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President's Award to Distinguished Doctoral Students

Laurel Yohe, Ecology & Evolution

Laurel Yohe Dissertation Title: The molecular evolution of bat chemosensory systems reveals sensory loss and innovation

Can you tell us, in general terms, about your research?

My research focuses on how evolution has shaped the sense of smell in bats, particularly focusing on a secondary smell system in the nose called the vomeronasal organ. This "sixth sense" primarily detects chemical cues vital to social behavior, such as identifying individuals by their scent. Most mammals have this sense, but humans and other primates have lost function of it and reasons for this are not well understood. Bats are one of the only other mammal groups that show similar vomeronasal variation as primates, and my work uses DNA to uncover how these patterns of function and loss could have evolved.

What excites you about your work?

It is an amazing privilege to know that my job is to wake up every morning and try to answer a question that I find interesting and important. I love thinking about how other animals perceive the world around them, and learning about how sensory systems change through time. I also love sharing with others why bats are important to our planet, and that studying these mysterious animals will benefit humankind.

How has your time at Stony Brook helped equip your for success?

Stony Brook has instilled in me the confidence and skills I have needed to be successful, and I do not think I would have found some of these opportunities elsewhere. First, the welcoming and communal feeling of my department and the campus community has enabled me to receive mentoring and develop collaborative relationships that make me feel truly connected to the spirit of Stony Brook. Second, there are resources, such as the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which provided priceless training that I will carry with me through my career. I believe I will be an effective mentor, teacher, and communicator because of my Stony Brook education.

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