REU Program

Summer 2019 will be the 32nd 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.

Program Dates: May 20 - August 9, 2019

Application deadline: January 25, 2019 midnight


Project Descriptions 2019

Project Descriptions 2019

Project A. Eavesdropping Behavior and Social Information Use in Songbirds
Mentors: Kenneth A. Schmidt and Christopher Johnson (Texas Tech University)

Animals frequently collect information about their environment and other individuals through eavesdropping on the acoustic signals (e.g., songs or alarm calls) and/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 team at the Cary Institute on communication and eavesdropping behavior, the breeding ecology of songbirds, and predator-prey interactions. The REU student will be expected to design and carry out a project that examines communication and/or information use using birds and/or mammals as study subjects. The project will involve field work in the forest or fields, such as setting up playback experiments, making field recordings of bird song and/or other vocalizations, conducting sound analyses using the program Raven (the student will be trained in this), performing statistical analyses on collected data, and writing a final paper.


Project B. The Role of Natural Enemies in Governing Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation
Mentors: Sarah Batterman and Will Barker (University of Leeds, UK)

Symbiotic nitrogen fixation brings large quantities of new nitrogen into ecosystems, alleviating nitrogen limitation, stimulating plant growth and enhancing ecosystem carbon storage. However, it is unclear why nitrogen-fixing trees are not more abundant in forests when the benefit of fixation can be large. The limited abundance of nitrogen-fixing trees in tropical and/or temperate forests might be due to the natural enemies they attract, like herbivorous insects or mammals. The REU student will examine this hypothesis by designing a greenhouse experiment with tropical species of nitrogen-fixing trees and/or use existing data from tropical rainforests. Experimental questions may include how the amount and/or timing of herbivory constrains fixation, whether different species of trees respond to herbivory in different ways, or how much herbivory costs the tree, in terms of nitrogen and carbon. Results from this project will contribute to a broader understanding of the evolution and function of symbiotic nitrogen fixation in forests and the importance of nitrogen-fixing trees for mitigating climate change.


Project C. 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. The REU student 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, heat island, road salt, nitrogen) alter these systems. Students interested in entomology, disease ecology, and statistics are best suited for this project.


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

The REU student will have the opportunity to design a project looking at habitats of the Hudson River that may include 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 another intriguing focus for students.


Project E. Competitive Dynamics Between Invertebrate and Vertebrate Scavenger Guilds
Mentors: Joshua Ginsberg, Alexis Brewer (Queens College CUNY), José Anadón (Queens College CUNY), and Mike Fargione

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 energy at higher trophic levels. Within the literature, there is some debate over the relative contribution of the vertebrate and invertebrate scavenger communities and how these communities interact. Interestingly, our previous work on vertebrate scavengers at the Cary Institute suggests there may be a competitive dynamic at work between these two disparate communities. The REU student will investigate the interactions between invertebrate and vertebrate scavengers, focusing on competitive exclusion theories. The student will use camera traps baited with chicken to determine the relative contribution to carcass removal by each group of organisms. The student will compare the overall quality of ecosystem services each provide using the R statistical language. The REU student will contribute to the development of a detailed vertebrate-invertebrate competition model.


Project F. Examining the Effects of Global Change on Streams of the Northeastern US
Mentors: Emma Rosi and Steve Hamilton

Global change is manifested in various ways.  In the northeastern US, climate change is leading to earlier and more prolonged springs, warmer water temperature and more frequent summer storms. In addition, the legacy of acid deposition has left some streams of the Northeastern US extremely dilute, with stream water that is nearly equivalent to deionized water.  At the Hubbard Brook LTER, we are collecting long-term data on stream algae and aquatic insects to investigate the influence of climate-associated changes coupled with the influence of stream water chemistry across an array of experimental watersheds.  The REU student will have access to our previously collected samples of aquatic insects, stream algae, and long-term water chemistry and the opportunity to conduct field studies at Hubbard Brook for her/his research.  The student will divide her/his time between the Cary Institute and the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains of NH investigating how stream ecosystems are responding to long-term changes associated with global change.


Project 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.  The REU student 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 using these lakes as study systems.


Project H. Understanding the Coupled Human-Natural 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 sustainability of recreational fisheries in this region. REU students will focus mainly on the ecological factors that affect populations of fish. The students will conduct field surveys and use pre-existing data to explore the effects of habitat availability, predator-prey communities, angler skill, fishing pressure, and/or fish behavior on catch rates and fish populations. The students will gain knowledge in fisheries management practices and the basic ecology of fishes. They will be a part of a team answering a diverse set of questions pertaining to other aspects of lake ecology. Students interested in natural resource management, fisheries and aquatic ecology, and statistics are best suited for this project.


Project I. Lake Management in Coupled Human-Natural Ecosystems (University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center)
Mentors: Chris Solomon, Dane Whittaker (Arizona State University), and Marco Janssen (Arizona State University)

Lakes are complex human/natural ecosystems that provide many services. They are homes to wildlife, provide recreational services to anglers and boaters, and offer spiritual and property value to the people who live around them. As a result of the many uses of lakes, a diverse set of collective action organizations are often developed to manage their competing interests. The role that these organizations play can be understood, with Vilas County, Wisconsin serving as a model of common pool resource management through collaborative governance. The REU student will focus on understanding how the rules, both on paper and in practice, of these organizations result in various outcomes for the lakes. Data can be collected through online research and face-to-face interviews, and then summarized and coded to a database for mixed-methods analysis. The REU student will have the opportunity to contribute to novel research within a diverse group of fisheries and lake managers, and can tailor her/his research towards emergent questions that are uncovered during early-stage research.


Project J. Ecology of Urban Streams/High School Student Mentoring
Mentors: Stuart Findlay, Rhea Esposito

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.  The REU student will design and carry out a study of stream attributes using local urban and reference streams in the region.  The student also will help mentor and work with a team that includes a high school teacher and three local high school students to develop and implement an associated research project during a 6 week summer research experience program. The REU student will conduct her/his 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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