States unite to boost teaching of students with disabilities

December 1, 2017
Larry Lansford

Read more here.

Science & Wellness

UF study: Bird evolves virtually overnight to keep up with invasive prey

December 1, 2017
Beverly James

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The federally endangered bird, the snail kite, was faced with an interesting dilemma: The island apple snail was good to eat, but about two to five times bigger than the native snail that the bird usually consumed. What’s a hungry bird to do? Evolve – quickly.

A study by a team of University of Florida researchers has found that in about 10 years, the snail kite has evolved to develop a larger beak as its new prey, the island apple snail, proliferated and became invasive. The study is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

“Beak size had been increasing every year since the invasion of the snail from about 2007,” said Robert Fletcher, associate professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation, par of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “At first, we thought the birds were learning how to handle snails better or perhaps learning to forage on the smaller, younger individual snails. We needed to know if the birds had evolved or if they had just learned to handle the snails better.”

From approximately 2000 to 2007, the snail kite experienced major population declines, and there were mounting concerns that the bird was near extinction, Fletcher said. Nonetheless, over the next few years, the snail kite’s population started rebounding, he said.

“Monitoring data showed that juvenile kites were surviving their first year of life better, and that several aspects of reproduction were improving,” he said.

During their research, scientists discovered two factors to the bird’s survival. “The question we were most interested in was ‘are they evolving?’” Fletcher said. “We knew they had a hard time foraging on this larger food source. We observed the birds dropping the larger snails, so we wondered if natural selection was occurring and only the biggest birds could forage and survive.”

Researchers found that the birds with bigger bills were surviving, and their offspring were inheriting the bigger bills, which helps the bird dig into the snail’s shell for meat. But was this enough to account for the quick population increase?

“Only partially,” Fletcher said. “It’s complicated because we see natural selection, in that the birds who inherit bigger bills are surviving better. But, we also see that the birds are growing faster and developing bigger bills each year with this new, abundant prey.”

In addition, genetics play a big role, Fletcher said.

“We found that beak size had a large amount of genetic variance and that more variance happened post-invasion of the island apple snail. This indicates that genetic variations may spur rapid evolution under environmental change,” he said.

The implications are astounding, Fletcher said. In the past, scientists believed that larger animals could not respond or evolve quickly to invasive species, he said. “Now, we are waiting to see how this bird will continue to change,” Fletcher said.

The study has huge implications for Florida, which has more invasive species than any other state, Fletcher said.
“Land managers have to figure out how to recover endangered species without having to rely on an invasive species,” he said. “The invasives have such a negative impact on the ecosystem that you don’t want to rely on them to save an endangered species. So, there is a real conflict there.”

Science & Wellness

University of Florida climbs to 14th among public universities with $791 million in research expenditures

December 5, 2017
Joseph Kays

A new report from the National Science Foundation shows the University of Florida’s record $791 million in research expenditures in 2016 pushed it from 16th to 14th among public universities in a national ranking of R&D spending.

The statistics are compiled from NSF’s annual Higher Education Research and Development, or HERD, survey, which compiles research expenditure data from more than 600 higher education institutions in the United States.

Overall, the report shows that federal funding of higher education research and development increased for the first time in five years. When adjusted for inflation, federal funding increased by 1.4 percent between 2015 and 2016. UF’s $307 million in federal research expenditures in 2016 represented a nearly 7 percent increase from 2015.

Spending for research is a key indicator of the health of an institution’s research enterprise. Expenditures represent how much grant money the university actually spends in any given year. So, for example, a five-year, $10-million award might report expenditures of $2 million per year.

UF’s overall increase was bolstered by gains from its two largest federal funding agencies: the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Science Foundation. The university reported $161 million in HHS projects, up from $155 million in 2015, which pushed its rank from 23rd to 21st among public universities and from 45th to 43rd among all universities. With nearly $44.7 million in NSF funding, UF ranked 25th among publics, up from 26th in 2015.

Among all universities, public and private, UF placed 24th in 2016 compared with 25th in 2015. Other ranked institutions include the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill at 11th, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at 14th, Cornell University at 13th, the University of California, Berkeley at 26th, Washington University in St. Louis at 28th and Vanderbilt University at 31st.

