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Office: 203G Jarvis Hall - Science Wing
B.A.Biology, Concordia University-Nebraska, 1992
B.S.Secondary Education, Concordia University-Nebraska, 1992
M.S. Biological Science, University of Nebraska, 2002
Ph.D. Biological Science, University of Nebraska, 2007
I am interested in fish evolution, systematics, and conservation. Much of my current work is focused on molecular systematics, population genetics, and phylogeography in the North American freshwater fish genus Cycleptus (blue suckers), a group that inhabits large rivers in the Missisippi, Rio Grande, and Mobile basins of North America. I am the first researcher to investigate genetic structure (on multiple levels) in the genus. Mitochondrial data clearly indicate the presence of a new, undescribed species from the Rio Grande basin. In addition, nuclear markers have revealed impacts of dams on genetic structure in the Missouri River as well as incomplete lineage sorting (in particular, an allophyletic condition) between the two described species. This work has important conservation implications as the genus occurs in 22 states but none of the three species are considered stable in any of them (S3, vulnerable > SX, presumed extirpated).
I have also initiated or participated in other molecular genetic-based investigations in ecology, evolution, and behavior, such as research to characterize molecular evolution of HIV-Clade C in Zambian mother/infant pairs. More recent efforts include a project to examine cloning frequency in a native plains thistle (Cirsium undulatum), studies of genetic mating systems in the nurseryfish (Kurtus gulliveri) of Australia and fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) of North America, phylogeographic studies in the plains topminnow (Fundulus sciadicus), and initiation of a long-term ichthyomonitoring project (incl. effects of drought) of fish assemblages in the Platte River forks of western Nebraska.
A new project that is taking shape here at Stout involves the assessment of genetic structure in native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) populations of the Driftless Area in western Wisconsin. This is a developing collaboration between Dr. Chuck Bomar, John Sours and others in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), and Trout Unlimited (TU), a private organization. UW-Stout lies on the northern rim of the Driftless Area, a region that was encircled - but untouched – by ice sheets during the last glacial maximum. The degree to which this ‘pocket’ within the ice acted as a refugium for aquatic organisms is largely unknown. It is possible that brook trout populations survived within.
This species is popular among fly fishing enthusiasts and has been stocked in many regional drainages. Still, there are a number of disjunct areas that contain populations which have never been stocked. These are of highest interest to the WDNR because stocked trout tend not to survive well in many (most?) streams. From an applied management standpoint, the WDNR would like to know how ‘genetically unique’ these endemic populations really are and, secondly, how much hybridization occurs in stocked streams. Additional basic questions involve ascertainment of historical demographic patterns and an estimation of divergence time between unstocked endemics and other populations outside the Driftless Area. Using molecular techniques, we can directly test the refugium hypothesis. If the area did serve in this capacity, it is plausible that there are one or more cryptic, undescribed species in the region.
I actively seek the participation of undergraduates in all of my research endeavors – both in the field and in the laboratory. As a professional educator, I know the value of hands-on, inquiry-based experiences. If you are interested in working in my lab, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIO 111: Science, Society, and the Environment
BIO 350: Ecology
Also, 7 years prior teaching experience at K-12 and college levels
Excerpt from my teaching philosophy:
What is the best way to teach a given subject or topic? An obvious goal for every instructor is that students master the material offered. The current system of education in the United States largely facilitates advancement of those who can learn straight from a book or lecture; however, it is now commonly known that the highest percentage of students learn best through cooperative, inquiry-based experiences. Therefore, I utilize such strategies in my teaching whenever possible (see example on the following page). Appropriate planning for the use of open questions that require students to go beyond rote memorization is also very important and enables development of critical thinking skills. Finally, I try to clearly show the relevance of the material by including real world examples, local if possible. For this reason, I have found it very easy to draw my research into a variety of courses. A major benefit in doing so is that it allows students to see that scientific exploration is real and right at their fingertips.
Teaching is a demanding, yet satisfying career pathway at any level. With it comes an enormous responsibility that should never be taken lightly. I have tried to glean the best from the finest teachers I know and always strive for improvement. When the lives of so many others can be impacted by words and actions in the classroom, why would anyone do otherwise?
A.S.I.H. – American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, 2000-present
S.S.E. – Society for the Study of Evolution, 2003-present
Sigma Xi Scientific Society, 2004-present
A.F.S. – American Fisheries Society, 2005-present
N.A.N.F.A. – North American Native Fishes Association, 2004-present
A.G.A. – American Genetic Association, 2007-present
P3G – Public Population Project in Genomics, 2007-present
Genetic effects of habitat fragmentation on blue sucker populations in the Upper Missouri River (Cycleptus elongatus Lesueur, 1918), American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MO, July 2007
Phylogeography and Conservation Genetics of the Plains Topminnow (Fundulus sciadicus) in Nebraska and Missouri [Actinopterygii: Fundulidae], American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MO, July 2007
Rangewide population structure and intermediate polyphyly in the genus Cycleptus (Teleostei: Catostomidae), American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MO, July 2007
Rapid divergence? Isolation by impoundments = (genetic) isolation by distance in the upper Missouri River; Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference, Omaha, NE, December 2006
The enigmatic blue suckers: Who, how many, and where? Systematics and population structure in the genus Cycleptus, NANFA Annual Meeting, September 16, 2006, Cape Girardeau, MO, September 2006
Population genetics of the blue sucker (Cycleptus elongatus) in the Upper Missouri River, American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA, July 2006
Conservation genetics of the Plains Topminnow (Fundulus sciadicus), American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA, July 2006
Blue sucker genetics, Missouri River Natural Resources Committee Meeting, St. Charles, MO, October 2005
Phylogenetic structure in the genus Cycleptus, American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists Annual Meeting, Tampa, FL, July 2005
Molecular systematics of the genus Cycleptus – an update, Mississippi Interjurisdictional Cooperative Resources Association Annual Meeting, St. Louis, MO, January 2005
Only one haplotype left in Nebraska? Conservation genetics of Fundulus sciadicus, Initiative for Ecological and Evolutionary Analysis Annual Workshop, Lincoln, NE, September 2004
Longterm ichthyofaunal monitoring in the forks of the Platte River, Nebraska, Initiative for Ecological and Evolutionary Analysis Annual Workshop, Lincoln, NE, September 2004
Systematics and population structure in the genus Cycleptus, Society for the Study of Evolution Annual Meeting, Fort Collins, CO, July 2004
Microsatellite parentage assessment in Pimephales promelas, Society for the Study of Evolution Annual Meeting, Chico, CA, June 2003
Bessert, M.L., G. Ortí (2008). Genetic effects of habitat fragmentation on blue sucker populations in the upper Missouri River (Cycleptus elongatus Lesueur, 1918), Conservation Genetics in press.
