Cary REU Program

Summer 2018 will be the 31st year that the Cary Institute's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program has provided 8-12 students with opportunities to conduct cutting edge research in ecology. 

2018 Program Dates: May 21 - August 10, 2018
Application Deadline: January 28, 2018 11:59 PM EST.


Project Descriptions 2018

Project Descriptions 2018

A)  Eavesdropping Behavior and Social Information Use in Songbirds
Mentor: Dr. Kenneth A Schmidt.  

Animals frequently collect social information by copying the choices or behavior of other individuals, or through eavesdropping on the signals (e.g., songs or alarm calls) or performance (breeding success) of other individuals. Such information flow between members of the same or different species can have dramatic consequences for the ecology of organisms.  The REU student will join our summer research at the Cary Institute on communication and breeding ecology of songbirds and predator-prey interactions between birds and raptors, such as barred owls.  The REU student will be expected to design and carry out a project that addresses social information flow in the context of predator-prey interactions, communication, or breeding ecology that contains an element of social information use.  The project will involve field work in the forest on Cary property, such as setting up playback experiments, finding and monitoring songbird nests (primarily the veery), learning field techniques such as recording bird song and other vocalizations, and data analysis in the lab.  The student also will be expected to work in a lab with several graduate students working on related projects.  


B)  The Scavenger Community in a Temperate Northeastern Forest
Mentors: Josh Ginsberg, José Anadón (Queens College CUNY), and Alexis Brewer (Queens College CUNY).

Scavenging provides valuable ecosystem services to humans by removing carrion and preventing the spread of diseases. From an ecological perspective, scavenging plays a key role by recycling organic matter and keeping it at higher trophic levels. In the present project we will characterize the macro-vertebrate scavenger community at the Cary Institute property that exemplifies a temperate northeastern forest within an ex-urban environment. The characterization of the community will be carried out by means of camera traps baited with carrion (chicken). Each carrion will be monitored during one week. In order to assess the efficiency of the ecosystem service, carrion will be weighed on the third and seventh day of the experiment. The experiment will be replicated 12 times, including spatial and temporal replicates. The richness, completeness, species composition and structure (nestedness) of the scavenger community will be then assessed, using the R statistical language. Results obtained will be discussed in comparison with those obtained for other localities with different landscape structure, landscape uses and human density within the US East Coast.


C)  Carbon and Nitrogen Dynamics in Forest Soils
Mentor: Colin Fuss.

Forest soils contain large amounts of organic matter and consequently can play an important role in the mitigation of climate change through carbon sequestration and the regulation of water quality through nitrogen retention. Multiple factors affect the development and stability of soil carbon and nitrogen pools. Potentially one important and poorly understood control on the dynamics of soil carbon and nitrogen is the regrowth of forests following disturbance such as timber harvest. The REU student will have the opportunity to design and conduct field and laboratory experiments to assess variation in the characteristics and function of soil organic matter from forests of different ages in northern New York or New England.


D)  Ecosystem Regulation of Mosquitoes and Disease Risk
Mentor: Shannon LaDeau.

Managing human risk associated with mosquito exposure requires understanding how mosquito populations grow and behave in human-dominated landscapes. REU students will use experimental and statistical methods to investigate how natural ecosystems influence mosquito ecology and how environmental variables that reflect human presence (e.g., storm water management practices, diurnal temperature ranges, road salt, nitrogen) alter these systems. Student interest in entomology, disease ecology, and statistics is desirable. A partnership with remote sensing and/or environmental engineering faculty from CCNY is possible in future years.


E)  Hudson River Habitats in a Changing World
Mentors: Stuart E.G. Findlay.

Students will have the opportunity to design projects looking at habitats of the Hudson River, including recovery of submerged vegetation following the 2011 storms, restoration, habitat use, changes in water quality, biogeochemical processes and optical properties in the river. There are multiple open questions about "soft" shoreline treatments ranging from vegetation colonization to use by small fishes, and about the roles of Hudson River tidal wetlands in coastal carbon dynamics and photochemical processes. The effects of zebra mussels continue to change, providing an intriguing focus for students


F)  Lakes in a Changing Global Environment
Mentors: Kathie Weathers and Hamid Norouzi (CUNY-City Tech.).

Understanding, predicting and communicating the role and response of lakes in a changing global environment is crucial for human life and ecological systems. The Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) engages networks of ground-based sensors as well as satellite imagery to monitor key physical, chemical, and ecological parameters. REU students will use ground-based observations and remote sensing data in several lakes to examine changes in surface area and investigate phytoplankton blooms. Many lake shorelines have receded severely, which has been partly blamed on prolonged droughts. Students will use available data for precipitation, temperature, ecological parameters (e.g., phytoplankton blooms), and depth from ground networks and remote sensing to generate inferences on climate and ecological states related to developing mitigation and resiliency strategies.


