Excellence in Teaching
Associate Professor of Zoology
College of Life Sciences and Agriculture
Right: Jeb Byers and UNH senior Anna Malek get their feet wet on Appledore Island at the Isles of Shoals.
As you read this, halfway across the world a parasite slowly bores its way into the shell of the Sydney cockle, one of Australia's native clam species. Once inside the limestone, the critter is sheltered, but the shell is weakened, leaving the clam vulnerable.
Suspected to be at the root of this problem, and others, is the invasive marine alga, Caluerpa taxifolia, which creates a cozy refuge for such parasites, helping them find new host species, such as the clam. Jeb Byers, UNH associate professor of zoology, is using a grant from National Geographic this year to investigate the problem at the University of Wollongong (UOW) on Australia's east coast.
"Very little is know about how Caluerpa affects native Australian systems," says Byers.
He's about to change that. Byers and UOW colleagues are examining the effects of the invasive seaweed in the estuaries of New South Wales. They will develop tools to identify invaders and vulnerable sites, quantify rates of spread, and determine means of intervention. The results of their work will inform marine ecologists, government agencies, conservation organizations, and invasive species biologists in Australia and worldwide.
It would be an understatement to say that Byers takes a "hands–on" approach to his field. He is in the water, in the weeds, behind the microscope—on the front lines. And he is not satisfied unless his students are there beside him. "Well–designed participatory research can infuse students with a genuine enthusiasm for learning," he says. Every course he teaches at UNH—from ecology to marine biology—involves a heavy dose of field research and equal time in the lab.
This "full immersion" teaching style bodes well for his students, who say, "He not only teaches us the subject matter, he teaches us to love it."
Byers' research centers on how non–native species affect native marine systems. His students play a big part in these efforts. He is an active adviser to Ph.D. candidates, graduate, and undergraduate students. At any given time you'll find four or more students in his lab studying species interactions.
Senior biology major Anna Malek says it was Byers' encouragement that sent her to Appledore Island last summer on a National Science Foundation research fellowship at the Shoals Marine Lab. "Before I went out, he taught me about marine gastropod and parasite ecology and helped me plan out the summer research project," says Malek, who researched the affect of trematode parasites on the common periwinkle. "He would come out to Appledore and spend the wee hours of the morning—4 a.m.—in the intertidal area helping me set up and carry out my experiments." She says through the process, she learned the research methods, writing techniques, and data analysis necessary for successful research. "From the very beginning Jeb expressed heartfelt interest in my growth as a marine biologist and provided the guidance and support to make it happen."
Malek is one of many who has benefited from Byers' passion. Another student says, "Professor Byers leaves me constantly amazed about the world of plants and animals and how species interact both positively and negatively with each other."
Byers will bring his infectious enthusiasm back to UNH next year, adding an "Invasive Ecology" course and a sub–tropical twist to his core curriculum. He says his future teaching will be enriched by the Australian experience, not only because it will add a new dimension to his knowledge, but also because it will create broadened opportunities for student research in new areas.