John Huntley Wins Award for Research

Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences John Huntley
Alan Whittington
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science
Geological Sciences

Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences John Huntley has been named as one of two recipients of the 2018 Provost’s Outstanding Junior Faculty Research and Creative Activity Award.

“I am honored and grateful to receive this award from the provost,” Huntley says. “In reality, this award reflects the support and hard work of many people and organizations. The Department of Geological Sciences and the College of Arts and Science have provided vital support during my first years at Mizzou that enabled new research projects and successful grant proposals. My former and current department chairs, Kevin Shelton and Alan Whittington, have provided valuable and timely mentoring during my time as a junior faculty member. Department colleague Jim Schiffbauer and the rest of the faculty, postdocs, and students of the Mizzou Paleobiology Group have provided an intellectually engaging and truly enjoyable environment in which to explore the history of life. Science is a collaborative process, and I have certainly benefitted from numerous, generous collaborators, including Daniele Scarponi at the University of Bologna. The unwavering love and support I have received from my spouse, Laura, and daughter, Lydia, through the stressful and initially nomadic lifestyle of an early career academic makes this award all the sweeter.”

Huntley received his bachelor’s degree in geology from Appalachian State University (2000), a master’s in geology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (2003), and a doctorate in geosciences from Virginia Tech (2007). Following postdoctoral teaching and research positions at Virginia Tech, the University of Kentucky, and St. Lawrence University, and a Humboldt Research Fellowship at Friedrich-Alexander Universität in Erlangen, Germany, Huntley joined the MU Department of Geological Sciences in 2013. In 2017, he received a five-year CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.

Huntley is a paleobiologist whose work lies at the intersection of geology, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Specifically, he is interested in the evolution of parasite–host and predator–prey interactions through the 550 million years of animal life on Earth and how these interactions influenced the course of evolution. Huntley’s primary projects investigate the fossil record of parasitic flatworms in marine, estuarine, and freshwater environments. Such parasites do not have a direct fossil record as they are quite small and do not produce mineralized skeletons. However, these trematodes induce the growth of characteristic malformations in their bivalve mollusk hosts that are readily fossilized.

Huntley is leading an international group of collaborators from Italy, Germany, and China and has revitalized this avenue of inquiry in paleoparasitology. Perhaps their most striking discovery is the consistent relationship between sea level rise and increasing parasite prevalence noted across depositional environments, multiple continents, and time. His work indicates that ongoing global warming and sea level rise could lead to significant intensification of trematode parasitism, suppressed reproduction of common seafloor creatures, and negative impacts on marine ecosystems, ecosystem services, and, eventually, to human well-being.

Professor Alan Whittington, chair of the Department of Geological Sciences and a volcanologist, notes that Huntley’s expertise in statistics was also useful in helping to interpret experimental data on the properties of lava. "This is just one example of John’s wide-ranging intellectual curiosity and collegial nature," says Whittington. "John is one of the driving forces behind our highly successful paleobiology research group. He's not just an outstanding researcher but is also a great teacher, adviser, and colleague.”

Previous department winners of the award include Professors Jim Schiffbauer and Eric Sandvol, and Professor Emeritus Mike Underwood. Huntley will receive the award at a ceremony in fall 2018.

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