features of the transitions between day and night, you can tell with reasonable accuracy where you are on the planet.”

Unlike other heavier tracking devices, geolocators do not transmit data, so the researchers had to recapture every bird marked with a geolocator and remove the device to recover data.

“Comprehensive studies like this one show the importance of understanding the complex relationships migratory species have with different environments throughout the year and demonstrate that songbirds that spend the summer in our backyards may be experiencing challenging conditions elsewhere that are causing declines,” Kramer said. “These studies also provide information that can immediately be used to start improving conservation efforts, and that’s really exciting.”

The UT researchers collaborated with scientists from several universities and agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Tennessee and West Virginia University.

Funding was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Science Foundation.