Lab at SICB Conference!

The Dantzer Lab was fully represented at the annual meeting of the Society for Comparative and Endocrinology in San Francisco. Anne presented a poster on some of the exciting results from her first field season studying the social behavior and microbiome of prairie voles. Sarah Westrick presented her latest findings about maternal stress and maternal care behaviors in red squirrels and their effects on offspring stress physiology and behavior. Sarah Guindre-Parker presented some of her fascinating dissertation research on the stress physiology of Superb Starlings (though she has assured us she is going to move to a hairy beast next year!). Ben presented the latest update about how variation in maternal stress levels impact offspring oxidative signaling and lifespan.

We had a great time including a conference bingo where participants get points for different activities (asking questions, posing as your study organism in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, doing Zumba, etc.) and a night of dim sum at the oldest dim sum restaurant in the USA!

Kluane Red Squirrel Workshop

Each year members of the Kluane Red Squirrel Project meet to discuss the field season from the previous year, plans for the upcoming field season, and ongoing manuscripts and research projects. Everyone gives a presentation and gets detailed feedback from all participants. As a group, we discuss “the next big experiments” and what lingering important questions that we haven’t yet addressed.

We rotate the location of the meeting among the five universities (Alberta, Guelph, McGill. Michigan, Saskatchewan). This year Sarah Guindre-Parker, Sarah Westrick, and Ben were graciously hosted by Jeff Lane and his research group at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. It was a packed three day meeting but a physical reminder of the rich collaborative and inter-disciplinary nature of this project.

New paper on meerkats

A subordinate meerkat in South Africa looking out for predators.

We just published a new manuscript in Proceedings of the Royal Society B about how elevated stress can suppress the cooperative behavior of wild meerkats. We also show that dominant female meerkats do not elevate the cooperative behavior of the subordinates in their group by beating them up. This work was done in collaboration with Tim Clutton-Brock and the Kalahari Meerkat Project. Check out the news release and the manuscript!

Lay Summary of Publication: Studies of group-living species like meerkats where there are dominants and subordinates show that there may be substantial costs to being a subordinate. Just like in humans where there are socially dominant individuals (“alpha males”!) that can take out their frustrations on subordinates, subordinate meerkats can receive aggression from the dominant individuals in their groups. This can elevate the stress levels of the subordinates and may suppress the ability of the subordinates to reproduce on their own. For quite some time, the elevated stress levels in subordinates were thought to be beneficial to the dominants because it allows the dominants to be the only individuals reproducing in the group. However, we show that the elevated stress levels could come at some cost. Subordinates in these groups also exhibit cooperative behavior where they help to rear the offspring produced by the dominant breeders. We show that elevated stress levels in subordinates could make them less helpful. In other words, it may pay to be helpful to your subordinates. If you manage people, take note of the benefits of being nice to them.

Diversity Recruitment Weekend at UM

Each year the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan runs a Diversity Recruitment Weekend that is designed to provide undergraduate students from underrepresented groups with an overview of the application process to graduate school and tips to succeed in graduate school. It contains workshops, discussions, faculty meetings, and time to socialize with current UM graduate students and other undergraduate peers.

The Diversity Recruitment Weekend this year is Oct 19-21 2017 and applications are due September 18. Please see further details in the advertisement posted below. Apply here.

The Dantzer Lab is strongly committed to the mission of increasing diversity in STEM fields whether it be at the undergraduate, graduate, or faculty level. We are particularly trying to increase the number of applicants for the Diversity Recruitment Weekend that are interested in Biopsychology Area. Please contact Diversity Recruitment Weekend Flyer if you have any questions or are interested in applying.

A productive summer

As the students return and the teaching commences, it’s worthwhile to look back on the summer as one of productivity. Ph.D. students Sarah Westrick and Anne Sabol were busy doing field work on red squirrels in the Yukon and in Ohio on prairie voles, respectively. Post-doc Tricia Rubi has been busy collecting additional data on her project about the genomic and epigenetic mechanisms underlying mouse range expansion in Michigan. New post-doc Sarah Guindre-Parker (jointly supervised by Andrew McAdam at the University of Guelph) has officially joined the lab group. Finally, Abbie Bristol, an REU student at the University of Michigan Biological Station finished her undergraduate research project on the behavioral responses of mice to variation in predation risk.

My own summer has been productive in lots of field work, collection of new data, and watching new projects grow. It has been productive in the scholarly sense with 11 papers published, in press, or accepted! Writing these papers and working with colleagues on them has been a major highlight and learning experience of my summer.

Community talks in the Yukon

Haines Junction is the “home” community for members of the Kluane Red Squirrel Project. It’s where we acquire fuel, food, and other resources, in addition to other necessities like shower or do laundry. We are lucky to have this welcoming community that also happens to have an interest in the work we do in Kluane. We often give public talks to the community about some of our research. This spring and summer we had a series of these community talks (“Science Nights”) that were highlighted some of the past and recent work on red squirrels, snowshoe hares, or lynx. Ben gave a talk in March 2017 at the beautiful Wanderer’s Inn Hostel about some of our red squirrel research on the consequences of maternal stress and Ph.D. student Sarah Westrick gave one at the Village Bakery in July 2017 (pictured above) about her work on maternal behavior. Thanks to the Haines Junction community for hosting us at these events and having an interest in the work we do!