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.
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 (Professor & Chair 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.
Community and Urban Ecology – Adriana Herrera-Montes (Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras). In a broad sense, I am interested in understanding the mechanisms that contribute to maintaining biodiversity in anthropogenic systems. I use the herpetofauna as my model system and I include habitat components to address questions related with the ecology and conservation of amphibians and reptiles in disturbed ecosystems. Possible REU projects include: habitat selection study, influence of disturbance in species traits, assemblage structure in a land cover/use gradient, and functional diversity and ecosystem services of the 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 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 likely focus on the identification of fungal communities. However, possible REU projects (field and/or lab studies) could also include: studies of ant seed treatments and their consequences, investigating the microbial environment in and around ant nests, identification of ant chemicals and their antimicrobial properties, or other projects that deal in some capacity with animal mediated seed dispersal.
Co-infection and Disease Tolerance - Courtney Thomason (Postdoctoral Researcher, Virginia Tech and Princeton University). The relationships between hosts and their parasites represents a long co-evolutionary arms race, where both symbionts have developed unique and often complex mechanisms of living with each other. In reality, most hosts are co-infected with multiple parasites and/or pathogens, and co-infection can alter the fitness of hosts and each parasite. Thomason is interested in understanding how co-infecting parasites and pathogens of wild animals interact to alter the course and outcome of disease. In particular, she is focused on interactions between Sin Nombre virus and nematode worms that results in increased survival and coccidia protozoans and nematode worms that results in decreased survival of Peromyscus leucopus and P. maniculatus mice when treated to remove a target parasite, nematode worms. REUs will participate in a mark-recapture treatment study that is part of the long history of small mammal work at MLBS. Past REU projects have included an analysis of the timeline of treatment effects on target and non-target parasites and an examination of the effects of manipulative treatments on associated physiological responses of mice and gut parasites to co-infection and treatment. REUs will use a combination of field, perturbation experiment, and laboratory techniques to address the ecology and evolutionary fitness consequences of co-infection in a complex wild host-parasite system.