2017 REU Program Offerings

The Field Museum is proud to announce the 2017 Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program

2017 Program Dates: June 12th, 2017 through August 18th, 2017.

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 Emily Hallock.

2017 REU Projects

  • Forest Canopy Response to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) Greenhouse Event

    Description: If humanity continues to emit greenhouse gases at the current rate, we can expect atmospheric carbon dioxide (pCO2) levels to increase from their present value of ~400 ppmv to ~1800 ppmv within 300 years, a value not known on Earth in the last 50 million years. One of the most salient questions for land-based life is: How will vegetation respond to this exponential increase in pCO2 and the associated climate changes? Much of our present knowledge about the effects of pCO2 on plant growth comes from modeling studies and small-scale experimental work where plants are exposed to increased pCO2 concentrations. How ecosystems will be affected on longer temporal scales remains largely unknown. One way to empirically test the effects of such environmental perturbations on Earth's systems is to study similar events in the fossil record. This study will examine how increased pCO2 effected forest ecosystems in Wyoming during an unprecedented global warming event known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM ~ 56 million years ago). 

    Research Methods and Techniques: The project will quantify canopy change using a newly developed proxy to reconstruct the variable Leaf Area Index (LAI) using morphometric analysis of plant cells from fossilized leaf cuticles. The REU researcher will isolate leaf cuticles from rock samples using wet-chemistry, use light microscopy to capture images of leaf cuticles, collect cell measurement data and calculate LAI values using statistical models. The end result will be a continuous record of canopy change through the PETM interval from which the following hypotheses will be tested: 1) Increased pCO2 had a fertilizing effect on forest ecosystems as evidenced by increased LAI values and 2) the onset of the fertilization effect was rapid and LAI gradually declined to background levels over the duration of the PETM event (within ~200 thousand years).

    Mentor: Dr. Regan Dunn

  • Evolution of Mitochondrial DNA in Ferns

    Description: Recent molecular studies of land plant evolution overwhelmingly indicate that ferns, horsetails, and whisk ferns (monilophytes) are the closest relatives to all seed plants. However, within the monilophyte clade, the phylogenetic relationship of several fern species remains unknown due to limited sequence data available. Today, next-generation sequencing technologies open new avenues for molecular phylogenetics and phylogenomics studies. In this project, these methods will be used to sequence and assemble the mitochondrial DNA of a water-fern species. The resulting sequence will serve as a template to identify new molecular marker sequences for the reconstruction of an improved fern phylogeny based on a selection of herbarium specimens.

    Research methods and techniques: The REU participant in this project will receive training in molecular and organismal research methods. He/she will learn how important a combination of both methods is for understanding the evolution of the diversity of life. The training will include an introduction to the literature and the handling of herbarium specimens. Molecular biology techniques will include DNA isolation of fresh and herbarium material, PCR, sequencing of PCR amplicons and whole genome next-generation sequencing. Computational work will include assembly and analysis of next-generation sequencing data and phylogenetic reconstructions.

    Mentors: Dr. Felix Grewe & Dr. Matt Von Konrat

  • Diversity in Mediterranean habitats - insights from lichenized fungi

    Description: Mediterranean climate is characterized by winter rain and arid summer and has high species diversity. Most prominent are the biodiversity hotspots in the Cape Region and Western Australia. This project aims at understanding how biodiversity patterns can be generated and maintained by this specific climatic type. Additionally, we are interested in if such rapid increase in species number is associated with specific adaptive traits. We will be using lichens of the genus Xanthoparmelia that has a species diversity center at West Australia and South African to investigate the timing and processes of radiation. Xanthoparmelia lichens are globally distributed and we test the hypothesis whether they have experienced independent radiation events in West Australia and South Africa.

    Research Methods and Techniques: To address this research question, we will use sequence data generated by next generation sequencing. The intern will be working in the molecular lab as well as analytical works with computers.

