Cynthia Alonso (’14) Undergraduate

CynthiaAlonsoMy interest in understanding the mechanisms of the natural world and in protecting the Earth’s ecosystems led me to study Environmental Science (Environmental and Conservation Biology) at Clark. The calculus courses I took during my first year as an undergraduate sparked a previously unknown desire in me to pursue math, which I have been doing ever since. As an environmental science and math double major, I find that my interests continue to broaden with the number of classes I take, but the combination of both of my main academic interests is usually of highest appeal. Currently, I am exploring the concepts of phenotypic plasticity and the evolution of unexpressed traits under the guidance of Susan Foster with the ultimate goal that my work with stickleback in the Foster/Baker lab will form a basis for both theoretical and empirical aspects of the role of plasticity in evolution under conditions of climate change.

Limnetic stickleback populations have been experiencing the effects of anthrophogenically induced changes in their environments, as the lakes they inhabit have been increasing in productivity in the past decades. The only known behaviorally- limnetic population in Alaska was recently found to have responded to productivity change with an increase in body size, and a shift in behavior to resemble that of the benthic ecotype. The behavioral changes include a shift from planktivory, typical of limnetic populations, to foraging on benthic invertebrates, typical of the larger-bodied benthic populations. Populations in British Columbia also appear to be heading in this direction, as they too have been increasing in size in recent years. Given that, for thousands of years, the trophic traits of these populations have only been exposed to selection at small body sizes, we would expect that selection for trophic traits at larger body sizes has been relaxed over this period. It may thus be the case that previously smaller-bodied limnetic populations will show high variation in trophic traits at their new, larger body size and more variable feeding efficiency as compared to benthic populations, which have had larger bodies all the while and have thus been under selection to feed at this size.

Outside the lab

My non-academic life at the moment consists of piano, the outdoors, and yoga. If there were over 24 hours in a day, I would dedicate more time to: string instruments, food, dance, drawing, and learning languages.

Awards

  • Richard P. Traina Scholar 2008-2014
  • Leep Pioneer 2012
  • James and Ada Bickman Research Fellow 2012
  • Carlson Scholar 2013

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