REU Program

Summer 2017 will be the 30th 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. 

2017 Program Dates: May 22 - August 11, 2017
Applications for 2017 are closed.

Project Descriptions 2017

Project Descriptions 2017

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., song 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 and José Anadón (Queens College CUNY).

Scavenging provides valuable ecosystem services to humans by removing carrion and preventing the spread of diseases. From an ecological perspective, scavenging play a key role by recycling organic matter and keeping it a 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 weighted 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)   Nutrient retention in forest soils
Mentors: Colin Fuss and Gary Lovett.

Forests in the northeastern United States have received elevated inputs of reactive nitrogen for years as a result of atmospheric deposition. Contrary to the predictions of ecosystem models, nitrogen concentrations in stream runoff from forests have been declining for the last couple decades. This surprising trend indicates poorly understood soil processes regarding how nitrogen could be stored in forest soils over the long term. Students will have the opportunity to design and conduct experiments in the lab and field to investigate how recently formed soil organic matter may contribute to forest nitrogen storage.


D)    Long-Term Consequences of High Deer Abundance on Forest Community Structure and Nutrient Dynamics
Mentor: Lynn Christenson (Vassar College ).

High densities of white-tailed deer have transformed local environments of the north eastern USA, affecting vegetation in both urban and rural locations.  Herbivores exert strong control on vegetation community dynamics through both direct and indirect affects.  Direct effects include increased N content in leaf tissue damaged through browsing and increased levels of plant secondary compounds.  Indirect affects include selective browsing pressure, where preferential species are browsed out of the community, and less palatable species become dominant.  The result of this selective browsing pressure is a community that typically has less total N in foliage and higher resin/tannin content, leading to decreased nutrient cycling rates and overall lower N status in the resultant community.  Both of these affects has consequences for total biodiversity.  Working in long-term deer exclosure plots located in Dutchess county, this project will involve the re-survey of trees, saplings and shrubs as well as the collection of soils for nutrient assessment.


E)    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.


F)    Investigating trans-boundary ecosystem effects of larval abiotic conditions on adult mosquito population dynamics
Mentor: Sarah Bowden.

Mosquitoes undergo an ontogenetic niche shift from the aquatic to terrestrial ecosystem during their life cycle. This niche shift makes it possible for aspects of the larval environment during the aquatic life stages (e.g., temperature, pH, nutrient levels) to impact population dynamics of terrestrial life stages through changes in vital rates, a phenomenon termed trans-boundary ecosystem effects. The potential for mosquitoes to produce such effects is of interest to both ecologists and epidemiologists because many mosquito species serve as disease vectors during the adult life stage. The student will have the opportunity to design laboratory microcosm experiments to investigate the effects of one or more abiotic factors on larval survival and development, which are commonly used to estimate adult population growth rates. The student will gain skills in experimental design and implementation, microscopy, taxonomic identification of mosquitoes, data management, and statistical analysis. Students with interests in mosquito and vector ecology, disease ecology, or mathematical biology are especially encouraged to apply.


G)   Hudson River habitats in a changing world
Mentors: Stuart E.G. Findlay and Maria Tzortziou (CCNY).

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


H)    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.


I)      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.


J)    Using a whole-lake experiment to understand how environmental change alters lake food web productivity (University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center)
Mentor: Chris Solomon.

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. 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.


K)    Children’s learning and engagement in ecology
Mentors: Alan R. Berkowitz, Lia Harris and Michelle Forster

How do children start to develop mechanistic and system-based understandings of organisms and ecosystems? Cary educators and scientists have been addressing this question with students engaged in first hand investigations of the environment, describing pathways of increasing sophistication in student understanding or "learning progressions" for key ideas in the discipline. The results are being used to improve curriculum, teaching and assessment in school and informal settings. REU students interested in exploring education research will have the opportunity to ask basic questions about ecology thinking and learning with audiences such as youngsters in the Institute's Ecology Day Camp or our School Programs. Students will design short, authentic assessments embedded into the program itself that can be complemented with interviews, observations and surveys to provide a fuller picture of student thinking. The student will gain familiarity with a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research methods, meet the Cary Institute's Institutional Review Board's requirements for human subjects research, and get experience in social science research linked to ecological inquiry.

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