Heather R.L. Lerner                                                                                                             


Educational Preparation        

            Candidate: Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) Ph.D. program,

                        University of Michigan (UM); Ann Arbor, MI; defense date August 7th, 2007

            M.S. EEB, UM; Ann Arbor MI; April 2003

                        GPA:  7.812

            B.S.  Bryn Mawr College; Bryn Mawr, PA; May, 1999

                                    Major:  Biology              Concentration:   Environmental Science

                                    GPA: 3.6                      Honors:  Magna cum laude


Related Scientific Experience

10/99-6/01         Wildlife and Wetland Biologist:  Wetlands Research Associates; San Rafael, CA

   Performed breeding raptor, sensitive species, ecosystem assessment and GPS field surveys

   Wrote Habitat Conservation and Restoration Plans based on results of field surveys

6/99-10/99         Naturalist:  San Francisco Estuary Project; Oakland, CA

   Prepared presentation of turbidity effects on fish for RWQCB erosion control workshops

   Identified flora and monitored water quality in tidal wetlands


Professional Research Interests

            I am interested in research on evolution and conservation genetics.  My research questions address (1) the role of historical environmental changes on present-day species distributions and habitat use (2) the effects of very recent environmental change (especially population fragmentation and isolation) on population processes at varying temporal and spatial scales, and (3) hypotheses about the evolution of morphological and natural history traits (using molecular-based phylogenies).  All of my studies have used specimens from various U.S. and international museums and contributed new specimens to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.


Dissertation Research Projects

Population Genetics and Phylogeography of the Harpy Eagle

UM, Ann Arbor, dissertation research

           Use microsatellites and mitochondrial control region DNA to assess genetic diversity and population structure across the geographic distribution of harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja), a threatened tropical forest dwelling predator

           Incorporate this genetic information into population viability analyses currently structured on demographic information to assess the potential effects of the release of captive-bred individuals on the population structure and genetic diversity

Molecular Systematics and Taxonomy of the avian family Accipitridae

UM, Ann Arbor, dissertation research

           Develop a well-supported and complete molecular phylogeny using nuclear and mitochondrial DNA for all species, including two extinct species, and individuals of many recognized subspecies (published in a series of papers focusing on different subfamilies)

           Use phylogenetic information to assess levels of genetic diversity within and among species for conservation purposes and to outline biogeographic history and variation in rates of evolution among the accipitrid groups. 

         Identify monophyletic groups for use in taxonomic revision. 

         Use molecular clock and fossil calibrations to determine timing of diversification events and rates of evolution within and across lineages.


Collaborative Research

A Comparative Analysis of Osteological Traits and a Molecular Phylogeny of the Accipitridae   

With Richard Holdaway, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

           Use 120 osteological characters in comparison with 3,000 bases of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA to provide insight into the evolutionary history of Accipitrid taxa

           My contribution is to create a data matrix osteological characters collected previously by Holdaway and analyze that morphological character set in conjunction with molecular data gathered for my dissertation research

Phylogeography of European Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos)

                        With Brian Bourke and Michelle Clarke, University of Nottignham, England, and David Mindell, UM

           Use microsatellite frequency and mitochondrial sequence data to evaluate genetic differentiation among and within three populations of European golden eagles

           My contributions included gathering sequence data for the mitochondrial control region and cytochrome b for 74 individuals to compare with the microsatellite data gathered by Bourke and using coalescent-based methods (particularly the application IM) to evaluate demographic parameters within and between geographic groups of eagles

Genetic diversity of an invasive bird (Ploceus cucullatus) in its native and introduced populations 

                        With David Lahti, University of Massachusettes, Alec Lindsay, Northern Michigan University, and David Mindell, UM

           Use RAPD banding patterns and mitochondrial and nuclear sequence data to evaluate the hypotheses of a founder effect or selection on egg color in an introduced island population as compared to its mainland counterpart

