Mentors and Research Programs Accepting REU Students

Mentors are recruited throughout the winter and spring. Check back for updates. Please feel free to request a mentor or project in your application. Following acceptance, mentor assignment is based on student requests, mentor requests, and what we feel will be good matches.

Evolutionary Ecology of Predator-Prey Interactions and the Evolution of Behavior in Social Interactions - Edmund Brodie III (B.F.D. Runk Professor of Biology and Director of MLBS, University of Virginia). Brodie operates two major research programs at MLBS. Studies of coevolutionary arms races involve interactions between garter snakes and toxic newts, and incorporate a variety of approaches from molecular genetic studies of the basis of tetrodotoxin resistance in garter snakes to long-term ecological surveys of diet and habitat use. REUs participate in ongoing mark-recapture efforts with snakes, prey preference tests and dietary niche studies. The Brodie lab also investigates the role of spatial subdivision and intraspecific interactions in driving social selection and the evolution of behavioral traits. Direct observation of marked populations of forked fungus beetles are the backbone of this effort, which also includes experimental manipulations of social and spatial context. Recent REUs have explored the importance of social network structure on parasite load and fitness, the impact of social neighborhoods on courtship behavior, and the differences between male and female social networks in the same spatial environment.

Co-infection and Disease ToleranceSarah Budischak (Postdoctoral Researcher, Princeton University). Organisms are hosts to multiple parasites which can interact via the host’s immune system or via competition for resources (e.g. red blood cells, space). Importantly, the outcomes of these interactions will affect host and parasite fitness. By experimentally removing one parasite type (gastrointestinal nematodes), we can assess how these parasites interact via host immunity and condition, as well as the fitness costs of single and co-infections. REUs will participate in a long-term mark recapture study of wild mice (Peromyscus leucopus and P. maniculatus) and their parasites. Past REUs have studied treatment effects on target and non-target infections, infections in other small mammal species, and variation in food resource availability. REU’s will utilize this field perturbation experiment and laboratory techniques to develop their own projects. Projects can potentially investigate parasite-parasite interactions, heterogeneity in infection, sublethal costs of infection, or nutrition-infection interactions.

Sexual selection in fluctuating social environments.  Robin Costello (Ph.D. Candidate, University of Virginia). Costello is interested in understanding how the social environment shapes selection in females and how spatiotemporal fluctuations in population dynamics influence the evolution of sexually dimorphic traits. To address these questions, Costello employs experimental manipulations and behavioral observations on forked fungus beetles. Possible REU projects may explore female Bateman gradients in different social environments, the effect of density on female oviposition choice, and how ecological context changes with the spatial level of analysis, among other topics driven by REU interest.

Plant Ecological Genetics: Maternal Effects in American Bellflower - Laura Galloway (Commonwealth Professor of Biology, University of Virginia).   Galloway’s NSF-funded research addresses the contribution of maternal effects to life history variation of Campanulastrum americanum, a woodland herb with both annual and biennial life histories. She also has a long-standing interest in plant reproduction and pollination biology.  Examples of past REU projects on Campanulastrum include: examination of selfing patterns, pollinator response to a pollen color and display size, floral longevity, patterns of seed germination and dispersal, and levels of deer herbivory. Possible projects for the future include: evaluation of morphological and developmental sources of autogamy, measuring maternal effects and fitness consequences of artificial selection on phenology, manipulative experiments to determine source of deer preference for plants from different local environments, and modeling studies to understand life history variation along a latitudinal gradient.

Disturbance EcologyAdriana Herrera-Montes (Associated Researcher, University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras). In a broad sense, I am interested in understanding the mechanisms that contribute to maintaining the biodiversity in anthropogenic systems. I use amphibians and reptiles as my model system based on their high sensitivity to habitat and environmental changes. My research addresses questions to better understand the role of  human disturbed areas in the biological conservation and provisioning of ecosystem services. My aim is to develop more integrated research by including the human component as a fundamental driver to better understand novel ecosystems and their dynamics from a multidisciplinary and social-ecological perspective. Possible REU projects include: habitat selection study, influence of disturbances in the expression of the species traits, structure of biological assemblages in land cover/land use gradients, functional diversity and ecosystem services provided by woody vegetation and herpetofauna.

Chemical and Microbial Components of Ant Seed Dispersal (Myrmecochory) - Chloe Lash (Ph.D. Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, University of Tennessee). Lash is interested in plant-animal interactions, mutualisms and chemical ecology. Specifically, Lash’s research focuses on understanding the chemical and microbial components of ant mediated seed dispersal (myrmecochory) by combining laboratory and field work. Antimicrobial chemicals associated with ants and certain plants might provide additional benefits in the myrmecochory mutualism. Research this summer will focus on the identification of fungal communities on seed coats and in ant nests and on ant gland chemistry. However, possible REU projects (field and/or lab studies) could also include: studies of ant seed treatments and their consequences, identification of ant chemicals and their antimicrobial properties, or other projects that deal in some capacity with animal mediated seed dispersal. 

Biodiversity and Systematics of the Mountain Lake FaunaDavid S. McLeod (Assistant Professor, Biology Department, James Madison University).  Natural history collections are the cornerstone of studies of biodiversity, phylogenetic systematics, taxonomy, ecology, and conservation.  Collections of preserved specimens offer us a chance to explore patterns of evolution, understand biodiversity, and investigate questions related to morphology, taxonomy, and natural history.  MLBS has a rich historical collection of plants, mammals, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and fish.  This REU provides an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of natural history collections management and pursue an independent specimen-based research project.

Cooperation and Conflict in Social AmoebaeElizabeth Ostrowski and Michael Miller (Assistant Professor and Ph.D. Student respectively, University of Houston and Massey University, New Zealand). Cellular slime molds (a.k.a. social amoebae) have a unique form of multicellularity that requires cooperation among the cells, but also creates opportunities for them to behave selfishly, doing what is best for themselves at the expense of others in the group. Members of the Ostrowski lab are exploring these conflicts through a combination of laboratory experimental evolution (of cheating and resistance behaviors) and population-based studies of their behavior and genetics. REUs will participate in an ongoing census involving collection at approximately 100 sites in the vicinity of MLBS and other sites further afield. REU projects might explore the spatial scale of gene flow and how it influences levels of cooperation or conflict, natural variation in resistance to cheating behaviors, or the ecology and evolution of kin recognition.