G)  Ecological Change in the Sky Lakes on the Shawangunk Ridge
Mentors: Kathleen Weathers and David Richardson (SUNY New Paltz).

External forcings (e.g., acid rain, climate change, and introduced species) can cause ecological and biogeochemical shifts in lake ecosystems.  REU students will use field surveys, experiments, and data analysis to understand ecosystem change in the Sky Lakes (Minnewaska, Mohonk, and Awosting) on the Shawangunk Ridge. Awosting (Minnewaska State Park Preserve) is the biggest of the sky lakes, and is an oligotrophic, clear-water lake with no fish observed in >100 years. Mohonk is a clear mesotrophic lake and has had fish in the lake for years, including trout and other species stocked for visitors to the Mohonk Mountain House. Minnewaska, a historically clear, fishless, and oligotrophic lake, has several large changes over the past 20 years including increases in pH and unintentional introduction of Notemigonus crysoleucas (Golden Shiners, a small zooplanktivorous minnow) and Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass). The student will have an opportunity to explore bottom-up vs. top-down controls on primary production and lake clarity and modification of nutrient cycling.


H)  Using a Whole-Lake Experiment to Understand how Environmental Change Alters Lake Food Web Productivity (University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center)
Mentors: Chris Solomon and Alex Ross.

Inputs of dissolved organic matter from terrestrial systems have strong effects on the structure and function of lake ecosystems. In many parts of the world, these inputs have been increasing in recent decades, and are projected to continue to increase in the future. We are using a variety of approaches to understand how these changes will affect the productivity of primary producers, benthic invertebrates, and fishes in lakes, including a whole-lake manipulation in which we are artificially increasing organic matter inputs to one half of a divided lake. REU students will focus on quantifying benthic invertebrate responses to this ongoing experiment, and will be exposed to work on a wide variety of organisms and questions as part of our interdisciplinary and international team.


I)  Understanding the Coupled Natural-Human Dynamics of Recreational Fisheries in Northern Wisconsin (University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center). 
Mentors: Chris Solomon and Alex Ross.

Fisheries are impacted by both human and ecological factors from local to regional scales. Using a regional set of lakes in northern Wisconsin we focus on the social and ecological factors that control the degradation and collapse of recreational fisheries in this region. REU students will focus mainly on the ecological factors that affect populations of fish. Using both experimental and observational studies, students will explore the effects of habitat availability, angler skill, and fish behavior on catch rates. This can be done by estimating fish abundance on a set of lakes spanning habitat availability, and angler skill gradients as well as by experimental manipulation of fish abundance in set of experimental lakes. Work on this project will provide students knowledge of fisheries management practices and the basic ecology of fishes. Furthermore they will be a part of a team answering a diverse set of questions pertaining to other aspects of lake ecology. 


J)  Responses of Communities to Global Change
Mentor: Mike Hickerson (The City College of New York) and Shannon LaDeau

Classical ecological theory can be linked with comparative population genetic models as a powerful way to understand the processes underlying global patterns of biodiversity in the face of climate change. These methods can help make predictions of species abundances, genetic diversity and shared histories across species. The REU student will have the opportunity to design and conduct population genomic simulations examining how communities of species respond to global change to test ecological theory and predictions with data. The computer-based research could focus on communities our lab has investigated recently, including Eastern Nearctic vertebrates, Neotropical forest lizards, or freshwater stickleback fishes, or a different community where sufficient data is available. The student should have a strong quantitative background and interest in genetic modeling. The research will give the student first-hand gain experience in statistical genetics, bioinformatics, and agent based modeling.

K) Ecology of Urban Streams
Mentor: Stuart Findlay

Urban streams have been under-studied relative to streams in other land-use settings, yet they are likely to have dramatic differences in chemistry, habitat availability and function.  Moreover, urban streams by definition occur in densely populated areas but in most cases are not considered valuable local natural resources by the surrounding communities.  In this project, the REU student will conduct basic measurements of stream attributes using a local urban stream and reference data for other streams in the region.  The student will also work with a local high school teacher to develop a sub-set of research activities to be suitable, authentic, short-term research experiences for high school students from the local community. The REU student will conduct their own independent project and also gain experience collaborating with a teacher and serving as a mentor for a younger group of students.


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