Among other Florida State University System institutions, the University of South Florida in Tampa ranked 46th, Florida State University was 82nd and the University of Central Florida was 91st.

“This continued rise in the size and ranking of our research enterprise among our peers mirrors UF’s growing national stature,” said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research. “As would be expected of a top-10 public university, our faculty compete successfully against the nation’s finest scientists for funding to cure diseases, feed the world, probe the mysteries of the universe and understand the human spirit.”

Campus Life

Becoming visible - Michelle Barboza

December 10, 2017
Stephenie Livingston
Women in STEM, women in paleontology, Florida Museum

The University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History celebrated 100 years of inspiring people to care about life on Earth in 2017. To mark the closing of an era and the beginning of a new century, UF News profiled three Florida Museum women who are shaping the research institution's future and breaking the cycle of stereotypes and misconceptions in the world of science. With modern tools like social media and podcasts, they continue the work of past and current museum women, who have fought for equality in their fields and for the visibility of women in science.

Adobe Spark Page

Science & Wellness

Black holes' magnetism surprisingly wimpy

December 7, 2017
Stephenie Livingston

Science & Wellness

Becoming visible - Adania Flemming

December 11, 2017
Stephenie Livingston
Florida Museum

The University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History celebrated 100 years of inspiring people to care about life on Earth in 2017. To mark the closing of an era and the beginning of a new century, UF News profiled three Florida Museum women who are shaping the research institution's future and breaking the cycle of stereotypes and misconceptions in the world of science. With modern tools like social media and podcasts, they continue the work of past and current museum women, who have fought for equality in their fields and for the visibility of women in science.

Adobe Spark Page

Science & Wellness

Certain books can increase infant learning during shared reading, study shows

December 11, 2017
Gigi Marino

Parents and pediatricians know that reading to infants is a good thing, but new research shows reading books that clearly name and label people and objects is even better.

That’s because doing so helps infants retain information and attend better.

“When parents label people or characters with names, infants learn quite a bit,” said Lisa Scott, a University of Florida psychology professor and co-author of the study published Dec. 8 in the journal Child Development. “Books with individual-level names may lead parents to talk to infants more, which is particularly important for the first year of life."

Scott and colleagues from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studied infants in Scott’s Brain, Cognition, and Development Lab. Babies came into the lab twice: once at 6 months old and again at age 9 months. While in the lab, eye-tracking and electroencephalogram, or EEG, methods were used to measure attention and learning at both ages.

In between visits, parents were asked to read with their infants at home according to a schedule that included 10 minutes of parent-infant shared book reading every day for the first two weeks, every other day for the second two weeks and then continued to decrease until infants returned at 9 months. Twenty-three families were randomly assigned storybooks. One set contained individual-level names, and the other contained category-level labels. Both sets of books were identical except for the labeling. Each of the training books’ eight pages presented an individual image and a two-sentence story.

The individual-level books clearly identified and labeled all eight individuals, with names such as “Jamar,” “Boris,” “Anice,” and “Fiona.” The category-level books included two made-up labels ("hitchel," "wadgen") for all images. The control group included 11 additional 9-month-old infants who did not receive books.

The infants whose parents read the individual-level names spent more time focusing and attending the images, and their brain activity clearly differentiated the individual characters after book reading. This was not found at 6 months (before book reading), for the control group, or for the group of infants who were given books with category-level labels. 

Scott has been studying how the specificity of labels affects infant learning and brain development since 2006. This longitudinal study is the third in a series. The eye tracking and EEG results are consistent with her other studies showing that name specificity improves cognition in infants.

“There are lots of recommendations about reading books to babies, but our work provides a scientific basis for these recommendations and suggests that the type of book is also important,” she said. "Shared reading is a good way to support development in the first year of life,” “It creates an enjoyable and comforting environment for both the parents and the infant and encourages parents to talk to their infants.”

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Science & Wellness

Scents and sensibility

December 12, 2017
Alisson Clark
UF Center for Smell and Taste, UF Health, College of Medicine

The University of Florida is launching one of the country’s only clinical programs for people with smell disorders, a problem that sounds insignificant until you’ve lived with it.

