2016 REU Program Offerings

Undergraduate students in the 2014 REU program pose on the Museum's terrace in front of our replica Brachiosaurus skeleton.

The Field Museum is proud to announce the 2016 Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program

2016 Program Dates: June 13th, 2016 through August 19th, 2016.

Interested candidates should review the opportunities below and consult the REU Applicant Guide at the bottom of the page. Applicants are encouraged to apply to more than one project. 

Please direct any queries to Jonathan Hense.

2016 REU Projects

  • A Window Into Australia's Past and Future: Pleistocene Fossils from Nullarbor Plain Cave Deposits

    Description: Given its potential linkages to climatic and environmental changes, as well as direct human impacts, the Pleistocene extinction of megafauna (large terrestrial animals) is a key area of inquiry in paleontology. Cave deposits found across southwestern Australia's Nullarbor Plain document the extinction of mammals and reptiles on that continent over the past 400,000 years, against a backdrop of changing climate and the arrival of humans 45,000 to 50,000 years ago. The cave deposits are a key conservation tool as well, providing insight into pre-European colonization community structures that inform efforts to preserve and restore Australia's unique environments. The Field Museum's fossil mammal collection includes a large sample of specimens from the Nullarbor Plain caves, but very little research has been done on this material.

    Research Methods and Techniques: Working with the Field Museum's fossil mammal curator (Angielczyk) and a visiting expert from Australia (McDowell), the intern for this project will use the collection to investigate one or more topics related to the caves' paleontology, paleoecology, and taphonomy (i.e., factors that affect preservation of fossils). Examples include reconstructing the factors that led to preservation of fossils in the caves, examining changes in biodiversity and community structure in the cave faunas across the Nullarbor Plain, comparing the ecological structure of the preserved communities to those observed in the area today and determining whether differences are real or represent preservational biases, and description of new species of reptiles, birds and mammals found in the collection.

    Curators: Kenneth Angielczyk & Matthew McDowell

  • Examining the Relationship Between Wing Shape & Dispersal in Tropical Birds

    Description: Birds are considered to be good dispersers, but are some birds better at dispersing than others?  We will be studying the relationship between phenotype and genotype in birds in relation to dispersal ability and the evolution of range size and connectivity.  This project will focus on measuring wing shape in museum specimens representing different species and/or populations.  We will then be able to correlate those data with data on genetic structure based on previous and ongoing lab work.  The goal is to test whether or not more rounded wing shapes occur in species/populations that a smaller and more geographically isolated. 

    Curators: Dr. John Bates & Dr. Shannon Hackett

  • Bryozone—A Home for the Biodiversity of a Colonial Animal Phylum

    Description: This project is about a remarkable group of colonial animals – the phylum Bryozoa. Their life cycles are vastly different from solitary animals. Most begin with a sexually produced larva that settles, digests and absorbs most larval organs, and metamorphoses into the first zooid of a colony. Budding then forms other zooids asexually. Much of their taxonomy is based on the fact that these zooids can have different body forms, even though they are identical genetically. The overall goal, of which this project is a vital stage, is to put bryozoan taxonomic and biodiversity data and images on the web. It should be easy for researchers, evolutionary and conservation biologists, and students at all levels to edit, query, and download information in ways that it currently is not. We have already constructed a taxonomic names database with over 40,000 species, valid and synonymized, together with authority names and dates and associated higher taxonomic ranks. Our platform is part of the ScratchPads project, http://bryozone.myspecies.info/category/bryozoa/bryozoa, (click the drop-down taxonomy on the left). Our goal this summer is to build out the website's structure and content, adding helpful information about bryozoan biodiversity, systematics, bibliographic references, and (hopefully) images. International leaders in bryozoan systematics, biogeography, and ecology are contributing these images and data. Aside from learning to love bryozoans, the student will share coordination of the work with Dr. Lidgard, systematists from Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, and the ScratchPads development team in London.

    Research Methods and Techniques: Candidates with basic experience in organismal biology and taxonomy, and with programming, database, or bioinformatics skills are encouraged to apply, but all applicants will be considered. The student will receive an introduction to bryozoan morphology and systematics, instruction and hands-on experience in biodiversity database design practices.

    Curator: Dr. Scott Lidgard

  • Genetic Diversity in Tropical Lichens

    Description: Lichen-forming fungi are a unique group of fungi that live in close associations with a photosynthetic symbiotic partner (algae or cyanobacteria) that provide energy for the symbiotic system. The diversity of lichenized fungi is poorly known, especially in the tropics. Traditionally, fungi, including lichens are considered having wide geographical distributions that are primarily shaped by ecological factors. In a project focusing on the tropical lichen family Lobariaceae, the genetic diversity of selected populations will be examined. DNA sequence data of individual gene regions as well as whole mitochondrial genomes will be generated in the Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and analyzed to examine geographically structured genetic signals among species.

