Fishing for answers
Dr. Nancy Holcroft, associate professor, science, has quite a fish story.
"There are almost as many species of fishes as there are species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals combined," said the ichthyologist specializing in understanding the evolutionary patterns among spiny-ray-finned fishes.
Holcroft earned her bachelor's degree in biology with a minor in mathematics from Iowa State University and a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Kansas. She is currently a co-principal investigator, along with a scientist from the Smithsonian Institution and one from KU, for a five-year National Science Foundation grant, "Collaborative Research: Assembling the Euteleost Tree of Life - Addressing the Major Unresolved Problem in Vertebrate Phylogeny."
As a scientist, Holcroft's goal is to closely examine and compare the anatomy of marine fishes in order to promote understanding of evolutionary relationships among different organisms. According to Holcroft, the bulk of fish diversity, including many of the most economically important species, is concentrated in a group called Euteleostei.
Understanding the relationships among the members of Euteleostei provides information that's important, not only to conservation of species within that group, but also to other fields such as medicine and agriculture.
Holcroft's work dispels myths that scientists are sequestered in labs wearing white coats and safety goggles. Since marine fishes are lacking in Kansas, Holcroft's field research has entailed collecting specimens in Fiji in a wet suit and dive mask. "This isn't your mother's scientific method," Holcroft said.
Holcroft has published eight peer-reviewed scholarly scientific papers on ichthyology and made 12 presentations on her research at scientific conferences, including international ichthyological conferences. She has also published systematic ichthyological work on the Tree of Life and Encyclopedia of Life (collaborative Web pages with input from biologists worldwide). She teaches biology and zoology classes at JCCC and is an adjunct research associate with the KU Biodiversity Institute.