Scents and sensibility

Science & Wellness

For baby’s brain to benefit, read the right books at the right time

December 12, 2017
Lisa S. Scott

A UF psychology professor explains which features make a book a good choice for shared reading with babies based on her direct experience with infants in a laboratory setting.

For baby's brain to benefit, read the right books at the right time

File 20171209 27683 qnf9a7.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
How can you maximize reading’s rewards for baby? aijiro/Shutterstock.com

Lisa S. Scott, University of Florida

Parents often receive books at pediatric checkups via programs like Reach Out and Read and hear from a variety of health professionals and educators that reading to their kids is critical for supporting development.

The pro-reading message is getting through to parents, who recognize that it’s an important habit. A summary report by Child Trends, for instance, suggests 55 percent of three- to five-year-old children were read to every day in 2007. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 83 percent of three- to five-year-old children were read to three or more times per week by a family member in 2012.

What this ever-present advice to read with infants doesn’t necessarily make clear, though, is that what’s on the pages may be just as important as the book-reading experience itself. Are all books created equal when it comes to early shared-book reading? Does it matter what you pick to read? And are the best books for babies different than the best books for toddlers?

In order to guide parents on how to create a high-quality book-reading experience for their infants, my psychology research lab has conducted a series of baby learning studies. One of our goals is to better understand the extent to which shared book reading is important for brain and behavioral development.

Even the littlest listeners can enjoy having a book read to them. Maggie Villiger, CC BY-ND

What’s on baby’s bookshelf

Researchers see clear benefits of shared book reading for child development. Shared book reading with young children is good for language and cognitive development, increasing vocabulary and pre-reading skills and honing conceptual development.

Shared book reading also likely enhances the quality of the parent-infant relationship by encouraging reciprocal interactions – the back-and-forth dance between parents and infants. Certainly not least of all, it gives infants and parents a consistent daily time to cuddle.

Recent research has found that both the quality and quantity of shared book reading in infancy predicted later childhood vocabulary, reading skills and name writing ability. In other words, the more books parents read, and the more time they’d spent reading, the greater the developmental benefits in their 4-year-old children.

This important finding is one of the first to measure the benefit of shared book reading starting early in infancy. But there’s still more to figure out about whether some books might naturally lead to higher-quality interactions and increased learning.

EEG caps let researchers record infant volunteers’ brain activity. Matthew Lester, CC BY-ND

Babies and books in the lab

In our investigations, my colleagues and I followed infants across the second six months of life. We’ve found that when parents showed babies books with faces or objects that were individually named, they learn more, generalize what they learn to new situations and show more specialized brain responses. This is in contrast to books with no labels or books with the same generic label under each image in the book. Early learning in infancy was also associated with benefits four years later in childhood.

Our most recent addition to this series of studies was funded by the National Science Foundation and just published in the journal Child Development. Here’s what we did.

First, we brought six-month-old infants into our lab, where we could see how much attention they paid to story characters they’d never seen before. We used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure their brain responses. Infants wear a cap-like net of 128 sensors that let us record the electricity naturally emitted from the scalp as the brain works. We measured these neural responses while infants looked at and paid attention to pictures on a computer screen. These brain measurements can tell us about what infants know and whether they can tell the difference between the characters we show them.

We also tracked the infants’ gaze using eye-tracking technology to see what parts of the characters they focused on and how long they paid attention.

Eye-tracking setups let researchers monitor what infants are paying attention to. Matthew Lester, CC BY-ND

The data we collected at this first visit to our lab served as a baseline. We wanted to compare their initial measurements with future measurements we’d take, after we sent them home with storybooks featuring these same characters.

Example of pages from a named character book researchers showed to baby volunteers. Lisa Scott

We divided up our volunteers into three groups. One group of parents read their infants storybooks that contained six individually named characters that they’d never seen before. Another group were given the same storybooks but instead of individually naming the characters, a generic and made-up label was used to refer to all the characters (such as “Hitchel”). Finally, we had a third comparison group of infants whose parents didn’t read them anything special for the study.

