Richard W. Hill



Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1970

302 Natural Science Building
Office Telephone: 517-353-4603

Environmental Physiology; Marine Sulfur Metabolism

My current research is focused on the metabolites of organisms that represent symbioses between animals and algae, notably reef-building corals and tridacnid (giant) clams. The metabolites of particular interest are the tertiary sulfonium compound dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), its degradation product dimethylsulfide (DMS), and quaternary ammonium compounds such as glycine betaine.

I am interested in identifying and quantifying such compounds, which are generally poorly described and understood in corals and tridacnid clams. I am even more interested in learning about the roles the compounds play in these organisms. For example, DMSP and DMS are known taste and odor factors, and betaines may also be. The betaines are potentially involved in stabilizing the photosynthetic apparatus in the face of multiples stresses, and may play other roles, such as being compatible solutes.

More generally, I have worked on DMSP and DMS from several ecological perspectives, including processing of the compounds by large herbivores in marine ecosystems and release to the water column by algal viruses. Because DMS is an important atmospheric climate gas that originates almost entirely from biosynthesis by marine phytoplankton, a priority exists to understand ecological processes in marine ecosystems that affect how rapidly DMS is produced and emitted from the ocean to the atmosphere.

The fundamental viewpoint I bring to all my research is that of environmental physiology: the study of function in an ecological context. From a lifetime perspective, I brought the same viewpoint to an earlier area of specialization: the study of temperature and energetics in the ontogeny of small mammals and birds. I continue to publish even today on the extreme hypothermia tolerance displayed by the neonates of some species of rodents, such as the peromyscine rodents that are of great importance in many North American ecosystems.

Representative Publications

Hill, R.W., G.A. Wyse, and M. Anderson. 2012. Animal Physiology, 3rd ed. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA. 800 pp.

Hill, R.W., C. Li, A.D. Jones, J.P. Gunn, and P.R. Frade. 2010. Abundant betaines in reef-building corals and ecological indicators of a photoprotective role. Coral Reefs 29: 869-880.

Li, C., Hill, R.W., and A.D. Jones. 2010. Determination of betaine metabolites and dimethylsulfoniopropionate in coral tissues using liquid chromatography-time-of-flight mass spectrometry and stable isotope-labeled internal standards. J. Chromatogr. B 878: 1809-1816.

Hill, R.W., and J.W.H. Dacey. 2006. Metabolism of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP)  by juvenile Atlantic menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus. Mar. Ecol.Progr.

Hill, R.W., B.A. White, M.T. Cottrell, and J.W.H. Dacey. 1998. Virus-mediated total release of dimethylsulfoniopropionate from marine phytoplankton: a potential climate process. Aquat. Microb. Ecol., 14: 1-6.