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W&L Professor Hurd Wins Brazilian Fellowship for Scientific Research

Lawrence E. Hurd, the Herwick Professor of Biology at Washington and Lee University, has received a prestigious research fellowship from the Brazilian Ministry of Education and the Brazilian national science foundation.

Hurd will be a Special Visiting Research Fellow in a new program, Science without Borders, which is designed to strengthen and expand Brazilian education in the areas of science, technology, innovation and competitiveness by providing international study for undergraduate and graduate students and researchers.

The award carries a stipend and expenses for a month of research in Brazil, for each of three consecutive years.

Hurd will use the fellowship to continue research that he has been conducting with Professor Carlos Freitas of the Federal University of Amazonas in Manaus.

“I started going down to Brazil in about 2007 under the aegis of (W&L economics professor) Jim Kahn’s exchange program,” said Hurd. “Since that time, I’ve gotten involved with basic research with very good scientists at the Federal University of Amazonas in a completely different system than I’ve ever worked on.”

Hurd is an ecologist who has primarily studied arthropods through his career, focusing especially on predators such as the praying mantis and cursorial spiders because they are good models for studying how predators control biological diversity.  But ever since he did postdoctoral work in Costa Rica, he has been interested in tropical biology. He hoped to return to a tropical location “because that’s where most animals and plants are.”

Working with Freitas, Hurd will continue examining the causes of fish species diversity in the Amazon River basin, which has the highest diversity of freshwater fish anywhere in the world.

“Since 2007 we began to dabble in it, and Carlos has been teaching me about fish species diversity and fish biology,” said Hurd. “At this point in my career, I wanted to learn something new. If you’re interested in preserving global diversity, you go where the diversity mostly is and where it’s endangered.”

The study has particular importance because of the impact of global warming on the hydrologic cycle of the Amazon basis, which has led to interruptions in the migratory patterns of fish.

“What we think we’re going to find is that there will be local and perhaps regional extinction of species that depend upon this migration,” said Hurd. “This is kind of emergency mode right now. We need to know about the biology of these species and their interactions.”

The fellowship will permit more interrupted research time that Hurd can spend on site in Brazil. “Until now, I’ve spent a week or 10 days at a time, and that’s obviously very fragmentary,” he said. “The quality of interaction that I’ll get with this is much better.”

Washington and Lee has had an ongoing relationship with the Federal University of the Amazonas through an exchange program that was developed by Kahn, the Hendon Professor of Economics at W&L and a collaborating professor at the Federal University.

One of Hurd’s former Washington and Lee students conducted research in Brazil as part of the exchange program, and he hopes to involve other W&L students on a selective basis in his research there. In addition, several Brazilian students have come to W&L, including a graduate student who is working in Hurd’s laboratory this summer.

Hurd joined the Washington and Lee faculty in 1993 as a full professor and served as head of the Biology Department for 15 years. Previously, he was a professor of biology at the University of Delaware for 20 years. He is a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society of London and a fellow of the Linnean Society, the premier professional society for taxonomy and natural history.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Hiram College and his Ph.D. from Syracuse University.

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