    Research Methods and Techniques: REU participants in this project will receive training in molecular and organismal research methods. They will learn how important a combination of both methods is for understanding the evolution of the diversity of life. The training will include introduction to the literature, the handling of herbarium specimens and light microscopy. Molecular methods will include DNA isolation, PCR and subsequent sequencing of certain gene regions and possibly preparing samples for next-generation sequencing. The intern will also be participating in the analysis of the DNA data.

    Curator/Advisor: Dr. Thorsten Lumbsch & Dr. Hanna Lindgren

  • An Assessment of the Relative Thickness and Density of Limb Bones in Extinct Diving Birds (Aves, Hesperornithidae)

    Description: Histological studies of the limb bones of modern diving birds such as alcids and penguins have documented different degrees of relative cortical bone thickness and bone density, facilitating correlations between microstructural features, behavior, and ecology of those birds. In contrast, the histology of fossil limb bones representing the extinct lineage of stem birds Hesperornithidae, has received comparatively little attention. Whether these archaic birds adapted strategies (e.g., osteosclerosis) similar to those observed in living birds to deal with the biomechanical constraints of locomotion in a medium as dense as water, remains largely unexplored.

    Research Methods and Techniques: The REU participant will process computed tomographic (CT) images of hesperornithids (and other avian species for comparison) collected at the Advanced Photon Source synchotron facility at Argonne National Lab. The REU will learn to use CT data to construct digital 3D models and will take measurements that will be used to calculate relative bone thickness and density (using software such as Amira and Bone Profiler). We will then make comparisons of bone microstructure with other, previously sampled diving birds. These data may provide ethological and ecological insights into the evolution of diving in Hesperornithidae and the evolution of diving behavior in birds.

    Curator: Dr. Peter J. Makovicky

  • The Bats of Kenya: Assessing the Species Limits of Cryptic Species

    Description: Kenya straddles the equator and mega-diverse, being world-famous for the “Big Five” and other charismatic megafauna. But a quarter of its mammal species (110 species!) are bats, which are known to serve vital ecological roles, including pollination, seed dispersal, and insectivory, making them important to both agriculture and public health. Conducted in collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service, The Bats of Kenya details the distribution, status, diagnosis, and ecological habits of all these species all over the country. For such a large fauna, determining species limits is perhaps the most challenging task, one aided by analyses in the field (vocalizations and habits), museum (conventional and geometric morphometrics, ectoparasites), and the laboratory (DNA sequences).

    Research Methods and Techniques: The REU participant will be trained in museum collection management, morphological data collection, and data analysis. Interns will be taught to analyze their data on species limits and relationships. With access to data on vocalizations and ectoparasite collected in the field, participants will test the existence of cryptic (or currently unrecognized) species in this fauna.

    Curator: Dr. Bruce Patterson

  • Microbial Community Diversity and Structure in a Widespread Neotropical Ant Species

    Description: Ants are an ecologically important and diverse group, and they are engaged in both parasitic and mutualistic associations with microbes. Turtle ants harbor a range of microbial parasites and mutualistic gut bacteria that likely play nutritional roles. The diversity and abundance of microbial symbionts in turtle ants is known to vary among species and localities, but a thorough understanding of the within-species variation and structure of microbial communities is lacking. The giant turtle ant is an ideal system in which to study the ecology and evolution of microbial symbionts within a species. It is a common, abundant and geographically widespread species in the Neotropics, and the Moreau lab has conducted sampling of the species throughout its geographic range. This dense sampling allows us to address microbial diversity and distribution on a number of levels, including within-colonies, within-populations and across the geographic range of the species. For example, do the microbial communities track the evolutionary history of the ants or does geography structure the bacterial communities? The REU student will be responsible for conducting molecular work to extract ant DNA and amplify bacterial strains from ant DNA, as well as participating in the analysis of the microbial data.

    Research Methods and Techniques: The REU project will focus on identifying the microbial community associated with the giant turtle ant (Cephalotes atratus) and understanding how the microbial community is structured within the host species. The student will work primarily with Shauna Price, a postdoc in the Moreau lab.

    Curator/Advisor: Dr. Corrie Moreau & Dr. Shauna Price

  • Early Land Plants Today

    Description: Early land plants, or bryophytes are used as environmental indicators of climate change and are pivotal in our understanding of early land plant evolution. The internship will join a research and collection team investigating the bryophyte genus Frullania Raddi, representing an exceptionally hyper-diverse and taxonomically complex genus with a worldwide distribution. Specifically, the project will explore a morphologically variable and poorly understood species complex. Hypotheses of species differences will be investigated based on support from multiple lines of evidence, including morphology, experimental growth studies, and nucleotide sequences. The internship will have the unique opportunity to gain experience in a world-class institution and gain exposure to both collections and a research environment.

    Research Methods and Techniques: The successful candidate will receive training in project-relevant techniques of herbarium, microscopy and molecular laboratory work in the Pritzker DNA laboratory. Computer-aided tools will be used to marshal and synthesize data sets to help accelerate the pace of biodiversity research and discovery of this enigmatic group of plants. Training will include specimen curation, digital imaging, databasing, DNA extraction, PCR, sequencing, and DNA sequence analyses.

    Curator: Dr. Matt Von Konrat