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Six USF faculty members earn national recognition for research achievements

USF News

Six University of South Florida researchers, including IB's Dr Chrintina Richards, have been named as new Fellows by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the world’s most prestigious honors for academic research.  

The group from USF is among more than 500 scientists, engineers and innovators earning the recognition for their scientifically and socially distinguished achievements by the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals.

Marine biology student helps rescue distressed manatee in Bayboro Harbor

Kierstyn Benjamin was doing homework in the library when she noticed a small manatee alone in Bayboro Harbor. When she went out to the water to examine more closely, she realized something was wrong. The USF St. Petersburg campus junior acted quickly, calling the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Wildlife Hotline that is used to report injured animals. 

Wildlife officials responded quickly to campus. After several tense hours trying to corral the distressed manatee into a boat and then on land, they were able to rescue and transport him to Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park where he is recovering. 

In this video, Benjamin shares her story of how the day unfolded and what it was like playing a part in rescuing a manatee. CAMPUS NEWS 


This Chantale's 3rd teaching award at USF
Congratulations and thank you Chantale!!

Chantale's Faculty Profile
Read more about the Jerome Krivanek award

USF professor discovers new species while part of team studying impact of oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico

Read the article

"Even after teaching biology for nearly three decades, Heather Judkins still gets excited about conducting field research. An associate professor of Integrative Biology on the USF St. Petersburg campus, Judkins will continue her studies of cephalopods, such as octopus and squid, on July 26 as part of a team of scientists aboard the R/V Point Sur for a 12-day research cruise around the Gulf of Mexico.

The goal of the cruise is to identify and quantify long-term trends in fishes, crustaceans and cephalopods in the midwaters of the Gulf in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in 2010.

"We're collecting specimens and looking at the biodiversity in that area and how it changes over time," Judkins said. "We want to know what we could see in the future, in the unfortunate event of another oil spill.""

Carney Lab hosts Make-A-Wish child Sebastian, who wished to be a paleontologist in a lab

sebastian carney lab

Watch the videos linked below!

Make-a Wish video link
Good Morning America video link

Sebastian is a 7-year-old who is battling cancer with ongoing chemotherapy and an upcoming surgery. Sebastian loves all things dinosaur and has demonstrated an interest in fossils. His passion for dinosaurs is what helps him mentally escape from his medical challenges. Since he wants to be a paleontologist when he grows up, his greatest wish was to experience first hand what it is like to be a paleontologist and see how they study the prehistoric animals.

His wish day began with a limousine ride to the USF Science Center in Tampa where Sebastian met Dr. Ryan Carney, who is a National Geographic Explorer and Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology at USF. Sebastian was welcomed with open arms by everyone and gifted a lab coat before embarking on a tour of the lab.

Dr. Carney said, “It’s absolutely wonderful to see the look of joy on his face. For all of us, being able to fulfill his wish was a very fulfilling experience. It puts things in perspective. We do this kind of stuff every day. We are fortunate to study what we are passionate about. Being able to share that experience with Sebastian is just wonderful.”

The newest paleontologist examined fossils and learned about the evolution of dinosaurs. He scanned replicas of dinosaur skulls, examined mummified skin under a microscope, and used x-ray imaging and computer animation to learn even more about prehistoric creatures. Sebastian even 3D printed a “Sebastianosaurus” based on a Brachiosaurus skull, his favorite dinosaur.

Sebastian’s dad said, “I’m so happy for him, especially because it opens his mind for what he’s interested in. Seeing that everything that he can wish or dream for, it can come true. It’s not impossible. Never give up.”

Christian Brown, Deban Lab, receives the 2022 Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award.

christian brown

The Chih Foundation recognizes groundbreaking research with transformative potential to greatly benefit society. The award seeks to support exceptional third- or fourth-year Science, Engineering or Medicine PhD, PharmD, or MD students.

Through their generosity, the Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award provides a monetary award to exemplary scholars who reflect these qualities.

Read more here

Dr Christopher Osovitz receives the 2021/22 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award.

chris osovtiz

These awards are made as part of USF’s continuing effort to enhance undergraduate teaching by recognizing and rewarding excellence in undergraduate teaching. 

Congratulations Chris!

