REU Mentors and Projects
Below are the faculty who have volunteered to work with REU students in the summer of 2014. Click on a faculty member's name to read more about her or his research.
Increasing near-surface atmospheric ozone (O3) is a concern because it is toxic to humans and ecosystems. Ozone is formed in the atmosphere through reactions involving carbon monoxide (CO) and reactive nitrogen oxides (produced by fossil fuel combustion) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (emitted by vegetation and by human activities). At the PROPHET site, we have a long-term record of measurements of O3, CO, meteorological conditions, and prior analyses of air mass source regions.
REU students working with me could help us investigate (1) ambient ozone levels and (2) if/how near-surface atmospheric ozone levels are changing, and (3) the relative role of emissions and atmospheric dynamics in determining ozone levels in air masses reaching the UMBS forest.
Mercury is a notoriously hazardous pollutant that accumulates in fish, posing health risks to humans who eat fish. From a peak in the 1980s, concentrations of mercury in fish in the Great Lakes region have declined – due to pollution controls – but are again on the rise. The rise, we hypothesize, is a result of changes in the biogeochemical cycling of mercury. REU students have the opportunity to contribute to this project via collecting data in real-time and/or by a paleolimnology approach to determine the role of greater export of DOC from watersheds in mobilizing mercury to lakes.
Behavioral Ecology: Sexual Selection, Sexual Conflict, Insect Conservation
I am a behavioral and evolutionary ecologist who uses dragonflies and damselflies to ask questions about the evolution of reproductive strategies. At UMBS, I have on-going research on the evolution of female-specific color polymorphisms in Enallagma damselflies. However, past REU students have worked with me on the effects of invasive zebra mussels on the fitness of native dragonflies (e.g. Hagenius brevistylus, Macromia illinoisensis). Because dragonflies are important predators both as larvae and adults, negative effects of colonization by zebra mussels could have direct impacts on aquatic and terrestrial food webs. I am currently quantifying the fitness consequences of zebra mussel colonization on dragonfly larvae, as well as the relative abundance of the adult dragonflies as part of a long-term monitoring program related to this project. I would welcome students to work on any of the above topics, or any more broadly related to behavioral ecology of insects.
Chris Gough, Peter Curtis, Chris Vogel and Lucas NaveForest Carbon Cycling in Future Forests of the Upper Midwest: Implications for Climate Change
Forest Carbon Cycling in Future Forests of the Upper Midwest: Implications for Climate Change
By absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, forests are slowing the rate of global climate change. However, some forests, including those in northern Michigan, will soon experience a phase in which loss of carbon through the death of old trees may exceed absorption of carbon by younger trees, causing the forest to shift from a carbon sink to a carbon source. A similar shift could happen to forests after a pest outbreak or other natural disturbance. We recently initiated a large-scale experiment to examine how disturbance-related changes in forest composition and structure alter carbon cycling processes in the UMBS forest.
Student collaborators on the UMBS Forest Carbon Cycling Research Team could investigate: 1) how shifts in canopy structure and composition alter forest carbon cycling; 2) mechanisms behind sustained high rates of carbon storage in a maturing forest; and 3) changes in soil carbon pools and fluxes following partial canopy defoliation.
Plants can vary dramatically in their quality as food for herbivores. Even within a single plant species, variation in the energy content, nutrient content, and expression of defenses can make some individual plants much more palatable than others. Where does variation in plant quality come from? What are the relative roles of genotype and environment in influencing plant palatability? How does plant quality vary in space and time? What are the consequences for the distribution and abundance of animals associated with plants? These are the kinds of questions that I work on, using plants like milkweed (Asclepias) as test subjects to help answer them. At the University of Michigan Biological Station, there are several species of milkweed plants that support an interesting group of insect herbivores (monarch butterflies, aphids, beetles, heteroptera) and their natural enemies. Students working with me might address questions such as:
1) How are milkweed patches distributed on the landscape? Can their distributions be mapped and related to specific ecological factors such as soil type, sunlight, water availability, and so on. Students would learn skills in GPS, GIS, soil analyses, and the measurement of abiotic variables.
2) How variable are the insect communities on Asclepias plants? Do particular species occur in particular habitats, or are all insect communities pretty much the same from plant to plant and habitat to habitat? Students would learn how to sample and identify insect species on milkweed, how to analyze insect community structure, and how to rear insects to search for parasites.