After three months passed, the families returned to our lab so we could again measure the infants’ attention to our storybook characters. It turned out that only those who received books with individually labeled characters showed enhanced attention compared to their earlier visit. And the brain activity of babies who learned individual labels also showed that they could distinguish between different individual characters. We didn’t see these effects for infants in the comparison group or for infants who received books with generic labels.

These findings suggest that very young infants are able to use labels to learn about the world around them and that shared book reading is an effective tool for supporting development in the first year of life.

Best book choices vary as kids grow. Penn State, CC BY-NC-ND

Tailoring book picks for maximum effect

So what do our results from the lab mean for parents who want to maximize the benefits of storytime?

Not all books are created equal. The books that parents should read to six- and nine-month-olds will likely be different than those they read to two-year-olds, which will likely be different than those appropriate for four-year-olds who are getting ready to read on their own. In other words, to reap the benefits of shared book reading during infancy, we need to be reading our little ones the right books at the right time.

For infants, finding books that name different characters may lead to higher-quality shared book reading experiences and result in the learning and brain development benefits we find in our studies. All infants are unique, so parents should try to find books that interest their baby.

My own daughter loved the “Pat the Bunny” books, as well as stories about animals, like “Dear Zoo.” If names weren’t in the book, we simply made them up.

The ConversationIt’s possible that books that include named characters simply increase the amount of parent talking. We know that talking to babies is important for their development. So parents of infants: Add shared book reading to your daily routines and name the characters in the books you read. Talk to your babies early and often to guide them through their amazing new world – and let storytime help.

Lisa S. Scott, Associate Professor in Psychology, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Science & Wellness

5 ways the proposed PROSPER Act could impact students

December 12, 2017
Dennis A. Kramer II

A UF scholar in education policy looks at how the first comprehensive attempt since 2008 to reauthorize the Higher Education Act would change how student financial aid is doled out and how student loans are paid back.

5 ways the proposed PROSPER Act could impact students

File 20171208 27677 1ym2z79.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Financial aid would be doled out differently under the proposed PROSPER Act. Karin Hildebrand Lau / Shutterstock.com

Dennis A. Kramer II, University of Florida and Christopher R. Marsicano, Vanderbilt University

For the first time in nearly a decade, the United States Congress is about to take up legislation to upgrade the Higher Education Act – the federal law that governs how the federal government supports and regulates higher education institutions.

The process began earlier this month, when U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, chairperson of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, introduced the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform, or PROSPER Act. The PROSPER Act is the first comprehensive attempt since 2008 to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which was first passed in 1965. The Senate version of higher education reauthorization is expected in early 2018.

Since the largest federal interaction with students is through the Federal Student Aid program, the vast majority of the recommendations within the PROSPER Act are related to changes in the student aid process. Scholars of higher education policy, like ourselves, have documented the role of federal policy in informing both campus operations and the ability for students to have access to, and ultimately succeed in, college.

Here are five things that stood out as we reviewed the proposed legislation.

#1. Pell Grant award won’t change but may come with a bonus

If you receive the Pell Grant, your award will remain the same. If you want more money, you will need to take 15 credits per semester. Currently students receive a prorated amount of the maximum Pell Grant depending on their enrollment level. The PROSPER Act continues the Pell Grant program through 2024 at the current maximum award of US$5,920. The legislation adds a $300 “kicker,” or bonus, to students who enroll in at least 15 credits per semester during the academic year. This in theory should encourage students to take more credits and graduate earlier. However, more credits could mean potentially higher tuition – perhaps more than the additional $300 bonus will cover – and, as a result, potentially more loans for low-income students. Providing an incentive for full-time enrollment is a good thing, in our opinion, but if it increases student debt levels, the negative impacts may outweigh the benefits.

#2. Larger loans for undergraduates, but limits for graduates and parents

Dependent undergraduate borrowers will see an increase in annual federal loan limits – from $5,500 to $7,500. What is unknown, however, is whether this access to larger loans will encourage schools to increase undergraduate tuition and fees.