Chris's Faculty Profile

Three generations of USF academics train to row across the Atlantic in support of marine conservation


Integrative Biology Professor Chantale Bégin is preparing for what is called “the world’s toughest row.” The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is an annual race to row 3,000 miles from Spain’s Canary Islands to English Harbour in Antigua and Barbuda. Bégin’s team, Salty Science, includes Lauren Shea and Noelle Helder, two of her former USF students, and Isabelle Côté, her doctoral advisor at Simon Fraser University. Salty Science is dedicating its race to marine conservation to support training the next generation of diverse scientists who will develop creative solutions to global ocean challenges.

Salty Science signed up for the challenge having no experience in rowing, but the multigenerational team of marine scientists shares a love for the water and pushing their limits. The team has a never-ending sense of adventure and is made up of certified scuba divers, licensed captains, triathlon racers and endurance runners.

“I’m stoked to combine my passion for marine conservation with some solid type II fun by rowing across the Atlantic,” said Helder, who graduated from USF in 2017. “I’m excited to be a part of this science dream team, working towards this mission with women who have inspired me throughout my career.”

Read the full article

Biology professor who made midlife career change gives $1 million estate gift to USF St. Petersburg campus

At the age of 40 and nearly 20 years into a career in health care administration, a nature documentary seismically shifted the life of Deby Cassill.

“It was a David Attenborough documentary on African wildlife, and I realized sitting there that I didn’t just want to watch science, I wanted to do science,” Cassill said.

Shortly thereafter, she went back to college to pursue an undergraduate degree in biology. By the time she was 50, she had earned a doctorate in the field and in 2001, Cassill was hired on as the first full-time biology professor on the USF St. Petersburg campus.

Cassill said the university has provided her with a wonderful opportunity to explore her passion. Now she is providing the institution with a $1 million estate gift to create the Cassill Endowed Scholarship in Biology to aid the next generation of aspiring biologists.

Read the full article

Carney Lab launches the Global Mosquito Observations Dashboard; coauthors study on dinosaur hips in the journal Nature

The Carney Lab just launched the Global Mosquito Observations Dashboard (mosquitodashboard.org), along with a new study about fighting mosquito-borne diseases around the world using citizen science and artificial intelligence (AI). This research is part of the lab's National Science Foundation (NSF) grant and collaboration with NASA and the CDC, and was featured on the USF homepage and NSF website. The AI techniques developed through collaboration with the Chellappan Lab include multiple patents pending, and in a follow-up student paper were also used to classify bees and bee mimics.

carney news pic

Dr. Ryan Carney's research on the iconic Archaeopteryx served as a key component in a Nature paper on dinosaur hip "evodevo" (evolutionary developmental biology). As covered in various media outlets, these discoveries demonstrate that the developmental changes in a bird embryo's hip over two days mirror what is seen in fossil dinosaur hips over millions of years. "In this context," remarked Carney, "the modern bird egg is a time capsule of ancient dinosaurian features."

science cover image

Assistant Professor Camilo Zalamea and Research Associate Carolina Sarmiento from IB
in collaboration from colleagues around the planet published a paper in Science.

'Termites and Temperature, Wood Decompositin Across Latitudes'

Dr Santiago Alarcon Publishes PNAS Article on
'Wildlife susceptibility to infectious diseases at global scale'

pnas image

During the last decade many studies have investigated how different biotic and abiotic factors determine pathogen infection, particularly for zoonotic diseases affecting humans. As demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need to better understand the influential factors underlying zoonotic transmission to inform future disease management strategies. Here, authors created a model using machine learning to understand the underlying environmental, geographic, and phylogenetic factors that influence zoonotic transmission. They applied it to three different host-pathogen systems: coronaviruses and bats, West Nile Virus (WNV) and birds, and malaria and birds. The results suggest that transmission of avian malaria is mostly affected by environmental distance between hosts, WNV is influenced by a combination of all three factors, while bat-coronaviruses are mostly affected by the geographic distribution of susceptible host species. The data point to bird species that are particularly susceptible to transmission, which includes songbirds and perching birds in the Passerine order. As well, several hotspot regions around the world were identified, with Eurasia being particularly susceptible to avian malaria and North America to WNV. Coronaviruses are likely to successfully invade any geographical region of the world reachable via natural dispersal or human-assisted dispersal. Results agreed with the known ecology of each analyzed system, providing a tool to discover potential host species and novel geographical hot spots for a pathogen. Thus, it can help guiding sampling decisions both in terms of host species and geographical locations. Finally, this tool can be applied at different spatial scales with few incidence data.


The University of Tübingen magazine has recently published a IB's Christina Richards' research on Knotweed.

