Interactions between hosts and their parasite or mutualist partners depend on the environment. By altering the dynamics of symbiotic interactions, rapid global climate change impacts the health of ecosystems and human societies.

As an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Lasky and dePamphilis labs at Penn State, I am studying genomics of local adaptation in Striga hermonthica, a parasitic weed that devastes yields of cereal crops including maize, sorghum, millet, and rice. Infestations are particularly severe in dry conditions and nutrient-poor soils. We are using ancient DNA from herbarium specimens to identify regions of the genome that exhibit statistical associations with environment and changes in host crop production over time. We are integrating these genomic studies with experimental work to identify mechanisms of host resistance most sensitive to differences in abiotic environment. More information about this project here.

Previously I studied evolution of transposable elements and their host genomes across latitudes as a Postdoctoral Research Associate with Sarah Schaack at Reed College. My dissertation research with Dee Denver at Oregon State University focused on evolution of symbiosis specificity in Aiptasia sea anemones, a laboratory model system for understanding interactions between reef-building corals and the microalgae upon which they depend.



2018-Present Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Penn State University, State College, PA
2017-2018       Postdoctoral Research Associate, Reed College, Portland, OR
2011-2017       Ph.D. in Integrative Biology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
2006-2010       B.S. in Biochemistry/Genetics, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX


E.S. Bellis, R.B. Edlund, H.K. Berrios, H.A. Lessios, and D.R. Denver (accepted). Molecular signatures of host specificity linked to habitat specialization in Exaiptasia sea anemones. Ecology and Evolution

E.S. Bellis and D.R. Denver (2017). Natural variation in responses to acute heat and cold stress in a sea anemone model system for coral bleaching. The Biological Bulletin 23: 000-000. data/code

E.S. Bellis, D.K. Howe, and D.R. Denver (2016). Genome-wide polymorphism and signatures of selection in the symbiotic sea anemone Aiptasia. BMC Genomics 17: 160. doi: 10.1186/s12864-016-2488-6 data

W.S. Philips, A.L Coleman-Hulbert, E.S. Weiss, D.K. Howe, S. Ping, R.I. Wernick, S. Estes, and D.R. Denver (2015). Selfish mitochondrial DNA proliferates in small, but not large, populations of Caenorhabditis briggsae. Genome Biology and Evolution 7: 2023-2037. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evv116

A. Emblem, S. Okkenhaug, E.S. Weiss, D.R. Denver, B.O. Karlsen, T. Moum, S.D. Johansen (2014). Sea anemones possess dynamic mitogenome structures. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 75: 184-193. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2014.02.016


2017 NSF NPGI Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology; $216,000.
2017 OSU Dept. of Integrative Biology Paul and Mary Roberts Fellowship; $2,500.
2016 Coral Reef Alliance Coral Adaptation Challenge Grant; $18,000.
2015 Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Short-Term Fellowship; $3,000.
2013 Oregon State University Graduate Internationalization Grant; $1,200.
2013 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Libbie Hyman Memorial Scholarship; $1,500 (declined).
2011 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship; $121,500.
2011 Oregon State University Provost’s Distinguished Fellowship; $30,000.
2006 Texas A&M President’s Endowed Scholarship, National Merit Recognition Award, and Director’s Excellence Award; $42,000.
2006 National Merit Scholarship; $1,000


2017 (Invited) Genomic evidence for a tropical hotspot of coevolution in a symbiotic marine invertebrate. Reed College Biology Department Seminar, Portland, OR, Oct. 27
2017 Population genomics of cryptic species in Caribbean Panama supports habitat specialization by symbiotic sea anemones. Evolution, Portland, OR, June 23-27
2016 Evolutionary dynamics of Aiptasia-Symbiodinium symbioses in Caribbean Panama. Yosemite Symbiosis Workshop, Yosemite National Park, CA, May 6-8
2016 My own worst anemone: Natural variation in symbiosis breakdown under two thermal stress regimes. ASN Stand-Alone Meeting, Asilomar, CA, Jan. 10-14
2015 Genome evolution in Aiptasia: High heterozygosity and scans for selection in a symbiotic sea anemone. Evolution, Guaruja, Brazil, June 26-30
2015 (Invited) From Primordial Soup to the Earth du Jour: Best Recipes for the Beginning of Life. Academy for Lifelong Learning, Corvallis, OR, Jan. 15


Throughout my training I have had excellent opportunities to engage with students in formal and informal learning environments. During my graduate studies at Oregon State University, I taught recitations for Genetics (BI311) and labs for Principles of Biology (BI211 and BI212). I contributed to curriculum development for the lecture portion of Principles of Biology (BI213), for which I designed active learning activities focused on improving quantitative reasoning skills using problems from genetics and evolution. I was a Lead Instructor for Invertebrate Zoology Lab (Z362 students in the intertidal above!), and for MCB525, an intensive two-week graduate course providing an introduction to molecular biology techniques. Course materials I developed for the wet-lab and bioinformatic analyis portions of MCB525 are available here.

As a graduate student and postdoc, I have particularly enjoyed one-on-one mentoring of five undergraduate students and one postbaccalaureate. Students have explored the dynamics of selfish elements in the mitochondria of anemones from the Oregon coast, developed a PCR-based assay for quickly genotyping anemone symbionts, mined genomic data to assemble symbiont organelle genomes, and assisted with fieldwork in Bocas del Toro, Panama. They have successfully sought funding for projects, presented posters over their findings, and co-authored manuscripts.

I hope to continually improve my ability to teach effectively and have completed 12 graduate-level credit hours related to college and university teaching including Theories of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (GRAD560), Course Design and Methods for College and University Teaching (GRAD561), and Communicating Science (Z599). I am certified by the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) at OSU at the Associate level.