           My contributions included gathering sequence data for the mitochondrial nd2 gene and nuclear introns for 40 individuals to compare with the RAPD data gathered by Lahti and analysis of the sequence data using phylogenetic and coalescent-based methods


Scholarships, Research Grants and Awards

4/95-99           Wisconsin State Scholar (Academic Scholarship for 4 years partial college tuition)

5/98                Student Leader Fellowship (summer Internship funding); Bryn Mawr College

5/99                Environmental Research Grant; Pew Charitable Trust, administered by Bryn Mawr College

5/02                Block Grant/Endowed Fellowship Competition 2002; Dept of EEB, UM

4/03                Predissertation Research Award; International Institute, UM

4/03                Student Research Fellowship; Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program, UM

4/03                Rackham Spring/Summer Research Assistant Grant; Rackham Graduate School, UM

4/03                NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Honorable Mention

5/03                Block Grant/Endowed Fellowship Competition 2003; Dept of EEB, UM

5/03                Rackham Discretionary Funds 2003; Rackham Graduate School, UM    

5/03                Dean Amadon Grant; Raptor Research Foundation

4/03--8/04       Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award;   National Institute of Health Genome Science Training Grant; UM

3/04               International Osprey Foundation 2004 Endowment Grant; Int. Osprey Foundation

4/04               Museum of Zoology Hinsdale Scholarship Award; UM Museum of Zoology

5/04               Helen Brower Olsen Endowment Scholarship; Dept of EEB, UM

8/04--8/05      Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award; National Institute of Health Genome Science Training Grant; UM

1/04               Sokol International Summer Research Fellowship in the Sciences

1/05-12/07      American Ornithologistsí Union Outstanding Student Scholar Membership

3/05               Museum of Zoology Hinsdale Scholarship Award; UM Museum of Zoology

4/05               Peter Okkelberg Award; Dept of EEB, UM

5/05               Block Grant/Endowed Fellowship Competition 2005; Dept of EEB, UM

8/05--8/06      Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award; National Institute of Health Genome Science Training Grant; UM

1/06               Rackham Discretionary Funds 2006; Rackham Graduate School, UM

10/06             Rackham One-Term Dissertation Fellowship; Rackham Graduate School, UM

2/07               University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Bird Division Research Assistant; UMMZ



Lerner, H.R.L., Lerner, H R; Lindsay, A R; Johnson, J A; Kiff, L; Mindell, D P (2006) Is the Harpy Eagle at risk?  Population genetics of a long-lived top-predator based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA.  October 4-7, Veracruz, Mexico (Oral Presentation)

Lerner, H.R.L., Klaver, M.C. and Mindell, D.P. (2005) Polyphyly of a genus of Neotropical forest hawks (Accipitridae: Leucopternis) based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA.  Society for the Study of Evolution.  June 10-15, Anchorage, AK. (Oral Presentation)

Lerner, H.R.L. and Mindell, D. P. (2004) Molecular Systematics and Evolution in the Avian family Accipitridae. Society for the Study of Evolution. June 26-30, Forth Collins, CO.  (Oral Presentation).

Lerner, H.R.L., Rest, J and Mindell, D.P. (2002) Preliminary phylogenetic analyses for Accipitridae based on mitochondrial DNA. Neotropical Raptor Conference.  October 24027, Panama City, Panama. (Poster Presentation)



Johnson JA, Lerner HRL, Rasmussen PC, Mindell DP (2006) Systematics within Gyps vultures: a clade at risk. BMC Evolutionary Biology 6:65

Lerner, H.R.L. and Mindell, D. P. (2005) Phylogeny of eagles, Old World vultures and other Accipitridae based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37 (2):  327-346

Bunce, M., Szulkin, M., Lerner, H.R.L., Barnes, I., Shapir, B., Cooper, A.and Holdaway, R.N. (2005) The evolutionary history of New Zealand's extinct giant eagle revealed by ancient DNA.  PLoS Biol 3(1):e9


Manuscripts in Review and Preparation (for 2007, nearest completion listed first)

Lerner, H.R.L., Klaver, M. and Mindell, D. (in review) Molecular phylogenetics of the buteonine birds of prey (Aves: Accipitridae).

