Mentors and Research Programs Accepting REU Students - Summer 2020

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 Diversification of Codistributed Leaf-litter Dwelling Animals and Eco-evolutionary Mechanisms of Community Structure - David Beamer (Lead Researcher, Nash Community College). Beamer's research uses DNA sequence data and geometric morphometric datasets to address speciation hypotheses in co-distributed cryptic lineages of salamanders, snails, millipedes and trapdoor spiders. The evolutionary lineages uncovered by this work have revealed a number of candidate species. REU projects will explore species hypotheses through incompatibility trials, strength of competitive interactions and mechanisms of community assembly. REUs could also employ geometric morphometrics to examine changes associated with introduced populations of salamanders and with morphological change associated with habitat shifts related to the presence of congeners.

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.

Evolution of Social Networks Phoebe Cook (Ph.D. Student, University of Virginia). Position within a social network is known to be under selection in many species, but the mechanisms and consequences of this selection are unknown. Cook studies social networks and their evolution in forked fungus beetles, using multiple generations of experimental populations. Research this summer will center on describing the social networks of the second generation. Possible REU projects could include asking whether individuals occupy the same social network position across years, investigating the mechanisms linking social network position to fitness, or more computational work on how different network creation methods impact results. 

Ecological Genetics and Speciation in American Bellflower - Laura Galloway (Commonwealth Professor of Biology, University of Virginia).  Galloway’s research addresses the interaction between mating system evolution and range expansion, the dynamics between effective pollinators and pollen thieves, fitness consequences of variation in polyploidy, and incipient speciation. Her lab’s longterm research program on Campanula americana uses manipulative field projects and evaluation of genetics in the lab. Possible REU projects include evaluation of morphological and developmental sources of autogamy, assessment of phenotypic selection on floral traits by different pollinator taxa, and estimation of mechanisms of prezygotic isolation

Evolution and Ecology of Host-Parasite Interactions - Amanda Gibson (Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Virginia). Gibson's research focuses on coevolution, host range evolution, and disease ecology in plant-parasitic nematodes (Meloidogyne) and their bacterial hyperparasites (Pasteuria). Her work aims to understand the evolution of the immense host ranges of Meloidogyne plant parasites (over 100 families) by studying the distribution and host range of nematodes from diverse plant communities. In addition, she is interested in the potential for virulent bacterial parasites of Meloidogyne to drive divergence between nematode populations and limit their population growth. REU projects can use field and greenhouse experiments to test ecological and evolutionary hypotheses in this tritrophic interaction.

Parasite Co-infection Dynamics in Peromyscus Mice - Andrea Graham (Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University). Graham’s research focuses on understanding how interactions among co-infecting parasites within host communities influence infection patterns and host fitness in a wild mouse (Peromyscus)-parasite system tracked at MLBS for more than 15 years. Using a community ecology approach, her research aims to test whether trade-offs are present within the host immune response to parasite co-infection and how co-infections at the level of the individual affect population and transmission dynamics. REU students are involved in projects using immune measures to understand co-infection patterns and host responses to exploitation by parasites. Students may also utilize social networks to study disease transmission dynamics in the wild.

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.

Adaptive Plasticity, Timing, Population Divergence, and the Role of Hormones in Adaptation and Constraint in Darkeyed Juncos - Ellen Ketterson (Distinguished Professor of Biology, Indiana University). Continuing 30 years of work at MLBS, Ketterson and her collaborators study seasonality, physiology, gene expression, and mating preferences in conspecific populations that differ in whether or not they migrate. Possible REU projects include investigating whether day length or plumage is more important in determining mating preferences, whether climate warming affects first egg dates, and whether early exposure to long or short days play a role in determining a birds’ photoperiodic threshold.

Mosquito Thermal Biology and Interactions with Plants and Herpetofauna - Chloé Lahondère (Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, Virginia Tech). The Lahondère lab studies the thermal biology, ecophysiology and neuro-ethology of disease vector insects and ticks. She uses a collaborative, multidisciplinary and integrative approach, combining field work, behavioral analyses, molecular biology, chemical ecology and electrophysiology. REU students will explore the thermal biology of an invasive mosquito species, investigate the interactions between mosquitoes and frogs, snakes, and salamanders, and determine what plants mosquitoes use as a source of nectar. The results from this research will provide a better understanding of disease vector biology and will lay the groundwork for the development of new tools to control mosquito populations that threaten human health.

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.

Behavioral Ecology - Lisa Mitchem (Ph.D. Student, University of Virginia). Mitchem studies the evolution of behaviors using forked fungus beetles as a system. Her research asks questions about plasticity of behaviors across social contexts. She uses laboratory experiments and field observations on forked fungus beetles to quantify the relationships between behaviors and fitness. Possible REU projects include: measuring the effects of social context on expression of behavior, testing for winner-loser effects, and testing how sensory cues guide mate choice decisions.

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.

Evolutionary Ecology of Plant-Microbe Interactions - Corlett Wood (Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh). Wood studies the tradeoffs between forming mutualism and repelling parasites, and how these tradeoffs affect the evolution of species interactions. Her work involves the root microbiome of the legume burclover (genus Medicago). Past undergraduate projects have explored the ecological factors that affect the colonization success of mutualistic and parasitic microbes, how herbivores influence belowground plant-microbe interactions, and whether intact soil microbiomes protect plants from parasite infection. Future REU projects will pair surveys of wild plant and microbe populations in and around MLBS with manipulative experiments.