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. 

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 Conflict, Natural and Sexual Selection, Physiological Ecology and Endocrinology of Vertebrates -  Robert Cox (Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Virginia).  A recent hire at University of Virginia, Cox is developing field programs at MLBS and nearby sites that will merge physiology and endocrinology with molecular genetics and behavioral ecology of local amphibians (red-spotted newts) and reptiles (garter snakes and fence lizards). These studies will address the sex-specific basis of fitness variation and its transmission across life stages (newts) and the endocrine basis of sex-specific growth regulation and sex allocation (snakes and lizards). Students could be involved in mark-recapture studies, behavioral observations, captive breeding, and growth studies.

The Evolution of Social Networks - Vince Formica (Assistant Professor of Biology, Swarthmore College). Formica’s research aims to quantify the role of social networks in the evolution of social behavior and morphology. His study organism is the the forked fungus beetle (Bolitotherus cornutus). REU collaborators use a variety of tools including Geographic information System, molecular ecology, remote video sensing, and social network analyses to understand the behavioral mechanisms that lead to the evolution of emergent behavioral phenomena. Recent REU projects have included an analysis of courtship dance components and sexual selection, the use of social network analysis to understand mite transmission and spatial movement dynamics, an experimental manipulation of social environments, and a study of the temporal heterogeneity of social environments in the wild.

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.

Environmental and Physiological Regulation of Individual Variation in Seasonal Timing of Breeding in Dark-eyed Juncos - Jessica Graham (Ph.D. Student, Biological Sciences Department, North Dakota State University). Graham is interested in the costs and benefits associated with individual variation in timing of breeding and the driving forces behind why some individuals breed earlier and some individuals delay breeding until later in the season. Reproductive success tends to be higher for individuals that breed earlier. The REU, in collaboration with Graham and her advisor, Dr. Greives, will work with the population of Dark-eyed Juncos at MLBS to 1) identify potential ecological factors influencing differences in reproductive success in early vs. late breeding individuals and 2) collect data to address the question of whether experience and condition carries over to the subsequent breeding year, thus influence timing of breeding and reproductive success. Possible REU projects could include behavioral observations of early and late breeding females at nests or data collection on changes in nest microbial abundance across the season combined with the effects of experimental reduction of nest microbes on nestling growth and breeding success. 

Ecology and Conservation of Wildlife Species - Marcella Kelly (Associate Professor, Virginia Tech). Kelly’s research combines non-invasive sampling with modeling techniques such as mark-recapture and occupancy analyses to estimate abundance and distribution of wildlife species, such as large carnivores, that are typically difficult to observe. She uses remotely triggered cameras and/or field collected genetic samples to “capture” animals in photographs or to capture their DNA. Recent REU projects have included remote camera trapping for large mammals surrounding MLBS to estimate occupancy through, local extinction, and colonization for 4 target species: black bears, coyotes, bobcats, and white tailed deer.  1 MLBS REU mentored (minority student). 

Adaptive Plasticity, Timing, and Population Divergence and the Role of Hormones in Adaptation and Constraint in Dark-eyed Juncos - Ellen Ketterson (Professor of Biology, Indiana University). Ketterson and her collaborators at MLBS are studying seasonality, physiology, gene expression, and mating preferences in conspecific populations that differ in whether or not they migrate. Possible REU projects include projects such as 1) Is day length or plumage more important in determining mating preferences? 2) Is climate warming affecting first egg dates and how does that relate to fitness? Continuing 30 years of work at MLBS, the Ketterson group also explores the hormonal basis of phenotypic variation and its relation to fitness in a common songbird. Possible REU projects include subjects such as: (1) Are brain and body coordinated in their response to the threat of predation? (2) Do hormones accelerate rates of aging in songbirds? (3) Does testosterone influence the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases?