3) Do caterpillars use milkweed plants as “antibiotics”? Students will compare the prevalence of disease and predation on caterpillar eggs and larvae found on plants with different chemistry.
Dave Karowe1) Rising Carbon Dioxide and Plant Defense Against Herbivores; 2) Insect-Eating Plants: Where Does Their Nitrogen Come From?
I would be happy to mentor REU students in either of two research areas:
I. Rising Carbon Dioxide and Plant Defense Against Herbivores
Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is causing plants to have higher levels of carbon but lower levels of nitrogen in their leaves. Today, most plants can respond to attack by herbivores by rapidly increasing their levels of chemical defenses, but this is a nitrogen-intensive response because it requires rapid synthesis of RNA and enzymes. A student working with me could investigate whether, when grown under the CO2 levels our atmosphere will have at the end of the century, plants 1) have higher pre-attack levels of carbon-based chemical defenses, due to higher carbon content of leaves, but 2) are less able to respond to attack by increasing levels of these same chemical defenses, due to lower nitrogen content of leaves.
II. Insect-Eating Plants: Where Does their Nitrogen Come From?
Insectivory, the eating of insects, is one of the most dramatic adaptations of plants to low-nutrient environments. In Northern Michigan, nitrogen-poor bogs and swales contain two plant species that have evolved insect-eating leaves: pitcher plants and sundews. While it is a common belief that such plants obtain a substantial portion of their nitrogen from insects, few studies have actually demonstrated this (pitcher plants and sundews also have roots that can absorb nutrients from the slowly decaying plant matter). An REU student could use stable nitrogen isotopes to determine 1) what fraction of the plant's nitrogen is obtained from insects, and/or 2) which plant traits (e.g. coloration, microhabitat) affect the proportion of nitrogen derived from insect prey.
Pat KociolekDiversity and Distribution of Gomphonema (Bacillariophyta) species in northern lower Michigan.
Students will survey aquatic habitats around the University of Michigan Biological Station to document the species of Gomphonema present in the region. Gomphonema is an important genus in terms of species richness, and many species are indictors of water quality. The project will include the collecting of new samples, and using previous collections from the region, to photo document species present. Newly collected material will be cleaned and processed. The distribution of each species from the region will be compiled using a research-grade light microscope.
Coastal Wetland Ecology, Invasive Cattails, Ecological Restoration and Bioenergy
Shane Lishawa, Loyola University Chicago
Northern Michigan harbors the highest concentration of high quality coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes. These ecosystems provide crucial habitat for numerous organisms as well as critical ecosystem services for society. Increasingly these wetlands are being impacted by invasive cattails (Typha spp.). Following invasion Typha causes a myriad of ecological changes including reducing biodiversity, and altering carbon and nitrogen cycling.
Ecological restoration of invaded ecosystems is a high conservation priority. Due to their high biomass productivity, Typha spp. are suitable to be utilized for bioenergy production. We are presently investigating biological and biogeochemical responses to experimental restoration practices which include harvesting Typha for biomass energy and are restoring 300+ acres of coastal wetlands in the region and converting Typha biomass to energy.
A student working with me could investigate: impacts of restoration activities on wetland nutrient cycling; regional restoration-biomass spatial modeling; or biodiversity responses to restoration.
The increased growth of aquatic vascular plants in aquatic ecosystems following exotic mussel-facilitated water clearing provides habitat for epiphytic periphyton. This research will explore links in the enhanced littoral food web. Specifically we will explore resource partitioning among invertebrate grazers on epiphytic periphyton in the littoral zone.
Organisms make ecological and evolutionary decisions are based off of information about their environment gathered through their senses. My lab studies how organisms acquire information about their aquatic world using visual, auditory, and chemical cues. In addition, we study how those organisms use this information for mating, fighting, avoiding predation and other important ecological decisions.
In forest ecosystems, the availability and cycling of mineral nutrients (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorous) is tightly coupled to tree growth and forest biomass production. The accumulation of carbon in forests, including their trees, litter and detritus, soil, arthropods, fungi and other micro-organisms helps to counteract carbon pollution of Earth's atmosphere and mitigate climate change. There is much to be learned about how forests store and cycle carbon and mineral nutrients across a broad range of timescales: from days and seasons to decades and especially centuries. In the context of Earth's climate, carbon and other global biogeochemical cycles, there are particularly urgent questions about the long-term performance of forests as ecosystems that mitigate (and indeed support) human industrial activity and resource use.
