All posts by khakhalin

Professor Felicia Keesing is named Ecological Society of America Fellow

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) has named Bard Biology faculty Felicia Keesing as one of its 2019 Fellows. The Society’s fellowship program recognizes the many ways in which its members contribute to ecological research and discovery, communication, education and pedagogy, and management and policy. Fellows are members who have made outstanding contributions to a wide range of fields served by ESA, including those that advance ecological knowledge in academics, government, non-profit organizations, and the broader society.

The Society cited Keesing for pioneering research in the ecology of infectious diseases and community ecology of African savannas, and pedagogical research that she has integrated into a vision and practice of college science teaching for enhancing scientific literacy.

Read the full press-release here:

Biology Seminar: Spring 2019

1/31 – Introduction
2/7 – Jennifer Dean. New York Dept of Environmental Conservation. Prioritizing Invasive Species Efforts: Working Smarter with NYS Tools and Data
2/14 – Zion Klos. Marist College. Water and Climate in Social-Ecological Systems: Collaborations in Research, Art, and Science Communication
2/21 – Sonya Auer. Williams College. Energetic Mechanisms for Coping with Environmental Change
2/28 – Seeta Sistla. Hampshire College. Unexpected Impacts of Land-based Solar Arrays: Novel Habitat Heterogeneity Formation and Its Influence on Plant-soil Interactions.
3/7 – Elise McKenna Myers. Columbia University. The Impact of Microbial Particle Association on Pathogen Persistence in the Hudson River Estuary
3/14 – Sarah Mount, ‘10. New York Dept of Environmental Conservation. The Hudson River Eel Project: . Fish Conservation Through Citizen Science
3/28 – Leroy Cooper. Vassar College. Inter-relations of Aortic Stiffness, Microvascular Function, and Cardiovascular Disease and Cognition
4/4 – Dorothy Beckett. University of Maryland. Regulating Vitamin Biotin Distribution:. Implications for Health and Biotechnology
4/11 – Swapan Jain. Chemistry Program, Bard College. Regulation of RNA Using Synthetic Small Molecules
4/18 – Brian McGill. University of Maine. Global Change and Biodiversity: Understanding Our Future Through the Past
4/25 – Cathy Collins. Biology Program, Bard College. Title TBD
5/2 – Senior Project talks: Lucy Christiana, Rachael Mendoza, and Melissa Yost-Bido

Keesing lab: Blood meal effects on tick microbiome

Ticks are parasites that ingest blood from their hosts. During their blood meals, they can also ingest microbes, such as bacteria, from their host’s blood, which could influence the microbial community, or “microbiome”, of the tick itself. Using high-throughput sequencing, Felicia Keesing and her colleagues sampled the microbiomes of ticks that had fed on individuals of five different host species — raccoons, Virginia opossums, striped skunks, red squirrels, and gray squirrels. They found that ticks that had fed on different host species had significantly different microbiomes. This is important because some of the microbes that ticks can acquire during their blood meals are pathogens of humans, including the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

Publication link:

Full citation:  Landesman, W. J., Mulder, K., Allan, B. F., Bashor, L. A., Keesing, F., LoGiudice, K., & Ostfeld, R. S. (2019). Potential effects of blood meal host on bacterial community composition in Ixodes scapularis nymphs. Ticks and tick-borne diseases.

Dueker lab: Fog in Urban Environments

The urban environment is complex and often highly contaminated. This paper from prof. Eli Dueker’s lab takes a close look at how this contamination influences bacteria in urban air.  The bacteria present in urban waterways were compared with the bacteria present in urban air, showing that there are many sources for atmospheric bacteria in an urban environment, including sewage contaminated waterways and polluted terrestrial areas. We also observed a ubiquitous distribution of sewage-associated bacteria, in water and air at several urban sites, highlighting the prevalence of of sewage contamination in crowded urban centers and underscoring the complexity of managing this form of pollution in water and air.  Surprisingly, we also found that, despite the absence of obvious ecological structures, the air harbored a much more diverse bacterial community than that found in urban waterways. This provides evidence for the possibility of an atmospheric “ecology” and is a step towards understanding the role of megacities in determining the quality of urban air.

Citation: Dueker, M. E., French, S., & O’Mullan, G. D. (2018). Comparison of Bacterial Diversity in Air and Water of a Major Urban Center. Frontiers in Microbiology9.


Keesing lab: livestock and wild animals can coexist

The savannas of East Africa are renowned for their abundant and diverse wildlife. But wildlife populations in this region are declining dramatically, in part because of conflicts with humans and their livestock. Felicia Keesing and her colleagues studied the ecological, economic, and social consequences that arise when livestock and wildlife co-occur versus when the two groups live separately. They found that when livestock, particularly cattle, are kept at moderate densities, they actually improve vegetation quality for wildlife, reduce the abundance of parasites, and provide economic and social benefits to people living in the area.

Keesing discussed the research, and its implications, with Scientific American.

