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 InteractionsButch 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.

The Evolvability of Social Networks - Vince Formica (Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Swarthmore College). Social networks are complex, emergent properties of individuals behaving and interacting with each other within a population.  The current goal of Vince's research is to determine if social networks can evolve.  Vince uses the forked fungus beetle (Bolitotherus cornutus) as a model organisms to approach the following questions: Is an individual's position in a network a heritable trait? Do social networks evolve at the individual, social group, or population level?   REU projects could investigate the role of a whole host of beetle behaviors on the structure of beetle social networks.including male-male combat, courtship, mating, and egg laying.

Using Hormones to Study Adaptation and Constraint in Dark-eyed Juncos – Ellen Ketterson (Professor, Department of Biology, Indiana University).  With NSF support Ketterson and collaborators at MLBS explore the hormonal basis of variation in behavior and physiology in a songbird, the dark-eyed junco.  They use both experimental and correlative approaches to relate individual differences in physiology and plasticity to performance and fitness.  The goal is to learn how natural selection operates to produce animals whose parts work well together (phenotypic integration) and also to determine what happens when well adapted animals respond to changing environments.   Possible REU projects include (1) variation and fitness effects of phenotypic plasticity (2) disease transmission and the manipulation of host physiology by parasites (3) the role of sexual selection in speciation of the junco. 

Plant-pollinator interactionsJessamyn Manson (Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, University of Alberta). The Manson lab is interested in the evolutionary ecology of plant-pollinator interactions, particularly how herbivory affects pollination, plant reproduction and the evolution of floral traits.  Our current research focuses on milkweeds (Asclepias), which are pollinated by bumble bees, solitary bees and butterflies and consumed by a number of herbivores, including beetles and caterpillars. We examine how variation in floral traits affects pollinator attraction and pollination proficiency and the strategies that plants use to attract pollinators while concurrently defending themselves from herbivores.  REU projects could address questions about pollinator behavior, herbivore performance, tradeoffs between attraction and defense, variation in plant reproductive success or other aspects of pollination ecology.

Ecological Mechanisms of Social Selection – Brian Sanderson (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biology, University of Virginia).  Sanderson's research explores whether and how selection arising from the traits of social partners drives the evolution of primary sexual traits in the gynodioecious plant Silene vulgaris. Social and sexual interactions are ubiquitous in nature. The evolution of these phenotypes involves both direct selection on the trait of the individual, as well as indirect selection arising from the traits of social partners. Selection on these traits can be measured in natural populations, but the social and ecological interactions that give rise to this selection are often complex and poorly understood. Past projects with REU students have investigated these patterns of selection among wild populations around the station, as well as selection in experimental gardens on the station. Future REU projects may involve a combination of pollinator behavioral observations, experimental field studies, and lab-based molecular genetics, to investigate the ecological mechanisms that drive these patterns of selection.

Flora of Mountain Lake Biological Station – Becky Wilbur (Ph.D., Mountain Lake Biological StationUniversity of Virginia) and Henry Wilbur (Professor Emeritus, Department of Biology and Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia).  We seek a student who has training in plant identification and a desire to spend most days in the forest working with us on a multi-year project to construct a spatially explicit flora of the station. This is an opportunity to improve your skills in plant identification using taxonomic keys and associating juvenile plants with flowering individuals. You will also become proficient in locating plots with GPS units, setting up and sampling plots, coring trees and measuring annual growth rings, inferring land use history, and using ordination methods for representing complex associations of species. Your individual project will employ these data to address a question you develop in consultation with us.

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.