    Mentors: Dr. Thorsten Lumbsch and Dr. Jen-Pan Huang

  • Habitat-driven Morphological Syndromes in New Zealand Water Beetles

    Description: The intern will explore the evolution of putative morphological syndromes associated with either a fully aquatic or semi-aquatic existence in the riffle beetle genus Hydora (Elmidae: Larainae), to better understand the transition between aquatic and terrestrial habitats in the Larainae. The student will a) mount and prepare field-collected specimens of the study organism, Hydora; b) record characters  of the aquatic and semi-aquatic species of Hydora, as well as microhabitat preferences, as recorded in field notes; and c) reconstruct the evolution of the laraine riffle beetles  in a phylogenetic framework, using sequences downloaded from Genbank and morphological characters.

    Mentor: Dr. Crystal Maier

  • Systematics and Taxonomy of Cichlids in the Genus Thorichthys

    Description: The genus Thorichthys includes eight currently recognized species of Middle American cichlids, found in rivers and lakes of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.  The most recognizable species in this genus is the firemouth cichlid, Thorichthys meeki, characterized by bright orange and red coloration under the jaw.  Recent and ongoing molecular phylogenetic research has shown this strikingly variable group of fishes is in need of thorough systematic study and taxonomic revision.

    Research Methods and Techniques: This project will use morphological and molecular data to study the evolutionary history and taxonomy of these fishes, with particular focus on investigating morphological characters to better diagnose species within the genus and re-assess currently recognized species diversity.  The intern will be trained in organismal biology of the family Cichlidae, with emphasis on Neotropical cichlids.  The intern will examine morphological characters based on the skeleton and coloration and will be involved in analytical aspects of the project.

    Advisor: Dr. Caleb McMahan

  • Does diet influence the evolution of body size in ants?

    Description: Ants exhibit substantial variation in their size and morphology.  What is responsible for this?  One potential explanation is that diet affects the size and shape of ants.  Ants feed on a wide range of food sources, which vary in their energy content, which may be expected to influence body size.  Some are predators, eating other insects, others are herbivores, feeding on plant parts or plant-derived products, while some are omnivores, feeding on both animal and plant tissue.  Are ant body sizes and shapes associated with the types of food they eat and gather? 

    Research Methods and Techniques: In this project, we will focus on the tribe Attini, a group of ants with diverse diets (including fungus-farming!), and make standardized measurements of ant species from images on AntWeb (using ImageJ), or from examining the literature.  These data will be coupled with an evolutionary tree of the tribe and we will utilize phylogenetic comparative methods (such as OUwie) to assess whether the tempo and mode of body size and shape evolution in Attini is associated with transitions in diet.  This position will largely be desk-based, and the successful applicant will gain experience in ant biology, and phylogenetic comparative methods.

    Mentors: Dr. Matt Nelsen, Dr. Corrie Moreau, and Dr. Rick Ree

  • Morphometric analysis of the elaborate soldier head in turtle ants

    Description: Ants are a species rich, ecologically important, and incredibly morphologically diverse group. Some of the morphological diversity is found in traits ants use to defend themselves and their colonies. One group of ants, the turtle ants, has a rare defensive trait - elaborate, dish-shaped heads they use to physically block the entrances to their nests. The goals of this project are: 1) to characterize variation in the shape of the soldier heads, and 2) to understand the evolution of head shape across the turtle ant phylogeny.

    Research Methods and Techniques: The REU intern will analyze 3D scans in order to characterize head shapes and then use the morphological data and the turtle ant phylogeny to investigate trait evolution. This project will contribute to our understanding of what drives the evolution of the incredible morphological diversity observed in ants.

    Advisors: Dr. Shauna Price and Dr. Corrie Moreau

  • A Small World: Uncovering Hidden Diversity in Early Land Plants

    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 of this enigmatic group of plants. Training will include specimen curation, digital imaging, databasing, DNA extraction, PCR, sequencing, and DNA sequence analyses. See the following link for a paper published with a past intern as an author. See: http://fieldmuseum.org/explore/early-land-plants-early-adopters

    Advisors: Dr. Matt Von Konrat and Lynika Strozier