Graduate students will see their loan limits set at $28,500, as opposed to the current limit, which is the total cost of attendance. For parents, the loan limit would be set at a flat rate of $12,500, as opposed to the current limit, which is the cost of attendance wherever their child attends college. For graduate students and parents, the proposed limits may increase the likelihood of taking out additional loans from a private lender – such as personal banks – to cover unmet need. Since private lenders typically have higher interest rates and less favorable terms, this shift may make it more difficult for student loan borrowers to repay their loans. Also, as more borrowers turn to private lenders, it would force borrowers to repay two separate entities – the federal government through direct loans and a private lending entity.

#3. Student aid will feel more like a job

PROSPER proposes additional investments in programs designed to increase connections between job-related skills and a college degree. For example, the legislation would increase available funds for undergraduates through the Federal Work Study program by phasing out graduate student eligibility. It also calls for the creation of an Apprenticeship Grants program focused on business-to-institution partnerships and provides access to Pell Grants for students who are pursuing short-term, certificate or vocational programs.

The PROSPER Act will also change the way aid is delivered to students. Instead of a single lump sum at the beginning of the semester, students will receive their aid – both grants and loans – in biweekly allotments, sort of like a paycheck. The idea is that biweekly distributions will ensure students have access to enough money to stay enrolled through the entire semester – which research has shown to be an effective strategy. Students, for instance, have reported that this approach “helped them to spend their money wisely, decrease work hours and focus on their studies.”

#4. Fewer loan repayment options will be available

Unlike the current six options to repay student loans, PROSPER would streamline repayment options to two. The first option would be a standard 10-year repayment. The second would be income-driven repayment, or IBR. Under the proposed reforms, the federal government will receive the same amount of money regardless of which plan is selected. It would be up to the students to select if they want to pay off their loans through the fixed 10-year period or pay 15 percent of their discretionary income for however long it takes to pay off the loan, plus interest. Gone are the days of loan forgiveness and forbearance.

#5. Going into public service will have fewer benefits

Public service careers will revert to being a more altruistic career choice. That’s because in prior years, students who went into public services jobs, or even specific K-12 teaching jobs, could receive loan forgiveness as part of their service to the public. However, the PROSPER Act proposes to eliminate all public service loan forgiveness programs and priority targeted grant programs. This includes the TEACH Grant programs, which give additional grant aid to undergraduates who get a bachelor’s degree in hard-to-staff teaching areas, such as special education, STEM and foreign language, and who pledge to work in schools that serve students from predominantly low-income families. While the evidence of effectiveness for public service loan forgiveness and targeted grant programs is inconclusive, these programs send powerful signals of national need and priority. It will be interesting to see if the end of public service loan forgiveness programs will change the supply of workers in public service jobs.

The ConversationWhile the proposed reforms within the PROSPER Act make large-scale changes to the federal student aid program, there are potential benefits for students. The simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, along with access to a mobile FAFSA application, would reduce barriers to applying. Access to the additional work study aid and potentially larger Pell Grants may reduce the financial barriers for low-income student enrollment. Finally, allowing student loan borrowers to access income-based repayment may reduce financial stress. However, by removing key loan forgiveness programs and loan forbearance, this legislation is signaling to students that the cost of higher education will primarily be their responsibility long-term.

Dennis A. Kramer II, Assistant Professor of Education Policy, University of Florida and Christopher R. Marsicano, Doctoral Candidate, Leadership and Policy Studies, Higher Education Concentration, Vanderbilt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Society & Culture

Graduating student now on the path to success

December 12, 2017
Margot Winick

After graduation, some students will go into internships and jobs, some will continue their education and some will face the unknown.

Among the 3,400 students who will graduate at UF Commencement ceremonies this week will be one who has faced the unknown and rebounded beautifully.

A couple of times, he was homeless.

Michael Hendricks, 38, graduating with a bachelor’s in political science from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, made a series of bad choices, he admits now, that left him flunked out of Boston University, abusing alcohol and living in his car or couch surfing at times when he had nowhere else to go. At one very dark point, he was suicidal.

In 2011, the Bradenton, Florida, native had noticed that people were living in tents as part of the Occupy Sarasota movement. One day, he got to talking to the people involved, and though he had never been a follower of politics, he decided to join them.