REU students have the opportunity to study forest tree growth, nutrient cycling and soil processes in forests from 5 to >200 years old, including some that are home to unique experimental treatments, with a collaborative research team that has worked together at UMBS for years. Past REU students have investigated parasitic plants, mycorrhizal fungal dynamics during a tree dieback event, earthworm influences on soil processes, and carbon accumulation from just-clearcut to old-growth forests. Student researchers working with our group enjoy the benefit of participation in an ongoing research program with long-term goals, frequently publish peer-reviewed papers, and leave with an independent understanding of how to conduct field and laboratory research on similar topics.
My research interests include examining the effects of wetland ecology, algal taxonomy and ecology, effects of zebra mussels on aquatic systems, and using multivariate statistical techniques to find patterns in large datasets. I am also working on ecology of invasive algae in Lake Superior.
Several possible suggestions for projects include assessing the effects of zebra mussels on the native clams of Douglas Lake, changes in algal communities as wetlands change, and determining the effect of grazers on the nutrient cycling rates of periphyton at the experimental stream lab.
Atmospheric particles, ranging in size from ~2 nm to 3 um in diameter, impact climate and air quality. These particles can scatter or absorb solar radiation, serve as seeds for cloud droplet formation, and have negative human health effects.
Our goal is to investigate the physical and chemical characteristics of atmospheric particles at UMBS to understand forest-atmosphere interactions and the influence of transported urban pollution at the site. REU students working on this project will conduct sampling and measurements of atmospheric particles at the Program for Research on Oxidants: Photochemistry, Emissions, and Transport (PROPHET) tower site at UMBS. In particular, we will conduct real-time measurements using a scanning mobility particle sizer (particle number concentrations) and a single-particle mass spectrometer (size and chemistry of individual particles) at the PROPHET site. We will also collect particles on filters for later microscopy and spectroscopy analysis at the University of Michigan. Students will be involved in real-time measurements and particle sampling, as well as analysis of air mass trajectories.
My research concerns the natural selection of social behavior. Emphasizing quantitative and experimental approaches in the study of natural populations, I am interested in sexual selection, communication, and sexual signaling. During the summer months at the University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS), my research focuses primarily on damselflies, investigating aspects of communication, coloration, and sexual selection.
Following previous work on damselflies, an REU student could investigate the effects of gregarine parasites on the biology, behavior, and morphology of Calopteryx maculata, the dark-winged damselfly. The work will involve fieldwork, behavioral observations, collecting damselflies, analysis of coloration using a spectrometer, and analysis of parasite loads.
The Laurentian Great Lakes basin houses the world’s largest concentration of freshwater dunes, which in turn support more endemics than any other part of the basin. Yet, this rich biodiversity is exposed to an unsettling and increasing variety of threats, including invasive species in addition to habitat modification and loss. Since 1993, we have studied Cirsium pitcheri, Pitcher’s thistle, a federally threatened plant endemic to the dunes and shorelines of the upper Great Lakes. Pitcher's thistle typically lives for 4-10 years, flowers, then dies, with no means of vegetative reproduction. Thus, successful seed set is critical for population persistence and survival of this iconic species.
With colleagues in WI, IL and IN, we have documented increasing threats to populations, including weedy plant species (baby’s breath, Gypsophila paniculata L. and spotted knapweed, Centaurea stoebe L. ssp. micranthos) and seed predation by two seed weevil, Larinus planus and Rhinocyllus conicus, used for biocontrol of weedy thistles and knapweed. Weevil infestation can reduce Pitcher’s thistle seed output by 50-95%, and reduce population growth rates and viability. With support from USFWS Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), our project aims to 1) develop a rangewide evaluative protocol and assess weevil distribution; 2) better understand the phenology of these weevils in Pitcher’s thistle and weedy plant populations in order to quantify impacts of weevils on Pitcher’s thistle; 3) document the pollinator and herbivore network of Pitcher’s thistle and spotted knapweed; and 4) study host specificity and controls of the weevils.