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UT Science Writer All About the Beasts

Beasts of Research

A captive-raised whooping crane in Louisiana, a caucasian parsley frog, and a reconstruction of a 32-million-year-old fossil with the gut shown in blue.

Getting the word out about your research can be a beast. Luckily, the University of Tennessee has a talented team of communicators to help with that task.

Science writer Lola Alapo wrote three stories in the last week that dealt with research on beasts of the air, land and one from the prehistoric sea.

Two of the pieces were a result of research conducted by Vladimir Dinets, research assistant professor of psychology, who had his studies published in scientific publications.

  • Not Your Mama’s World: A new UT study shows that animals deprived of normal parental care may be better suited to survive in new environments. For those trying to reintroduce animals to the wild, this suggests that innovative, rather than conservative, approaches might be more successful. The study was published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications. The paper is available online.

  • Bat Poop Matters: Dinets conducted a study of Caucasian parsley frogs in remote caves hidden in densely forested mountains near the border between Russia and the Republic of Georgia. He found that the frogs showed significant preference for caves with bat colonies, most likely because insects breeding in bat waste provided a rich source of food. The study was recently published in the Herpetological Bulletin, a leading scientific publication devoted to herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles.

The latest is an interesting study on the digestive tract of a 320-million-year-old animal related to today’s sea urchins and starfish. Colin Sumrall, assistant professor in paleobiology, and colleagues from three other institutions analyzed the unique fossil specimen using high-energy x-rays at the Swiss Light Source in Switzerland.

  • Imaging a Prehistoric Gut: The results of x-ray imaging prove that the fossil represents an early developmental stage of an extinct group known as blastoids, according to the researchers. It can therefore shed light on the early evolutionary history of echinoderms. The findings were published in the journal Biology Letters.

“I love good stories and a lot of good stories happen to come from science, therefore, I like science,” said Alapo. “When I start writing, my goal is to communicate the researcher’s work to an audience without a scientific background in a way that helps them understand and connect with it. So much of the research that happens here at UT is working to affect change or solve a major challenge, but at the basis is a great story. It’s my job to tell it while also maintaining the integrity of the research.”