He was 90 days into his sobriety when he decided to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Occupy Washington, D.C., march in early 2012. This experience opened his eyes to the power of joining together to make a statement, and hopefully, make a difference. “A purpose was starting to be given to me,” he says. “I got focus and a direction.”

In the course of this political involvement, he began to help with data entry, then organizers asked him to manage social media for the group. He also tried to start a social media business with the goal of utilizing technology to give citizens more of a say in the political process at the local, state, and national levels.

Continuing with his recovery program, and with a newfound drive to learn more about government, he enrolled in the State College of Florida and got a full-time job at the Porsche dealership in town using the Internet to find parts.

During this period, Hendricks also served as the panel chair for the host committee of an international conference for young people in recovery, which drew 3,500 people to Miami in September 2015. In July 2016, he helped host the state conference for young people in recovery in Sarasota as the registration chair for the host committee.

This commitment to learning about democracy, plus the personal satisfaction of working hard while also earning straight A’s, led him to apply to the University of Florida to study political science, providing that he first pass an online statistics course as a prerequisite. He passed, was admitted and, three weeks after the conference, moved to Gainesville in August 2016.

Today, Hendricks has just completed his third semester and will graduate with at least a 3.93 grade point average. As part of UF’s honors program, he approached political science professor and elections expert Dan Smith to work on his senior thesis.

Entitled “Populism Trumps the Agenda,” Hendricks’ thesis examined the data of early voters and Election Day voters and the relationship of the medical marijuana amendment and support for candidate Donald Trump.

“Michael pushed me to work on the project with him,” Smith said. “He has a great eagerness to learn and came in to the project without preconceived notions or conclusions. He worked through the scholarly literature and empirical data to come up with some rather interesting findings.”

Using his data collection skills, Hendricks showed a relationship between ballot-level support and candidate support that was inconsistent for candidate and ballot measures. “These are new questions for scholars to chew on,” Smith said. “I look forward to see what he does next.”

Next is still unknown, at least for a few more weeks. Hendricks is applying to some of the top 30 universities offering Ph.D. programs in political science.

He hopes that his life demonstrates courage and kindness, and he’s open to sharing his experience if it might encourage and help even one person. In late November, he marked being sober for six years.

Many are inspired by his turnaround. Coming to see him graduate and celebrate his hard work and success will be family from North Carolina, Sarasota and friends he has met from many places along the way.

At the commencement ceremony, Hendricks will be honored with the Two-Year Outstanding Scholar award.

“I wake up every day and pray and make a commitment to do the next right thing, whatever that is,” Hendricks said.  “Doing the next right thing is my motivation and keeps me from going to that dark place.”

Campus Life

Night-flyers or day-trippers? Study sheds light on when moths, butterflies are active

December 13, 2017
Natalie van Hoose

Butterflies fly during the day while moths travel at night – or so you might think. In reality, their behavior is much more complicated.

A new Florida Museum of Natural History study offers the first comprehensive overview of the surprisingly complex question of when butterflies and moths are active.

The research identifies outliers – night-flying butterflies and day-tripping moths – and pinpoints nearly 50 shifts from nocturnal to daytime behavior over the insects’ evolutionary history. It also suggests that the earliest ancestor of butterflies and moths flew during the day, not at night, as previously thought.

While little to nothing is known about when the vast majority of butterfly and moth species fly, eat and mate, the study provides a basic and much-needed framework by compiling existing data, said lead author Akito Kawahara, associate professor and curator at the museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida.

“Even though butterflies and moths have been studied for centuries, there’s still a lot we don’t know about them,” he said. “We wanted to pull all the data together on when these insects are active to get a better picture of what’s happening. There are still major gaps in our knowledge, and many groups are understudied, especially in moths, but this lays a foundation for future studies.”

To gather all available data on when butterflies and moths are active, Kawahara and seven of his lab members rented an Airbnb house for the weekend, opened a shared Google document, divided up Lepidoptera lineages and started digging through two centuries’ worth of scientific literature. They added information from museum specimen labels and personal observations, categorizing butterflies and moths as day-flying, night-flying or twilight-flying.

They mapped these categories on the evolutionary tree of Lepidoptera, the order that includes butterflies and moths, and fed the data into a computer program. The team then used the program to predict when butterflies that lived millions of years ago were active.