Our graduates: Sadie Marvel ’18

Sadie Marvel graduated from Bard Biology in 2018, and already has an interesting twist to her career! We asked Sadie some questions, to learn about her life since Bard:


Hi Sadie! How are you doing? Where are you now?

I am an English teacher at a small, grassroots school called Interlink English, in a city of Tuxtla Gutierrez in Mexico.  The school is operated by three Americans, and is one of a kind in this area. It provides students with the special opportunity to learn English from native speakers, in a way that focuses on the practical and conversational use of the language, rather than the theoretical and grammatical knowledge that is taught in schools here.

On the surface, teaching English seems very far from what I studied in college, but this job has sparked my interest in topics like the psychology of language learning, communication, and linguistics that definitely have some roots in what I studied in my classes at Bard. (Seriously! I have such a huge appreciation of language now… I feel like it is something I took for granted and didn’t even really question before when I only spoke to other English speakers. but when you really have to think about how to communicate with someone and actually pay attention to the words you are saying, it opens up a whole new perspective on how beautiful and special it all is. Does that make any sense?)

What does your typical day look like?

Well, I start teaching at 4 pm, and before that I have a lot of free time to go on walks, read in cafes, or run errands. At around 2:30, I head to the school to start preparing for my classes. I teach 4 classes back-to-back that are each an hour long, and I finish off my day with a “conversation club” where I just get to relax and spend an hour talking with students who are fluent in English but want to continue practicing. It’s a great way to end the day because most of the people in the club have become my friends, so we just chat about anything and everything!

What do you like the most about your job?

There’s a lot of freedom in teaching here. Even though the school has designed structured lesson plans for every class, the teacher is also free to diverge from them, coming up with class activities on their own. I like the ability to try out new teaching practices and trying to hone in on my own style, but I also like having the lesson plans to fall back on if I need to. I teach every level of English, from a kid’s club class to advanced students, who are mostly adults. And I was pretty much thrown into teaching the day after I got here… some people would say it was “baptism by fire”!

I love this job because the students are so enthusiastic and eager to learn, and I get to work with people of all ages and levels of English. I also feel like I am learning as much from my students as they learn from me, not only about the Spanish language, but also in learning effective ways of communication and teaching that will help me in my future pursuits.

How did you find this job? Was it hard?

I found this job within a week of searching, so no, it was not hard at all! The market for ESL teaching jobs is booming, and job listings are posted all over the internet. I found a listing for this position on Dave’s ESL Cafe ( The site is overwhelming at first, but I spend a week just sifting through all of the listings, particularly the ones that were posted directly from schools rather than the bigger companies that hire people and then place them in different locations.

And since this post is meant to inspire students, I want to mention how I was able to get certified to teach ESL, which is a super easy thing to do at Bard, even though not a lot of people seem to know about this opportunity. If you are interested in it, reach out to Learning Commons, and talk to them about ESL tutoring!

How did you find Mexico?

It has been nothing but warm and welcoming! The people are so friendly and willing to show their culture. I’m sure once I learn more Spanish I will experience even more of that. Chiapas is crazy beautiful too! Tuxtla is in the valley surrounded by mountain ranges from all sides. Once you go into the mountains, there are all of these quaint towns like San Cristobal, which I have been visiting regularly on the weekends.  My Spanish was pretty minimal at first, but I am learning very quickly! Right now, listening and reading are getting easier but I still have a ton of trouble speaking.

What do you plan to do next?

I am open to many possibilities! I may decide to stay here for another year, or perhaps I will go on to teach English in some other part of the world. After that, I am thinking about coming back to the U.S. and applying for an MAT program, or a program in Educational Psychology, but nothing is set in stone yet!

Our graduates: Molly McQuillan ’17

Molly McQuillan graduated from Bard in 2017. Last year, we had a post here on this site, about a publication on multisensory integration that she contributed to, while at Bard. Now we reached out to Molly with some questions, to see where the destiny brought her.


Hi Molly! Where do you work now? What is your position called?

I work at MBL, or the Marine Biological Laboratory, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I’m a research assistant in Dr. Jennifer Morgan’s lab. Dr. Morgan is a neurobiologist; she works in spinal cord injury and regeneration, and also studies how synaptic function is affected by neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s Disease.

Can you say a few words about your research?

Our lab has two major projects going on right now, one looking at how synaptic transmission is restored after spinal cord injury, and the other, which is the project I’m working on, is looking at mechanisms of synaptic defects using a Parkinson’s Disease model. Our main animal model is the sea lamprey, which is not very nice-looking, but it has amazing regenerative capacity as well as giant axons which allow for easier imaging and sectioning.

What does your typical day look like? What do you do at work?

It varies, depending on my experiment schedule. There are basic lab maintenance tasks that need to get done every week, such as making stock solutions for experiments and purchasing lab supplies. In terms of my own experiments, I’m mainly doing bench work which can include doing dissections, staining tissue with antibodies, or running gels for biochemistry experiments, or I’m at my computer doing image analysis. Surprisingly, analyzing data can take much longer than the actual experiment! Most of my bench work takes about 1-2 weeks, with each day planned out by the protocol, sometimes even down to the minute, while the analysis and computer work can take about a month or two, but I’m able to plan it out for myself.

