UH Hilo Biology Department captures third NSF CAREER Award

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642
Director, Media Relations, University Relations
Posted: Mar 18, 2010

An assistant professor of biology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo has earned a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. Dr. Elizabeth Stacy received the five-year award totaling $738,255 for her research program on “Characterizing reproductive isolation within the Hawaiian Metrosideros species complex.”

The NSF CAREER award is NSF’s “most prestigious honor in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.” Stacy is the third member of the university’s biology faculty to receive the award following Dr. Donald Price (1999) and Dr. Becky Ostertag (2006), earning UH Hilo an exemplary distinction among biology departments throughout the U.S.

Stacy’s research program seeks to gain a better understanding of the speciation process in trees. The origin of tree species remains an especially difficult challenge for biologists because the processes through which reproductive barriers arise between diverging populations is poorly understood.

Stacy’s CAREER-supported study will characterize the strengths and stages of reproductive barriers above and below the species level in Hawaiian Metrosideros, a group of tree taxa that vary in their degree of natural hybridization. Her broader research program examines morphologic, reproductive, and neutral and functional genetic divergence within M. polymorpha across Hawaiʻi’s striking environmental gradients.

Her lab is also undertaking additional collaborative studies on the evolutionary genetics of, and reproductive isolation within, other native Hawaiian plant groups through the DNA Barcoding on Hawaiʻi Island Project, funded through the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Stacy’s CAREER Award will enable her to continue mentoring several undergraduate and graduate students and one technician each year, develop courses involving authentic and novel research components, and co-administer a successful outreach program serving K-12 teachers and students. This integrated plan aims to broaden participation of students in the science, technology and math pipeline in Hawaiʻi.