Check it out here (in German and English) - starting on page 6:

attempto! Research Magazine of the University of Tübingen

Drs. Thomas Whitmore and Melanie Riedinger-Whitmore interviewed by University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program about their paleolimnological research on Florida lakes and the implications for water-management and conservation issues

In February, staff from the University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program visited the USF St. Petersburg campus to interview Drs. Thomas Whitmore and Melanie Riedinger-Whitmore about their ~40 years of research using paleolimnology to address water-management and conservation issues for Florida lakes. The interview was part of the Program’s Florida Naturalist Project, which is archiving interviews about important issues on Florida’s freshwater and coastal natural resources. 

View the full interview

Professor Valerie Harwood elected to the American Academy of Microbiology and receives national recognition as AAAS Fellows for academic research


The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has named 10 University of South Florida researchers as new Fellows, including Professor Valerie Harwood, Chair of Integrative Biology, Tampa Campus.

"Our faculty is the lifeblood and backbone of the University of South Florida," USF President Rhea Law said.

"And this distinguished, diverse group of faculty who represent a wide-range of disciplines are a big reason why USF is America's fastest-rising university, driving growth and economic development in the Tampa Bay region and beyond."   

Research by Professor Harwood

READ the complete article



USF Singapore Urban Ecology

singapore flyer

Dr Ryan McCleary
USF World 

Alexander Mercier has been selected as a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship program


Alex is the first Rhodes finalist from the University of South Florida and is also a Marshall Scholarship finalist. 

Alex is a USF Honors College student who has been working with IB faculty member Dr. Andrew Kramer for the past 3 years on using network mathematics to advance understanding of the spatial patterns of epidemics.

He hopes to continue pursuing those interests as a PhD student at Oxford University.
Kramer Lab Webiste

New Jellyfish Species Named After FIO Director and Integrative Biology Professor, Monty Graham

moon jelly fish monty graham

Dr. Ryan Carney receives the Outstanding Research Achievement Award, the largest internal recognition of its kind at USF. As stated in the following press release:

Dr. Carney leads two innovative research programs, one in paleontology and one in epidemiology. In 2020, he was PI of a newly-awarded NSF proposal for more than $900,000 to fight mosquito-borne diseases worldwide using artificial intelligence. A first- and senior-authored paleobiology publication in Scientific Reports on the iconic Archaeopteryx fossil feather received substantial international recognition, including from The New York Times, and ranked in the 99th percentile in global coverage by Altimetric. A second paper describing the automation of mosquito identification using AI, which is crucial to disease-control efforts, has already been cited multiple times. His collaborative research in 2020 resulted in two new invention disclosures with plans for multiple patents. Dr. Carney's dinosaur research was featured in National Geographic Magazine, National Geographic Learning's global curriculum, and three international outreach activities with total viewership of 150,000.

More recently, Dr. Carney and his students have launched a citizen science campaign to fight mosquito-borne diseases around the world using smartphones and AI, through collaborations with NASA and iNaturalist.

Two-year research positions for this mosquito-borne disease project are now available for a postdoc, masters, and undergraduate student. Interested individuals can find more information and submit their CVs at CarneyLab.org.

Dr. Carney's Archaeopteryx fossil feather research is also featured in the September 2021 issue of National Geographic Magazine.

Alex Kirk receives the Philip J Motta Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award in Integrative Biology for 2020-21

The IB Graduate Admissions and Policy Committee presents Alex with this award for his teaching in Digital Dinosaurs and Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy.
Alex has gone above and beyond as a TA, particuarly meeting the challenges of the COVID pandemic head on. He has taken the lead in the lead in planning, filming, directing, editing, and/or narrating a collection of dissection lab videos produced by CVA TAs. Based on his work in Digital Dinosaurs, Alex was invited to cohost a workshop at an international conference, which led to him coauthoring a paper, now in review, on the pedagogical utility of virtual reality and augmented reality in the college classroom.
The nomination letter for Alex sums up his contributions well, "Alex is an exemplary TA who inspires the other TAs with his work ethic, dedication, and positive attitude. He has been a joy to work with, works well with the other TAs, and has truly been an asset to the courses. The students rave about him on evaluations every semester as well. Alex is extraordinarily caring and empathetic toward his students."
Thank you for the outstanding teaching, Alex, and congratulations!