The study predicts an estimated 75 to 85 percent of Lepidoptera are nocturnal, and about 15 to 25 percent are active during the day. Few species fly only during twilight hours.

Their findings are presented in a paper published in Organisms Diversity and Evolution.

Because the majority of Lepidoptera are active at night, scientists thought the common ancestor of butterflies and moths was nocturnal. But the computer program predicted the ancestor flew during the day, an unexpected finding based on the fact that the moth group most closely related to caddisflies, close relatives of butterflies and moths, is active during the day.

“That’s what the data seem to say,” Kawahara said. “The hypothesis was that Lepidoptera started shifting to day activity to avoid getting eaten by bats, but the answer may not be that simple.”

Although there are few physical characteristics that mark a species as day-flying or night-flying, the study identified several trends.

Colorful wings are usually linked with daytime activity while darker wings are generally associated with nighttime activity or daytime activity in darker areas.

“In the daytime, visual cues are used more,” Kawahara said. “Because there’s more light, the insects use the colors as a way of display.”

There is also a strong correlation between nighttime activity and the development of hearing organs, which Kawahara said may have originated as a defense mechanism against insect-eating bats.

While most moths are nocturnal and nearly all butterflies fly during the day, there are notable outliers.

Some day-flying moths, such as certain species of silk moths, have “big, flashy wings,” Kawahara said, while others, such as tiger moths and borer moths, mimic bees or wasps to ward off would-be predators. Others live at high altitudes or in colder areas or are active in autumn or winter and likely adapted to daytime activity because the temperatures at night were too cold for flying, he said.

The only group of butterflies known to be nocturnal, the Hedylidae, were long mistaken for moths because of their dull-colored wings and hearing organs, which most butterflies lack.

The study showed nearly 50 shifts from nocturnal to daytime activity, and there have likely been many more, Kawahara said.

“Some of these shifts may not have played out so well – I think there has probably been a lot of extinction,” he said. “But this shows how Lepidoptera are incredibly adaptable to all kinds of environments, whether it’s the top of a mountain, an Amazon rainforest or an island. This is why they’re able to switch between night and day and survive under those conditions.”

One of the team’s next projects is to use fossils to add time stamps to the Lepidoptera evolutionary tree. Knowing when butterflies and moths shifted from day activity to night, or vice versa, could help answer the main question that nags Kawahara.

“Why is this happening?” he said. “Is it competition, predation, mating? We just don’t know.”

He pointed out that the study’s dataset only represents about 500 of 160,000 described Lepidoptera species, and undescribed species of butterflies and moths could number between 500,000 to a million.

“We just don’t have those data yet,” he said. “We’re making inferences based on the little that we know.”

But you don’t have to be a scientist to help close the knowledge gaps, he said. By posting time-stamped photos of butterflies and moths on social media and tools such as iNaturalist, the public can provide scientists with much-needed information.

“Recording what you see in your yard or at your porch light at night is really valuable,” Kawahara said. “For the most part, we don’t have specific information about when certain insects are active, even from specimens in museum collections. These questions really can’t be answered without help from the public. It’s even more important to document insects as we see species disappearing.”

Study co-authors are David Plotkin, Chris Hamilton, Harlan Gough, Ryan St Laurent, Hannah Owens and Nicholas Homziak of the Florida Museum and Boise State University’s Jesse Barber.

The National Science Foundation funded the research.

Science & Wellness

Gulf Coast universities team up to address hurricane resilience

December 13, 2017
UF News

New multi-state institute focuses on reducing damage from severe storms

A new multi-institution research center that includes the University of Florida will focus on helping the Gulf Coast do better at preparing for and mitigating the damage and loss of lives from hurricanes and other severe storms.

The Hurricane Resilience Research Institute, or HuRRI, draws upon the strengths of its seven participating universities, from flood mitigation and hurricane modeling to public policy. Applications for the first round of research funding will be due in early 2018.

In addition to UF, the institute includes six other universities located in states spanning the Gulf of Mexico: University of Houston, Rice University, the University of Texas-Tyler, Texas Tech University, Louisiana State University and the University of Miami.

