Alma’s Spider Man Achieves the Dana Professorship
The newest Dana Professor at Alma College is not afraid of spiders.
Neither is he averse to studying the lizard-like tuatara on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
David Clark, announced as the Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology during April commencement, engages students in ongoing research projects on spiders, snakes, turtles, lizards, toads and a myriad of other creatures.
“He is an innovative teacher, described by students and colleagues alike as energetic, knowledgeable, demanding and concerned,” says Alma Provost Michael Selmon. “His innovative use of technology in animal behavior research is being emulated by scholars internationally.”
The Charles A. Dana Professorship is one of the highest awards bestowed upon a faculty member at Alma College. In addition to Clark, other Dana Professors at Alma are John Davis, Scott Messing, Bill Palmer, Carol Slater and Ute Stargardt.
Clark has dedicated his research to animal communication and the evolution of visual displays. In some of his most recognized research, his computer creation called Hypothetical Ancestral Morph (HAM) presents a realistic, animated image on a hand-held television screen to live female jumping spiders. He was one of the first researchers to use video animation technologies in successful experiments.
Earlier this year he joined CMU Biologist James Gillingham for a research sabbatical on Stevens Island, a small rock island in the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand, where they studied the behavior of tuatara using computer playback of animated versions of the tuatara.
Alma College Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology David Clark holds the lizard-like tuatara.
“Tuatara are easy to work with,” he says. “The island is restricted to researchers, and there are 30,000 to 50,000 tuatara on the island ” they are everywhere. Tuatara is a reptile that looks like a lizard but is not a lizard. It is an ancestor of the dinosaurs.”
Clark presented video images of a male tuatara invading the territory of another male tuatara and observed their reactions, particularly when the invading tuatara began courting a female.
“It worked like gangbusters,” he says. “The tuatara puffed up big and literally slammed themselves into the computer monitors to protect their turf.”
This summer Clark and Alma College students will be conducting spider research on Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan and collaborating with Alma biologist John Rowe on turtle research.
Clark teaches classes in animal behavior, biology of spiders, ecology, evolution, general zoology, invertebrate biology, introductory biology, human genetics and scientific methods. His research projects with students have examined female spider mate choice, reproductive success and predation risks of the two male morphs.
The criteria for a Dana Professorship require that the faculty member be an outstanding teacher and scholar, with a reputation for excellence both at Alma College and beyond; have a record of innovation in pedagogy and program formulation; and possess a deep commitment to the objectives and the students of Alma College.
Posted: Thu, May 10th, 2007 at 10:13AM