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Misericordia Biology Professor Publishes Two Major Papers on Ecology
Linda Auker

Linda Auker, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biology at Misericordia University, recently had two papers published in major ecological journals. The first paper concerned the impacts of invasive species on mussel populations and was published in the Journal of Biological Systems. The second centered on the use of statistical software in undergraduate ecology classrooms.
It was published by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in their journal Ecosphere.

Auker’s first paper is titled “The Effects of Invasive Epibionts on Crab-Mussels Communities: A Theoretical Approach to Understand Mussel Population Decline” which was published in April. She co-authored the paper with a number of former colleagues who are all mathematicians, with her serving as the only biologist who worked on the study.

The paper discusses the ecological impact of Didemnum vexillum, commonly known as the “carpet tunicate”. D. vexillum is native to Japan, but thrives in and dominates ecosystems in oceans all over the world as an invasive species. This study focuses on the effect the “carpet tunicate” has on the mussels it covers, and the effect this has on the crabs that consume the mussels as their primary food source. Auker believes that this may be the first and only paper that models this invasive species’ impacts on marine populations and which models stabilizing those populations.

The second study was published in Ecosphere this April. It is titled “Teaching R in the undergraduate ecology classroom: approaches, lessons learned, and recommendations” with R being statistical software commonly used in the biological sciences. This study was also performed with the help of mathematicians and led Auker to co-found the Misericordia R Users Group alongside Michael Floren, Ph.D., assistant professor of Mathematics and Statistics Program Director.

“This one was a labor of love,” said Auker of the study. Many biological graduate programs now require students to have familiarity with R, yet the curriculums of undergraduate programs do not always reflect this. The study sought to determine whether R is more effectively taught with or without a lab component. It was concluded that both were equally effective. Teaching methods included in this paper have been useful for professors instructing their students in R usage. Ecology jobs requiring R have increased significantly with many in the field using it for research purposes.

“My research students are expected to know R and are all involved in the R Users Group that includes faculty, staff, and students … to give them a serious edge,” noted Auker, also pointing out that her paper has received 405 mentions on the ESA Twitter page. She hopes more biology students will realize that they have considerable interest in learning R and is excited about Misericordia’s soon to be introduced Biostatistics course.

Dr. Auker is a marine biologist, having received her bachelor’s degree in marine science from Long Island University, her master’s degree in oceanography from University of Rhode Island, and her doctorate from the University of New Hampshire. She is also a highly experienced diver having obtained open water and master diver certifications through NAUI. Prior to coming to Misericordia, Auker was a visiting professor at St. Lawrence University and Siena College.

“I’m very passionate about teaching undergraduates in a liberal arts environment,” said Auker of her decision to join the Misericordia faculty. She is currently in her second year at MU and teaches the Essential Biology course for non-majors; the Intro to Marine Biology core course; and upper-level courses in Invertebrate Zoology and Marine Biology for the Biology majors.