When you started, was it a big difference, compared to your work at Bard?

Yes and no. The general lab settings and expectations were fairly similar, but I think the biggest difference was having more time to devote to experiments and science in general. Back at Bard, the time I had to give to experiments was almost always scheduled around other course work and events, or I would even run to the lab during a lecture break. It’s been a nice change to be able to devote full days to science.

Was it hard to find this position? How did you go about it?

Funny enough, during my last semester, in Animal Physiology class, I found myself picking papers for class presentations that used marine animal models. I became extremely fascinated with marine biology because of this, and joked with some friends that in my next life, I might even become a marine biologist. They actually encouraged me to find out if I could somehow combine marine biology with my current interest in neuroscience. I looked into it, and I discovered MBL. I wasn’t even sure what MBL was at first, since I saw on their website that they were offering a lot of courses, but I dug deeper, saw that they are actually a pretty well-known research facility, and eventually found an opening for the position in Jen’s lab.

What do you like the most about your work at MBL?

Since I’ve started here, I’ve had the chance to learn so many new techniques and I’ve really enjoyed being able to figure out which methods I prefer and what I’m good at. I’ve also had the chance to contribute to a paper for the lab that’s now starting to transition into a new study for possible future publication. I’ll be presenting the preliminary results at the Annual Society for Neuroscience conference this year, which I’m really excited about! Aside from lab science though, the MBL is quite unique by itself. Woods Hole is a small community on Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod, so it is something of a summer resort area. But MBL offers many courses in multiple fields of biology throughout the year, so there’s always a stream of visiting scientists and students from all over the country and the world here. It’s been a great opportunity to meet many different people who share similar scientific interests.

What are your plans for the future?

Right now I’m in the process of applying to PhD programs in Biomedical Science or Neuroscience this fall for next year. I’m still in the thick of applications, so my longer term plans aren’t as concrete at the moment.   


Integrating livestock and wildlife

New paper from Felicia Keesing’s lab was published in Nature Sustainability. Globally, most wildlife live outside of protected areas, creating potential conflicts. Keesing et al. assess tradeoffs between management for wildlife and for livestock in an East African savanna (pictured), finding potential benefits from integrating the two.

Full citation and link: Keesing, F., Ostfeld, R. S., Okanga, S., Huckett, S., Bayles, B. R., Chaplin-Kramer, R., … & Warui, C. M. (2018). Consequences of integrating livestock and wildlife in an African savannaNature Sustainability1(10), 566.

Biology Seminar Fall 2018

Biology Seminars happen in the RKC auditorium every Thursday at noon. The schedule for Fall 2018:

Sep 13: Scott Chimeleski, Harvard University. Imaging Microbial Activity through a Macro Lens
Sep 20: Alexandra Purdy, Amherst College. Bacterial regulatory networks controlling both host and microbe metabolism: a tale in two Vibrios
Sep 27: Lucija Peterlin Masic, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. New DNA Gyrase B inhibitors effective again ESCAPE pathogens
Oct 4: Jason Breves, Skidmore College. Salt and water balance in fishes: endocrine mechanisms of environmental adaptation
Oct 11: no seminar, fall break
Oct 18: Liza Comita, Yale School of Forestry. Who are the species in your neighborhood? Density-dependent interactions in a tropical tree community
Oct 25: Steve Franks, Fordham. Evolutionary Responses to Climate Change Revealed by the Resurrection Approach
Nov 1: Gabriel Perron, Bard College (title tba)
Nov 8: Vanisha Lakhina, Princeton University. Identifying genes that enhance neuronal health with age
Nov 15: Grace Barber, Pine Barrens. Ants, art, science education, and environmental conservation: A Bardian’s story
Nov 22: no seminar, Thanksgiving
Nov 29: Felicia Keesing, Bard College. How to have a meaningful summer
Dec 6: no seminar, Advising week in Biology program
Dec 13: Senior projects (names and titles will be known later)

Welcome. professor Heather Bennett!

We are very happy to announce that Dr. Heather Bennett has joined our program as Assistant Professor of Biology. Bennett received her BS from Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and PhD in molecular biology, cellular biology, and biochemistry from Brown University. She was a Penn-PORT Fellow in neurology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Her thesis, “Loss of Notch or JNK Signaling Results in FOXO Dependent Compensatory Sleep in C. elegans” received a Ford Foundation Graduate Dissertation Fellowship honorable mention. She has taught courses in molecular and behavior genetics of neurological disease and the genetics and biochemistry of development. Her work has been published in PLOS One and Journal of Immunology; and she has given talks at various universities on such subjects as “Using C. Elegans to investigate how animals survive in low oxygen conditions”; “How do worms sleep?”; and “C. Elegans to study sleep, stress, and neuronal circuitry in response to anoxic insult.” Dr. Bennett is a member of the Sleep Research Society, Genetics Society of America, and American Association for the Advancement of Science.