Bessert, M.L., Sitzman, C., G. Ortí (2007). Avoiding paralogy: diploid loci for allotetraploid blue sucker fish (Cycleptus elongatus, Catostomidae), Conservation Genetics 8, 995-998.
Bessert, M.L., G. Ortí (2007). Nest resource limitation affects modes of cuckoldry in the fathead minnow, Pimephales promelas (Teleostei: Cyprinidae). Journal of Heredity, 98, 716–722.
Li, C., Bessert, M.L., Macrander, J., G. Ortí (2007). Microsatellite loci for the Plains topminnow (Fundulus sciadicus, Fundulidae), Molecular Ecology Notes 7, 691-693.
Bessert, M.L., G. Ortí (2003). Microsatellite loci for paternity analysis in the fathead minnow, Pimephales promelas (Teleostei: Cyprinidae). Molecular Ecology Notes 3, 532-534.
Li, C., Bessert, M.L., Macrander, J., G. Ortí. Low variation but strong population structure in mitochondrial control region of plains topminnow, Fundulus sciadicus, in review, Conservation Genetics.
Sommer, J.A., Berra, T.M., Li, C., Brozek, J.M., Bessert, M.L. Paternity assessment reveals low genetic variation in a Northern Australian population of Kurtus gulliveri, (Perciformes: Kurtidae), in review, Copeia.
Bessert, M.L., G. Ortí. Molecular systematics of the freshwater fish genus Cycleptus (Teleostei: Catostomidae) as inferred from Mitochondrial DNA, in prep for Copeia.
Bessert, M.L., G. Ortí. Rangewide population structure and intermediate polyphyly in the genus Cycleptus (Teleostei: Catostomidae), in prep for Molecular Ecology.
Bessert, M.L., Mayden, R.L., B. Burr. A new species of Cycleptus from the Rio Grande basin, in prep for Zootaxa.
Bessert, M.L., Brock, C., C. Li. Ichthyofaunal changes in the forks of the Platte River following five years of drought in western Nebraska – with C. Li and C. Brock, in prep for Great Plains Research
Maude Hammond Fling University Fellowship, 2003-2004 $14000
Adrian M. Srb Memorial Fellowship, 2004 $1000
Project Fulcrum Fellowship, 2004-2005 $15000
Hazel V. Emley Fellowship, 2004-2005 $2500
UNL Graduate Studies Fellowship, 2005-2006 $2500
Project Fulcrum Fellowship, 2005-2006 $16000
UNL College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding TA Award, 2004-2005
USFWS/Nebraska State Wildlife Grant, 2008 $4300
USFWS/Nebraska State Wildlife Grant, 2006 $10000
IEEA (Fundulus project w/C. Li), 2006 $1923
IEEA (travel support), 2006 $250
Sigma Xi (travel support), 2006 $150
Center for Great Plains Studies (Fundulus project w/C. Li), 2005 $400
Sigma Xi (travel support), 2005 $150
IEEA (Fundulus project w/C. Li), 2005 $1001
USFWS/Nebraska State Wildlife Grant, 2005 $12000
American Museum of Natural History (Roosevelt Fund), 2004 $2000
Sigma Xi (research support), 2004 $465
Center for Great Plains Studies, 2004 $450
Initiative for Ecological & Evolutionary Analysis (biomonitoring project), 2004 $5000
Initiative for Ecological & Evolutionary Analysis (Cycleptus project), 2004 $2275
UNL SBS Special Funds (Cycleptus project), 2004 $500
Sigma Xi (travel support), 2004 $300
Initiative for Ecological & Evolutionary Analysis (travel support), 2004 $228
UNL SBS Special Funds (coauthored Fundulus project w/C. Li), 2004 $1500
UNL SBS Special Funds (travel support), 2003 $383
Initiative for Ecological & Evolutionary Analysis (research support), 2002 $1520
Initiative for Ecological & Evolutionary Analysis (travel support), 2002 $100
Center for Great Plains Studies Grant, 2001 $500
Initiative for Ecological & Evolutionary Analysis (travel support), 2002 $200
UNL SBS Special Funds (research support), 2000-2002 $3845
UNL SBS Special Funds (travel support), 2002 $492