Wildlife-Plant Interactions and Plant Ecology - Charles Kwit (Assistant Professor of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, University of Tennessee).  Kwit’s research focuses on the important roles animals play in seed dispersal processes in animal-mediated seed dispersal systems. He is also interested in the effects and ramifications of land-use and climate change, management, and disturbance on biodiversity in natural, managed, and agricultural settings. In particular, his research on myrmecochory (seed dispersal by ants) at sites near MLBS and elsewhere is aimed at understanding the true nature of the putative mutualism. Through a combination of field and laboratory techniques REU projects will address unique ways that ants may confer benefits to the seeds they disperse.

Plant-Pollinator Interactions - Jessamyn Manson, (Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta). To reproduce, plants must successfully attract pollinators while simultaneously deterring herbivores. However, plant traits that lure mutualistic flower visitors often function as signals for antagonists; conversely, traits that defend plants from damage may also reduce floral visitation. Floral and foliar traits may therefore represent a tradeoff made by plants to balance selection by both pollinators and herbivores. Manson is examining how variation in attractive traits, such as flower color, flower scent and display size and variation in defensive traits, such as trichome number and chemical defenses, affect pollination success in milkweeds (Asclepias spp.). Student projects at MLBS will involve manipulation of floral and foliar traits, experiments testing the preference and performance of pollinators and herbivores, as well as analyses of the chemical properties of floral rewards in milkweeds and other native plants.

Intraspecific Variation in Salamander Behavior and Performance – Alex Novarro (Ph.D. Student, Department of Biology, University of Maryland). Novarro’s research investigates the effects of climate change on individual performance in the eastern red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus. He is collecting mark-recapture data to determine the optimal body size growth rate and body condition for survivorship across a climatic gradient. This information will allow him to predict the effects of future climate change by modeling the performance of P. cinereus over time, across its geographic range. REU projects may involve field or laboratory experiments to investigate environmental effects on salamander behavior, morphology, and/or performance.

Ecological Mechanisms of Social Selection – Brian Sanderson (Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biology, University of Virginia).  Sanderson's research explores whether and how social interactions drive the evolution of sexual traits in the flowering plant Silene vulgaris. Social and sexual interactions are ubiquitous in nature, and plant-pollinator systems provide exciting opportunities to study the effects of the social environment on an individual's fitness. Past projects with REU students have investigated the fitness effects of social context in wild populations, sex expression in experimentally manipulated soil environments, and the effects of nectar and display traits on pollinator recruitment and behavior. Future REU projects may involve a combination of pollinator behavioral observations, experiments with plant density in social environments, and lab-based molecular genetics, to investigate the ecological mechanisms that drive patterns of social selection.

The Evolutionary Consequences of Deer Herbivory - Janet Steven (Assistant Professor of Organismal and Environmental Biology, Christopher Newport University). Prof. Steven studies deer herbivory and its ability to alter patterns of selection on life history traits in the wildflower Campanulastrum americanum. While the recent increase in, and ecological impacts of, herbivory by deer is extensively documented, less is known about whether plant populations respond to increased herbivory through evolutionary mechanisms. Prof. Steven has been observing fitness and life history traits in C. americanum at a field site adjacent to Mountain Lake. REU students have conducted research on how environmental conditions can affect plant-herbivore dynamics and on plant-pollinator interactions in the population.

Evolution of Self-Incompatibility in a Polyploid ComplexBrittany Sutherland (Ph. D. Candidate, Department of Biology, University of Virginia). Sutherland’s research examines the evolutionary formation and maintenance of the polyploid complex, Campanula rotundifolia. Polyploids are widespread throughout flowering plants, and many exist within closely-related, speciose complexes, but the interactions between lineages within these polyploid complexes are poorly understood. Specifically, self-incompatibility can vary within polyploid complexes, with diploid lineages tending to be self-incompatible and polyploid lineages being self-compatible. Previous work has suggested that self-incompatibility in C. rotundifolia polyploids may be more complex, and may vary within ploidy level. Future REU projects may involve a combination of greenhouse crossing experiments, microscopy, and molecular genetics to investigate patterns of self-incompatibility in this polyploid complex.