Sep 142009
 
Authors: Kirsten Silveira

The National Science Foundation has granted two CSU biology professors awards totaling more than $1.5 million to conduct research on animal behavior.

Associate biology professors Cameron Ghalambor and Dhruba Naug received their Faculty Early Development (CAREER) awards during the 2008 round of competition, as announced earlier this month. Ghalambor won a 5-year grant for $884,000 and Naug won a 5-year, $650,000 grant.

CAREER awards are among the most competitive and prestigious grants a budding researcher in the areas of engineering and science can hope to be awarded.

“Having two people from the same department receive an award from the same category is virtually unheard-of.” Ghalambor said.

Ghalambor, who came to CSU in 2003 after earning a doctorate from University of Montana in organismal biology and ecology in 1998, is focusing his research on the phenotypic plasticity —– an organism’s ability to change its physical characteristics depending on the environment — of Trinidadian guppies.

His research takes the guppies, which are a traditional food source for larger fish, out of areas with large numbers of predators and reintroduces them into areas with no predators.

Ghalambor’s team of five graduate students and 10 undergraduates will record the changes in the guppies’ physical and reproductive characteristics in order to better understand the impact environmental cues have on the behavior of a species.

Ghalambor said he is planning to expand his research techniques to secondary school classrooms with the educational component of his grant. Next summer he said he will be hosting workshops to educate teachers about his research and how to care for the guppies so they can integrate it into their own classes.

Ghalambor said he hopes to eventually provide an online resource for the classroom that will allow teachers and students to design their own experiments and communicate with other people working on similar projects.

“Kind of like a guppy Facebook,” Ghalambor said.

Prior to his CAREER award, Ghalambor worked on two research teams that received NSF funding. This is his second grant to study of Trinidadian guppies.

“You’re always happy when you get a grant, but this one was particularly nice,” Ghalambor said.

Naug has received one other NSF research grant to fund research of social structure disease transmission, prior to his CAREER award. He graduated with a doctorate in behavioral ecology from the Indian Institute of Science in 1999.

His research focuses specifically on a colony of honeybees, which he said is the perfect model “social system” to study how social networking contributes to the spread of disease.

“(Honeybees) get a lot of diseases and they can be subjected to a variety of rigorous experiments, both at the individual and the social level,” he said in an e-mail interview.

Naug said all his students are involved “in some way or another” with the project, and said he hopes to eventually facilitate paid-research positions, a step that could lead to national recognition for advancements in understanding the transmission of diseases.

Such recognition, he said, is important for CSU’s advancement as a research institution.

It also brings prestige/and benefit in terms of research overheads that is a major source of funding/for the university, Naug said.

Staff writer Kirsten Silveira can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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