Lerner, H.R.L., Lindsay, A. and Mindell, D. (in prep) Panmixia in the Neotropical harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) with mitochondrial and nuclear loci.

Lahti, D., Lerner, H.R.L., Lindsay, A., and Mindell, D. (in prep) Genetic diversity of an invasive bird (Ploceus cucullatus) in its native and introduced populations.

Bourke, B. Lerner, H.R.L., Mindell, D. and Clarke, M. (in prep) Phylogeography of European Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos).


Teaching Experience at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

8/01-4/03          Graduate Student Instructor (BIO 390):  Dept of EEB, UM, Ann Arbor

   Prepared and taught lectures and discussion activations for Evolution discussion sections

   Evaluated student performance via quizzes, weekly written assignments and term papers

                        Graduate Student Instructor (BIO 162):  Dept of EEB, UM, Ann Arbor

   Prepared and taught lectures for Intro. to Biology laboratory and discussion activities

   Evaluated student performance through preparation and administration of quizzes,  grading of standardized exams and monthly lab reports

8/03-3/06          Science Laboratory Mentor for Undergraduate Students:  Dept of EEB, UM, Ann Arbor

  Supervised six undergraduate students in the laboratory (three female and three male) for a period of one to seven terms each (average three semesters per student)

  Taught hands-on implementation of the scientific method (specifically hypothesis development and testing), laboratory techniques for DNA extraction, pcr amplification and sequencing, sequence data analysis

  Advised honors students regarding thesis design and preparation

7/03                  Guest Lecture on Population and Conservation Genetics: Environmental Science class, Universidad de Guayaquil, Guayaquil, Ecuador

  Described the utility of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences and microsatellites in evaluating population genetic diversity

  Used examples of native birds (harpy eagles and white hawks) to illustrate the benefits of genetic analysis for captive-breeding and release programs


Community and Departmental Service

12/03-5/04         Exhibit Museum Public Display Contributor, Exhibit Museum of Natural History, UM, Ann Arbor

     Designed an exhibit about my research on genetic variation in the harpy eagle which makes scientific research in the field of evolution accessible to a broad audience and explains how evolutionary research can be used to inform conservation efforts.  Display is currently on display in the museumís rotunda.

      Wrote one-page synopses of organismal groups (e.g. Flatworms, Angiosperms, Cnidarians, Amphibians) for an interactive exhibit exploring the extent of global biodiversity and the relatedness among diverse organisms.  The exhibit is currently on display in the museum rotunda.

     Brief synopses of these exhibits can be found at http://www.exhibits.lsa.umich.edu/exhibitmuseum/exhibits/temporary_exhibits/

1/06-4/06          Evolution and the Nature of Science Workshop Assistant, Dept. of EEB, UM, Ann Arbor

                        These workshops for undergraduate science and non-science majors explore the nature of science to distinguish scientific questions and inquiry from non-science and present current evolutionary research through an interactive display.  See http://www.lsa.umich.edu/lsatheme/exploreevolution/curriculum/workshops.htm

     Assisted in the development of course activities including preparation of worksheets on a leaf-cutter ant mutualism

     Lead group discussions (12-25 students) about evolutionary research focusing on the presentation of evolutionary topics to both public and scientific audiences.

8/04-8/06          Diversity Community Member, Dept. of EEB, UM, Ann Arbor

     Developed written components of an NSF Advance Departmental Transformation Grant funded for $25,000 in 2006

     Developed and implemented a survey about the climate in EEB for graduate students which achieved a 75% response rate and identified particular areas of concern for future diversity committee initiatives


Professional Memberships

            American Ornithologistsí Union

            Society for Systematic Biologists



            Spanish oral and written fluency

French oral and written competence