Faculty Spotlight: Rebecca Tonietto of UM-Flint Biology

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD, joined the UM-Flint College of Arts and Sciences in Fall 2017 as an assistant professor in the Biology Department.

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD, of UM-Flint Biology

Rebecca Tonietto, PhD, of UM-Flint Biology

Read below to learn more about Dr. Tonietto and her field of biology or join her in one of her upcoming classes:

  • BIO 111: Organismal Biology
  • BIO 327: Ecology

Admitted students can register at sis.umflint.edu or find more information about upcoming semesters at umflint.edu/register.

In which area of biology are you particularly interested?
I study native bee communities – how their diversity and structure are related to plant communities, surrounding land-use, and management – for pollinator conservation. With those interests, I am at the intersections of a few different fields, but consider myself a community ecologist interested in conservation and restoration biology.

Why are you passionate about your field?
I love bees! They are so incredibly diverse and beautiful. Did you know we have around 400 species of bees native to Michigan? The honeybee is not one of those, we don’t have a native honeybee in North America. Some of our native bees are metallic green, metallic blue, and range from big and fuzzy to tiny and shiny. They provide an important ecosystem service by pollinating many of our crops and wildflowers, though also deserve conservation attention in their own right. I love talking to people about bees, and investigating how we can best support them. In general, providing habitat for native bees really means making places more beautiful – with more flowers and more species of flowering plants.

How did you fall in love with your discipline?
I loved my entomology and ecology classes as an undergrad at Kalamazoo College, and my senior project there involved aquatic insects. I kept working with insects in any capacity I could afterward, but after my first research assistantship observing bees I never looked back!

What are your favorite courses/subjects to teach? 
My favorite courses to teach are the ones closest to what I do, ecology and my currently-being-developed upper-level biology course will probably be my favorites here at UM-Flint. These courses tend to get students outside in nature, making observations and trying to figure out how to explain or investigate patterns.

What is your latest or favorite research project? 
My latest project was an investigation into the value of urban agriculture for pollinator conservation support in three shrinking cities across the Midwest: Detroit, Chicago and St Louis. We found urban agricultural sites (community gardens and urban farms) supported greater bee species abundance and diversity than open lots. The urban gardens and farms were amazing and inspiring places to work, and I met some wonderful people doing incredibly cool things.

What do you hope for your time at UM-Flint?
I hope to be an effective and inspirational teacher, I hope to do research meaningful to the community and pollinator conservation, and I look forward to getting to know the students.

Why were you excited to join UM-Flint and the Flint community?
I’m a fourth generation Michigander who was thrilled to move back home after over a decade away for research assistantships and graduate school. It means the world to me to be doing meaningful research that would benefit local conservation and the local urban agriculture movement in the region I have, and will always, consider home.

What do you hope for students in your field?
I hope that students remain optimistic and creative, and embrace their inner tenacity and grit, as all are assets in finding out-of-the-box solutions to conservation challenges.

What are three things you think people should know about you? 

  • Though I have studied bees for over 10 years, I have only been stung 2 or 3 times.
  • I love knitting, though lately I design more than actually knit patterns.
  • I come from a family of engineers – my mom, dad, sister and many other relatives are engineers, too!