Biology Department
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Judy McDowell, right, becomes chair of the Biology Department in May 2006, taking over from John Stegeman, who will focus on directing the Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health (page 22) and on his science. Judy, whose research interest is the physiological ecology of marine animals, has been with the Institution since 1975, most recently as associate dean for Academic Programs. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI)
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In 2005, members of the Biology Department conducted research on a broad range of topics, addressing fundamental questions in subdisciplines from population biology and ecology, to the physiology and molecular biology of organisms in the sea. Biological subjects include viruses, bacteria and protists, phytoplankton, zooplankton, fishes, sea birds, and mammals. Questions were pursued in field studies in all the major oceans, in coastal areas and in the deep sea, as well as in model systems in the laboratory. The application of genomic technologies to understand organism function in the sea continues to grow. The development and use of new technologies for observation of organisms and biological processes is a continuing strength of the department. Many studies have practical implications for conservation and resource management. A number of Biology staff are actively involved in developing plans for ocean observatories.

This year saw the completion of two new laboratories on the Quissett campus, with nearly a third of the Biology scientific staff relocating to these buildings. Several of the department’s microbiologists have their labs in the new Stanley W. Watson Laboratory, together with members of other departments who are pursuing related studies in biogeochemistry. The Marine Research Facility houses the marine mammal research group and other biologists studying systems ecology and population connectivity. This building also houses the Institution’s CT scanning facility.

Promotions and appointments in the scientific staff illustrate the breadth of activities. John Waterbury and Mark Hahn were promoted to senior scientist. Waterbury is renowned for his seminal studies and leadership in marine microbiology. Hahn is a world authority on the molecular effects of chemicals in marine species. Associate Scientist Michael Neubert was awarded tenure this year. His research is in mathematical ecology. He uses mathematical approaches to understand the dynamics of ecological invasions, the ecology and economics of renewable resources, and the responses of ecosystems to disturbance. Tim Shank was promoted to associate scientist. Tim studies deep-sea systems, principally hydrothermal vents and seeps, with the goal of understanding population genetic structure and evolutionary processes. He combines molecular biology of species with ecological variables including physical, chemical, and geological processes.

Two assistant scientists joined the scientific staff last year. Mark Baumgartner is studying the ecology of top-predators in the context of ecology of their prey. His current studies focus on the right whale, and he employs innovative glider technology to observe the behavior of these whales over time. Rubao Ji is studying the dynamic spatial and temporal changes in food webs using coupled biological-physical models, focusing on the lower trophic levels. He also is involved in analysis of zooplankton population changes.

Scientific staff members continue to show high levels of productivity in their own research, and extensive contributions to the broader scientific enterprise, nationally and internationally. The staff provides leadership and other service to federal agencies, scientific journals, universities, National Research Council and other national committees, across the breadth of our departmental strengths. Staff members provide leadership of two WHOI Ocean Institutes, the Center for Oceans and Human Health, and the vital fleet committee of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System. Such leadership activities benefit our own scientific enterprise, and help maintain the vitality of oceanography.

—John Stegeman, Department Chair

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