About Mark D Hunter

Mark Hunter is the Earl E. Werner Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1984 and his doctorate in 1988, both from the University of Oxford in England. After serving as a NATO International Fellow and an NSERC International Fellow, he joined the faculty of the University of Georgia in 1995. While at UGA, he served as Professor in the Institute of Ecology and as founding Director of the Center for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Processes. He joined the University of Michigan in January 2006. His research interests include plant-animal interactions, ecosystem ecology, biodiversity, and population dynamics. His research links population processes with ecosystem processes in terrestrial environments and explores the mitigation of global environmental change. Professor Hunter has published over 165 research articles and written or edited six books. He is the recipient of both a CAREER Award and an OPUS award from the National Science Foundation, and in 2014 was elected a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. From 2007 to 2012, he served as the first Director of the award-winning Frontiers Master’s Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, which fosters graduate student diversity at the University of Michigan. Media coverage of his research includes The BBC, CNN, CBC, The Times, The Business Standard, The LA Times, Science Podcast, Nature World News, The National Geographic, and National Public Radio/Public Radio International.

Congratulations to Abby Potts!

Congratulations to Abby Potts, who successfully defended her Master’s Thesis in April. Abby’s thesis was entitled, “Unraveling the roles of genotype and environment in the expression of plant defense phenotypes” and explored the factors that generate variation in milkweed defenses agains their herbivores.  Abby is heading to Denver, where she will be working for the National Forest Foundation.  Best of luck, Abby!  We’re all so proud of you.

Daphnia exploit algal toxins as medicines against disease

Congratulations to Kristel Sanchez whose paper, “Toxins or medicines? Phytoplankton diets mediate host and parasite fitness in a freshwater system” has just been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  Kristel’s research shows that the toxins produced by some phytoplankton, like Microcystis, can protect Daphnia from infection by their fungal parasites.  Moreover, spore production by bacterial pathogens declines when Daphnia consume certain algal toxins.  It appears that some phytoplankton can serve as medicines for Daphnia – Kristel’s future work will explore whether Daphnia can actually increase their consumption of medicinal phytoplankton when they get sick.  You can read more about the research in this news release.  Many congratulations, Kristel!

Monarch Butterfly Medicines Decline Under Elevated CO2

More bad news for monarch butterflies. Rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reduce the medicinal quality of milkweed leaves, thereby reducing the tolerance of monarchs to their protozoan parasites.  Published in the journal Ecology Letters, research by Leslie Decker in our lab suggests that monarchs could get sicker as CO2 levels continue to rise. You can read about Leslie’s findings here, and watch a short video here.

Leslie’s results could have implications far beyond monarch butterflies. Many species of animal, including humans, rely on plants for medicines. If elevated CO2 reduces the medicinal quality of milkweed leaves, it might also reduce the potency of other medicinal plants. Do we really want to take that risk by continuing to emit such high levels of CO2 into our atmosphere?

Onwards and Upwards

Congratulations to Katherine Crocker, Leslie Decker, and Amanda Meier – they all successfully defended their doctoral dissertations in spring or summer of this year.  All three are pursuing post-doctoral research. Katherine has moved to the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Leslie has joined the Department of Biology at Stanford University. Amanda now works in the Department of Entomology at Washington State University.  Three amazing scientists – many congratulations.

Mark is Awarded Distinguished University Professorship

In fall of 2017, Mark was awarded a Distinguished University Professorship, named for UM Professor Emeritus, Earl E. Werner.  Earl has had a distinguished career at UM, including pioneering studies of how predators influence prey population dynamics through changes in prey behavior.  Earl has been a hero of Mark’s for a long time, and it’s an honor to hold the Professorship in his name.

Undergraduate Researchers Shine in Spring Presentations on Soil Fungi

Three undergraduates from our lab presented the results of their research this spring, with support from their grad student mentor, Amanda Meier.

Isabelle Katz was chosen to give an oral presentation at the Michigan Research Community Spring Symposium on how mycorrhizal fungi influence aphid populations by altering plant traits.

Tori Varnau presented her research at the UROP Spring Symposium on how mycorrhizae influence plant traits and affect natural insect colonization in the field.

Hannah Fuller also presented her research at the UROP Spring Symposium on how mycorrhizae and aphids interact to affect plant traits and was awarded a blue ribbon for her poster presentation.

Congratulations Isabelle, Tori, and Hannah on your excellent work.  We’re proud of you.


Magical Mentoring by Katherine Crocker

Katherine Crocker’s star power as a research mentor was recognized in April 2017 at the Annual UROP Research Award Ceremony.  Katherine was nominated by her students and recognized for her outstanding contributions to their academic development as young scholars and her interest in the students’ personal success.  Fantastic job, Katherine.  Many congratulations.


Congratulations to Kristel Sanchez

Kristel successfully defended her Master’s thesis in April.  Her research has shown that Daphnia can gain some protection from fungal and bacterial parasites by exploiting certain toxins in their algal diets.  Kristel is joining Meg Duffy’s lab this fall to explore medicinal diets in more detail as she enters our doctoral program.  Kristel has received both an NSF Pre-Doctoral Fellowship and a Rackham Merit Fellowship to support her doctoral work.  Congratulations Kristel!

Hunter Gives Gleason Professorship Inaugural Lecture

hunterprofshp1636On September 20, Mark gave the inaugural lecture for the Henry A. Gleason Collegiate Professorship at the University of Michigan.  Mark was awarded the Gleason Professorship back in 2010, but the inaugural lecture was delayed until this year.  The topic of the lecture was, “The Phytochemical Landscape: Linking Trophic Interactions and Nutrient Dynamics.”  You can see a video of the lecture here.