Dr. Emily Puckett, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, attended the 2nd International Sun Bear Symposium in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia on Sept 25-26, 2019. The symposium focused on developing a 10 year action plan for the species that included setting conservation goals, stakeholder engagement strategies, and research priorities. Dr. Puckett contributed knowledge about integrating population genomics of bears to support conservation.
Sun bears (Ursus malayanus) are the world's smallest bear species and classified as Vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN. They range across Southeast Asia, and on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Habitat removal and conversion of forest to agriculture has resulted in both declining area and habitat fragmentation across their range. Further, sun bears are legally and illegally hunted for Traditional Asian Medicine products (gall bladder, bile, claws, teeth), meat, and due to bear-human conflict particularly on plantations. Further, cubs may be captured and kept as pets.
Dr. Puckett noted significant challenges researching sun bear ecology and evolution. "Like all bears, sun bears are a solitary species where males have largely non-overlapping ranges. That means you have to cover a lot of area if you set up hair snag corals or barrel traps. For American black bears we work in lots of temperate forests with low understory; but sun bears live in jungle habitats, which makes setting traps to obtain genetic samples much harder." The sun bear community works around this challenge by studying the bears in ex situ conservation care. These animals provide information on diet, behavior, and hopefully in the future a better understanding of their evolutionary history.
When asked about the highlight of the symposium, Dr. Puckett said, "meeting Dr. Wong Siew Te! He's a giant in the bear conservation community and approaches his work with unending enthusiasm." Dr. Wong is the founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center.
Dr. Puckett's trip was supported by a seed grant from the University of Memphis Center for Biodiversity Research.
Jake Myers, a senior majoring in Biology and Spanish from Columbia, TN, was one of five finalists for Mr. U of M. The Mr. and Ms. U of M awards acknowledge past service to the university as well as present a forward-looking agenda through implementation of the winner’s community action plan. Jake is already an active member of several student groups including: the Vice President of Administration for the Student Ambassador Board, a Tiger Elite Ambassador, member-at-large and campus safety co-chair within the Student Government Association, and the Secretary for the Student Members of the American Chemical Association. He was nominated for the honor of Mr. U of M based on his work on the Student Ambassador Board, then completed an application that included three essays and an interview about his community action plan, finally the student body voted for the five candidates. Jake said he was honored by the nomination and opportunity to give back to the University of Memphis community that he loves.
Beyond his numerous service commitments on campus, Jake also volunteers in the Bowers Lab where he has gained experience extracting DNA from bird blood and genotyping individuals to identify males and females. Following graduation in May 2019, Jake plans to go to medical school and one day hopes to work as a bilingual pediatrician. Jake’s favorite Biology class at the University of Memphis was Stem Cells with Dr. Amy Abell; he said, “the field is so new and innovative and I can see how it relates to my career interests.” He also said that Dr. Barbara Taller’s Biology I was a pivotal course for him and that he was grateful for how she pushed students to reach their full potential.
Congratulations to Jake on the honor of representing the university as a Mr. U of M finalist!