USF Forest Preserve featured in a short documentary film

Located north of Fletcher Ave., the USF Forest Preserve protects over 600 acres of imperiled sandhill and wetland ecosystems and nearly two dozen endangered or threatened plant and animal species. On April 1st, 2021, the USF administration released a Request for Information for development proposals on the plot encompassing at least 118 acres of upland habitat. In response, three USF Integrative Biology graduate studentsJeannie Mounger, Christian Brown, and Stephen Hesterberg – founded Save USF Forest Preserve to oppose any measure that would diminish or destroy the ecosystems, Indigenous heritage sites, or educational opportunities within the Preserve, and to push for permanent protections on the land in the form of a conservation easement. They recently released a short documentary film, ‘Choke Point,’ created by recent USF MFA graduate Luke Myers, which follows the students as they work to highlight the importance of the USF Forest Preserve and fight to prevent its destruction.

More than 400 native plant species can be found within the USF Forest Preserve, along with an estimated 194 bird species, 31 reptile species, bobcats, otters, fox squirrels, white-tailed deer, and countless other wildlife. For decades, the Preserve has functioned as a core research facility and natural classroom for many departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. More than 70 peer-reviewed journal articles and 20 theses and dissertations have been published on research conducted within the Preserve. The property, along with the adjacent golf course, “The Claw,” and USF Riverfront Park, serves as a critical link in a wildlife corridor that joins the Cypress Creek floodplain to the Green Swamp. This land also contains sensitive Indigenous cultural and spiritual sites, including nine Native American historical sites and cemeteries.

NOAA features the work of former IB students

In a 3-part series, NOAA highlights some of the 125 projects they supported through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the socioeconomic benefits they have brought to coastal communities across the country. One of these projects, and the only one funded in the Tampa Bay area, was designed and implemented by the Ecosphere Restoration Institute, Inc., a non-profit organization led by Tom Ries, a former undergraduate student in the Biology Program at USF. The project involved the restoration of nearly 70 acres of wetlands in the Lost River Preserve through activities such as cleaning the area, removing exotic vegetation, planting native wetland species, and reconnecting the wetlands to the Tampa Bay waters, among others. In the article, NOAA also emphasizes how this funding was crucial in the career development of former graduate students at our Department, Dr. Jenny Hinton and Dr. Aaron Brown.

Sunset over Cockroach Bay

Sunset over Cockroach Bay - By Jeff Stark (Own work, Public Domain,

Research by Dr. Brad Gemmell featured in the New York Times and Discovery Channel

New research by Dr. Brad Gemmell (Tampa campus) on how Jellyfish swim has been featured in New York Times, check out the podcast/radio interview with an international broadcast based in Canada, soon to be featured on the Discovery Channel !

brad jelly fish

Study by Dr. Sean Doody featured in Science News

A new study lead by Dr. Sean Doody (St. Petersburg campus) and published in Ecology was featured in Science News. The study explores how other inhabitants of the monitor lizard’s habitat in Australia use its burrows. The invasive cane toad is depleting monitor lizard populations, and concern is rising that the toad invasion could affect other animals that use the lizard burrows.

S doody lizard


Carney Lab awarded NSF grant

Carney Lab receives $900K NSF grant to fight mosquito-borne diseases with artificial intelligence (USF, WTSP-TV).

mosquito square



Dr. Heather Judkins receives the Outstanding Reserach Achievement Award

heather judkins

Associate Professor Dr. Heather Judkins receives a USF Outstanding Research Achievement Award for her work on cephalopods such as giant squids in the Gulf of Mexico


Congratulations to Meredith Krause! 

Meredith is the recipient of the Philip J. Motta Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award in Integrative Biology for 2019-20. The IB Graduate Admissions and Policy Committee is presenting Meredith with this award for her teaching in BSC 2011 Biological Diversity and BSC 4933 Learning Assistants for Biological Diversity.

Meredith has gone above and beyond as a teaching assistant during a course redesign and development of a new course. She has taken initiative and done outstanding work in all areas, including developing learning modules, contributing course content, recording high-quality presentations, giving technical help, deploying content online, and providing feedback on effectiveness of class activities. She also worked tirelessly to make the transition to online teaching due to COVID-19 as smooth as possible, something noted by students. Meredith's work has resulted in tangible learning gains for students.

Her nomination letter sums up her contributions nicely, "Meredith has had a positive impact on thousands of students through her work in BSC 2011 in the last two years, both through direct interactions with them and due to the work she has done to improve the course. She has been a great asset to the course and the department."

Thank you for the excellent teaching, Meredith, and congratulations!


Jessica Balerna, Christian Brown, and Jeannie Mounger receive the 2020 Tharp Summer Research Fellowships



Christian Brown receives the 2020 Mushinsky Award