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College of Science Faculty Publish Ground-Breaking Study on Darwinian Genetic Evolution

College of Science faculty Jessica Lee, Siavash Riazi, Shahla Nemati, Jannell Bazurto, Andreas Vasdekis, Benjamin Ridenhour, Christopher Remien and Christopher Marx had a paper published in PLOS Genetics. In their research, they uncovered that genetically identical cells can be phenomenally different in their ability to survive stress, and thus selection acts upon the distributions of phenotypes without leading to genetic changes. They also found that stress tolerance changes with the environment, and there is even a form of memory that takes place as a result. These phenomena are being discovered in many realms, including cancer, where there are often “phenotypic mutations” which may seem like genetic change, but are not. This study opens the door to studying the entanglement of Darwinian genetic evolution with Lamarckian phenotypic evolution. Read the full article.

U of I-Led Study Finds Experimental Fences Deter Elephant Crop Raiding, Provide Income

U of I-Led Study Finds Experimental Fences Deter Elephant Crop Raiding, Provide Income

This article was written by Leigh Cooper in University of Idaho Communications and Marketing. View the original article here. While IMCI was not involved in the funding of this research project, we are are thrilled to count Dr. Ryan Long as one of our participating faculty.

MOSCOW, Idaho – October 17, 2019 – A University of Idaho-led team of researchers found that experimental fences reduced the number of times elephants left Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park to raid nearby crops by 80-95%; beehive fences appeared to be the most effective at deterring crop raiding while also providing a revenue source for neighboring villages through the production of honey.

Two male elephants approach a beehive fence. Image by University of Idaho.

The team’s evaluation of various fencing strategies for discouraging crop raiding by elephants outside Gorongosa was published today in Conservation Letters.

Crop raiding by wildlife results in billions of dollars in economic losses globally and threatens wildlife conservation efforts by creating negative human attitudes toward wildlife. Human and wildlife conflict can be exacerbated near protected areas like Gorongosa National Park, where the elephant population has risen to roughly 600 after falling by more than 90% during a civil war in the 1970s-90s.

“The better the elephant population does, the more animals leave the park and raid crops. That becomes a legitimate issue for the people living near the park as they are mostly subsistence farmers,” said Ryan Long, a U of I assistant professor and a lead researcher on the paper. “Negative interactions can lead to elephants being killed by people, or people being killed by elephants.”

Long, master’s student Paola Branco and colleagues tested the effectiveness of different fences at discouraging elephants from leaving the park. The study area incorporated four communities along 11.6 miles of the Pungue River, which marks the park’s southern border. The team fenced 13 of the 18 elephant river crossings in the study area. They used multiple fence types including beehive fences — free-swinging hives connected with twine — and chili fences — woven fabric soaked with chili-infused vegetable oil.

The researchers tracked elephant movements through GPS collars placed on 12 male elephants, camera-trap data and local reporting; they compared the number of elephant crossings in fall 2016 before fences were erected to the number of elephant crossings in fall 2017 when fences were in place. The number of crossings in the study area fell from 67 to 32, and the mean number of crossings at fenced locations decreased from 4.4 to 1.0.

The beehive fences appeared to be the most effective deterrent — a 95% reduction in crossings was observed — although the small sample size didn’t allow for statistical differentiation among fence types, Long said. The study indicates various fences can reduce crop raiding, and working with local communities to modify animal behavior and human attitudes simultaneously can mitigate human and wildlife conflict.

“To be effective, mitigation must be affordable and maintained locally. There must be an incentive to maintain them, and they need to improve the perception of wildlife by locals,” Long said. “We picked these fences because, first, it’s cost-prohibitive to create a physical barrier to stop the largest land mammal on Earth, especially across a large area. Secondly, there’s intrinsic motivation for the communities to maintain these fences over the long term, both for the purpose of deterring elephants and for the purpose of producing a marketable product, honey.”

The initial cost of fence construction was borne by the park and donors, while local communities were responsible for maintenance and harvest and sale of the honey. A beehive fence with 15 hives, like the ones used in the study, can generate from two to four times the current minimum annual wage in Mozambique. Based on the study’s results, the Conservation Department of Gorongosa is now deploying beehive fences at crossings all along the Pungue River.

This project was funded under National Science Foundation award 1656642. The total project funding is $700,000, of which 100% is the federal share.

Media Contacts

Ryan Long
Assistant Professor of Wildlife Sciences
Department of Fish and Wildlife Sciences

Leigh Cooper
Science and Content Writer
University of Idaho Communications and Marketing

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference. Learn more at

U of I Study: Some Vaccine Doubters Swayed by Outbreaks

This news article was written by Kathy Foss, Marketing and Communications Manager for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. Drs. Florian Justwan and Bert Baumgaertner are active CMCI faculty participants and part of the Social-Epi working group.

MOSCOW, Idaho — Aug. 28, 2019 — People skeptical of the medical establishment who live close to a measles outbreak have a greater chance of changing their mind, according to a University of Idaho study.

The study, led by Assistant Professor of Political Science Florian Justwan, found people who are skeptical of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — as well as similar institutions — and live farther away from a disease outbreak harbor less favorable vaccination views than those who are skeptical but live in close proximity to an outbreak. People who have high levels of trust are not affected by disease proximity.

Bert Baumgaertner, an associate professor of philosophy at U of I, Juliet Carlisle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, and former student researchers from U of I’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, contributed to the study, published today, Aug. 28, in the journal PLOS One.

“The implication of our study is that some people base their vaccine decision-making to a considerable degree on whether or not a given disease occurs in close vicinity to their community,” Justwan said. “If someone has high confidence in institutions such as the CDC, this person is likely to vaccinate regardless of whether he or she lives close to a recent measles outbreak. Fostering public trust in institutions such as the CDC is an important objective from a public health perspective.”

The researchers found an individual’s proximity to a measles outbreak independently had no effect on measles vaccination attitudes. Research suggests, however, that people who are skeptical of the CDC and similar institutions may consider whether or not a given disease occurs nearby when making decisions about vaccination. About 61 percent of low-trust individuals had a more favorable opinion of vaccines if they lived within 100 miles of an outbreak, That increase in favorability dropped to about 39 percent if a person lived within 500 miles of an outbreak and to 17 percent within 1,000 miles of an outbreak.

Researchers surveyed 1,006 online respondents across the U.S. about their political beliefs, vaccination attitudes and demographics as part of the study. The survey was carried out in January 2017, a year after two highly publicized outbreaks of measles in the U.S. The pool was generated by a market research firm to be a nationally representative sample of the U.S. voting age population and the final sample matched known population factors for gender, age, income race and census region.

A growing vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. and globally can manifest itself in increased non-medical exemption rates, decreased vaccination rates and increased outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, according to the study. The formation of attitudes about vaccination is complex and linked to many factors including media and peer group influence, distrust of science, information access and socio-economic barriers.

The research team, housed in U of I’s Center for Modeling Complex Interactions, is continuing its study into other factors that may influence a person’s decision to vaccinate.