Amr Elnashai, vice president for research and technology transfer at UH, which will lead the institute, said the concept came together after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria plowed through Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, illustrating the need to look at severe storms and their aftermath in a different way.

“Much attention has been paid to understanding how hurricanes form and move, as well as coastal vulnerabilities,” Elnashai said. “But there has not been a systems view that accounts for the interactions and inter-connectivity of impact and resilience of all societal support functions, to manage assessment, impact, response and recovery as a continuum, thus protecting vulnerable communities.”

Chimay Anumba, dean of the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning, said UF brings key disciplines needed to address resilience to the problems posed by hurricanes.

“HuRRI provides an excellent vehicle for UF to collaborate with colleagues from our partner universities to minimize the impact of hurricanes and other extreme weather events,” Anumba said. “This builds on ongoing multidisciplinary research currently underway in our colleges.”

UF DCP faculty’s expertise in built environment resilience, adaptive planning and design, innovative construction, and sustainability will be deployed in the new institute. UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering faculty will provide state-of-the-art wind tunnel and destructive testing capabilities as well as its field reconnaissance program to study the effects of damaging winds.

Hanadi Rifai, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of civil and environmental engineering at UH, will serve as director. Her work includes an ongoing study of the chemical and microbiological contamination in Houston waterways after Harvey.

Each institution brings unique research capabilities – in engineering, science, policy, education and technology – and significant institutional support that will be supplemented with external grants and contracts and cooperative agreements to launch projects in hurricane resilience.

Rifai said the institute’s work will focus on “anticipating and accommodating” the storms’ impact, rather than the current model of waiting for a storm to pass and then devoting funding to repair and recovery. “It will take an enormous number of resources to influence a paradigm change and offer evergreen solutions for hurricane resilience for affected communities,” she said.

Researchers from the seven institutions will be eligible to apply for the initial round of internal funding, which will require collaboration with at least one faculty member from another member institution.

Campus Life

Parrothead paradise

December 13, 2017
UF News

Parrotheads likely already know that 2017 marked 40 years since the release of “Margaritaville,” the mega-hit that catapulted their beloved Jimmy Buffett to national fame and cemented his image as an easy-going, fun-loving beach bum.

What they may not know is that the University of Florida is home to a portion of the singer-songwriter’s papers, giving UF a piece of modern Floridiana courtesy of one of the Sunshine State’s most famous adopted sons.

Placed on deposit at UF’s Special and Area Studies Collections in Library East in 1993, the materials fill boxes that cover 5 linear feet of shelf space. They include manuscripts of two books, correspondence, videotapes and computer discs. The bulk of the papers, dated 1975 to 1993, are drafts and galleys of “Tales from Margaritaville,” a collection of short stories published in 1989, and the 1992 novel “Where is Joe Merchant?”

“UF would love to acquire more material and build a true Jimmy Buffett archive, not only for his fans, but for researchers of popular culture and Florida history,” said Flo Turcotte, literary collections archivist.

The collection also includes five non-professional videotapes of performances, a contract for a concert at the Euphoria Tavern in Portland, Oregon, a list of fiction and non-fiction books with Buffett's favorites indicated, thank-you letters for philanthropic activities, and a list of Jimmy Buffett scholarship recipients at the Cincinnati Public Schools.

On one particularly interesting videotape, Buffett is performing a Christmas concert in December 1990 at, of all places, Tallahassee Correctional Institution. The amateur video is grainy and sometimes out of focus, but it captures Buffett on a stage set up in what appears to be the prison baseball field. He and the inmates, flanked by guards, exchange banter (including some salty language) and are very clearly having a great time.

At one point, after performing “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” the crowd is shouting call-outs for their favorite songs, and Buffett responds to one request: “I gotta tune this guitar to do that one,” then, with perfect comedic timing, “Are y’all goin’ anywhere? … I thought y’all had another show to go to.”

The audience roars with laughter.

“The Jimmy Buffett papers capture the essence of what every Parrothead knows: that Jimmy is more than just a singer of drinking songs and good times,” Turcotte said. “He is a cultural icon.”

Society & Culture

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