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.
Adaptation in Complex Mating Systems – Malcolm Augat (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biology, University of Virginia). Augat's research focuses on the process of the evolution of sexual differentiation in species with complex mating systems. The sexes of a species often experience very different natural selection, which should cause them to diverge phenotypically. However, it should be difficult for any sex to respond to selection because any changes wrought by selection will be counteracted by the mixing of alleles among the sexes during mating. Augat's work examines these dynamics in the weedy plant Silene vulgaris, which has hermaphrodite and female individuals. Possible REU projects include using pollinator observations to determine the cause of selection, surveying the distribution of floral phenotypes in wild populations, or quantifying how the strength of selection varies depending on the sex ratio of surrounding plants.
Predator-Prey Interactions – Butch Brodie (B.F.D. Runk Professor, Department of Biology, Director, Mountain Lake Biological Station, University of Virginia). Brodie's research includes investigations of the evolution of antipredator mechanisms and predator-prey coevolution in a variety of insect, reptile, and amphibian systems. A core project is a long-term mark-recapture effort examining the foraging ecology of garter snakes, especially as they interface with local amphibian communities. REU projects might include investigations of color pattern variation, crypsis, or defensive behavior in garter snakes or salamanders, or social and group defenses of various insect species.
Social Selection in the Forked Fungus Beetle – Vince Formica (Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Swarthmore College). Formica’s research focuses on a relatively new concept in the field of evolution called “social selection”. Social selection is the idea that the phenotypes of members of your own species can have important effects on the evolution of behaviors and other phenotypes. Building on previous ecological research at MLBS, Formica is exploring social selection in the forked fungus beetle (Bolitotherus cornutus). REU projects could investigate the evolutionary effects of a whole host of beetle behaviors including male-male combat, courtship, mating, and egg laying. An REU student could also examine how the social networks of this species affect the selective processes at work in this species.
Levels of Selection and the Evolution of the Sexes – Brian Sanderson (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biology, University of Virginia). My dissertation research concerns the evolution of sexual phenotypes in natural populations of a species of flowering plants called Silene vulgaris. This species maintains a sexual polymorphism between hermaphroditic individuals that possess both male and female reproductive structures, and so-called "male-steriles" that possess only functional female reproductive structures. This process involves genetic conflict between loci in the mitochondria and the nucleus. I propose to investigate how selection acts on these phenotypes on multiple levels: within an individual through cyto-nuclear conflict, among individuals within a population through sex allocation, and among populations through group-level selective processes. This project offers opportunities for undergraduate researchers involving field-based descriptive and manipulative experiments, molecular ecological genetics, and bioinformatics.
Forest Ecology – Becky Wilbur (Ph.D., Mountain Lake Biological Station, University of Virginia) and Henry Wilbur (Professor Emeritus, Department of Biology and Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia). Henry and Becky Wilbur have been studying the dynamics of a second-growth mixed deciduous stand at Mountain Lake Biological Station starting in 1982. We have individually mapped all the woody stems on a hectare and have also tagged and measured, but not mapped, additional trees on several surrounding hectares. Our approach combines tree-ring analysis of growth, changes in size structure, species abundance, and mortality to understand how different species have responded to disturbance events, such as ice storms, fire, and hurricanes. The goal is to provide insight into how this forest may develop on decadal to centennial scales. In 2012 we plan to census all tagged trees to record three-year growth rates and mortality over the mild winter of 2011/2012. We will work with our REU as a team for the fieldwork. The REU will work with us to develop an individual project the uses these data, perhaps with supplemental field measurement, to study a question about forest dynamics on interest to her/him. We will have a list of suggestions to guide, but not dictate, this process.
The Evolutionary Ecology of Combat Traits – Corlett Wood (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biology, University of Virginia). Wood’s dissertation research explores the consequences of environmental heterogeneity for trait evolution in the wild. Because most populations live in environments that vary over space or time, they often experience corresponding variation in the strength of selection. Wood is interested in how this affects the evolution of combat traits. She studies this process in forked fungus beetles (Bolitotherus cornutus), a species in which males have horns that they use in fights over females. REU projects may use a variety of techniques (e.g., mark-recapture, genetic parentage assignment, behavioral observations, or lab-based experiments) to investigate the effect of the environment on the environmental and genetic factors that govern male horn length.