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Marshall University - Biological Sciences Newsletter
March 2016

Research in Progress: MS Candidate Donald Morgan

    Donald (DJ) Morgan is from St. Mary's, MD, and earned a BS in Biological Sciences from Towson University in 2014. For his senior thesis, DJ studied the isotopic concentrations of Miocene crocodile teeth from Maryland in an attempt to better understand their feeding and habitat preferences. DJ also worked for two years as a Paleontology intern at the Calvert Marine Museum, where he aided in the excavation of Miocene whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. At Marshall University, DJ's Master's research with Dr. Robin O'Keefe involves studying a group of short-necked plesiosaurs, known as the Polycotylids, from the Cretaceous period of North America. The research required a detailed description and reconstruction of a juvenile plesiosaur skull, and an extensive phylogenetic analysis of all described Polycotylid plesiosaurs.

    The ontogeny of the plesiosaur cranium is not well known, and with the lack of juvenile plesiosaur material in the fossil record, inferring the growth patterns of plesiosaurs has remained speculative. The current skull will fill in the gaps in the growth series for a Polycotylid plesiosaur. The purpose of the phylogenetic analysis is to elucidate the relationships between all of the Polycotylids. Thus far, DJ has traveled to three museums in the Midwest in order to collect data and photograph specimens (as well as look at every fossil he possibly could along the way). He hopes to publish a few research papers from his thesis work on the cranial anatomy and allometry of a juvenile, and the phylogenetic relationships of the Polycotylid plesiosaurs.

    After graduating from MU this spring, DJ hopes to land a paleontology-related job before pursuing a PhD program in vertebrate paleontology. His ultimate goal is to become a museum curator of paleontology.

What’s New in Biological Science:New Saliva Test May Be Able To Detect Cancer In Just 10 Minutes. Scientists from the University of California at Los Angeles claim to have developed a new technique for detecting cancer in a single drop of a person's saliva. Though the method is still being trialed in China, the team behind the new test hopes to see it rolled out in Europe before the decade is up, and says it could take as little as 10 minutes to give a result. (February 16, 2016; by Ben Taube; link to story source.)

Stuffed Cells by Zedmalia Wolfe
The scientifically-correct adventures of an archaean, a plant cell, and an animal cell.


Spring Educator Expo is March 8

    Interested in becoming a teacher? MU's Career Services' annual Spring Educator Expo is Tuesday, March 8, from 12:30.-4:30 p.m. in the Memorial Student Center, room BE-5. This event will feature local and regional school systems, as well as non-teaching educational organizations. The Expo offers you the opportunity to talk with these recruiters, and possibly even interview on that day. For more information, contact Career Services at (304) 696-2370 or

Spring Job-A-Palooza is March 25

    The Spring Job-A-Palooza, a part-time job and internship fair, will be held in the Memorial Student Center Lobby, on Wednesday, March 25, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

    Don't forget to check out Marshall's Career Services Center. They have listings for permanent jobs, summer jobs, and internships. They'll also help you develop your resume, and practice with you so you may improve your interview skills. Contact Career Services online, or email them at

Summer Field Course Opportunities in Costa Rica

    DANTA, the Association for Conservation of the Tropics, is a non-profit organization working to preserve the world's rainforests. As part of their mission, they offer overseas field courses in tropical biology. These courses are intended for undergraduates or early graduate-level students who have a serious interest in tropical biology and conservation, but have little or no experience working in a tropical environment. Courses can be taken on a credit or non-credit basis.

    The Summer 2016 courses will be held in Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. One of the largest rain forests north of the Amazon, this area is renowned for high animal and plant diversity. It is one of the few places in Costa Rica that has jaguar, puma, sea turtles, and four species of monkey; it is also home to nearly 4,000 plant species, including trees more than 200 feet tall. All participating students will have the opportunity to be involved in applied conservation (i.e. sea turtle monitoring and reforestation) and community service.

    The courses offered this coming summer include Primate Behavior and Conservation, and Human Ecology and Tropical Conservation. For more information about these courses, visit, or email

Brag Box An abbreviated list of recent BSC student and faculty accomplishments:
  • Dr. Suzanne Strait has published the following paleontological paper:
    • Strait SG, Holroyd PA, Denvir CA, and Rankin BD. 2016. Early Eocene (Wasatchian) rodent assemblages from the Washakie Basin, Wyoming. PaleoBios, 33(1). ucmp_paleobios_29986. You can read the full text here.
  • Dr. Frank Gilliam has two recent plant ecology research papers in print:
    • Gilliam FS. 2016. A novel mechanism to explain success of invasive herbaceous species at the expense of natives in eastern hardwood forests. New Phytologist 209:451-453.
    • Chapman SK, KA Devine, C Curran, RO Jones, and FS Gilliam. 2016. Impacts of soil nitrogen and carbon additions on forest understory communities with a high-deposition history. Ecosystems 19:142-154.
  • Selected BSC Contact Information

    Dr. David Mallory, BSC Chair S-350 (304) 696-2353
    BSC Graduate Program Information   (304) 696-2427
    BSC office, TA applications, various forms S-350 (304) 696-3148
    Susan Weinstein, BSC News S-204 (304) 696-2428


    Download pdfs of this or any past issue of the Biological Sciences Newsletter by clicking on the archive links to the right.

Department of Biological Sciences | One John Marshall Drive | Science Building 350 | Huntington, WV 25755 | (304) 696-3148