2018 REU Program Offerings

The Field Museum is proud to announce the 2018 Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program

2018 Program Dates: June 11th, 2018 through August 17th, 2018.

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.

2018 REU Projects

  • Morphological and ontogenetic variation in Praomys rostratrus

    Cranial ontogenetic analyses improve our understanding of function from developmental, ecological, and evolutionary perspectives.  Ontogeny can be described as 3 processes: growth, development, and allometry. Praomys rostratus is the most abundant rodent species in various forest habitats in Ivory Coast, West Africa. We would like to test conservatism in ontogenetic patterns as a function of niche. We hypothesis that P. rostratus will have similar ontogenetic patterns to other generalists forest species (ie. Akodon montensis in South America, which we have described). We will apply traditional and geometric morphometric approaches to describe ontogenetic variation in skulls of P. rostratus.

    Mentors: Dr. Noé U. de la Sancha and Dr. Bruce Patterson

  • Candiru blood meals and population genetics at the interface of the Amazon basin and Guiana Shield

    What are the feared Candiru feeding on and what is the population structure of this species at the confluence of two of the most globally diverse river drainages? Parasitic catfish Candiru (Vandellia beccarii) is fabled to swim up the urethra of humans and other animals, but no study has ever characterized their blood meals. Using DNA sequencing we will determine blood meals of 100 candiru individuals collected in Amazonia. Preserved specimens for this project are found in two drainages at the interface of the Amazon basin and Guiana Shield. Using DNA sequencing we will assess the population structure of this species across the region.

    Mentor: Dr. Lesley de Souza

  • Coevolution of feeding morphology and taste receptors in fish-eating birds

    Taste receptors in birds have coevolved with diet. A recent study showed loss of function in taste receptor genes linked to a fish-eating diet in penguins. But are these genetic changes reflected in morphology of the tongue and beak? Kingfishers are a global radiation of birds with diverse beak shapes and feeding behaviors, including both fish-eating and non-fish-eating species. This diversity makes them an ideal group to test the hypothesis that changes in the feeding apparatus coevolve with genes for tasting. We will test this hypothesis in a comparative framework integrating both morphometric (CT scanning, geometric morphometrics) and molecular techniques (DNA sequencing). The results of this work will shed light on how sensory systems evolve and may be useful in predicting the sensory capabilities of extinct organisms.

    Mentors: Dr. Chad Eliason and Dr. Shannon Hackett

  • Beyond the eye: Assessing genomic information to identify lichens

    Lichens are symbiotic systems of at least two partners: a fungus (the mycobiont) and an alga or cyanobacterium (the photobiont). This symbiosis makes them very successful and allows them to occupy varied habitats. Some lichen species, such as the dust lichen (Lepraria), are found all over the world, even in Antarctica. However, dust lichens are very difficult to distinguish by their general appearance. Therefore, identification of these species requires microscopic analysis, chemical identification of secondary compounds, and molecular phylogenetic analysis of DNA barcoding markers. In this project, we will take advantage of recent collections (from Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Antarctica) and the Field Museum’s large collection of herbarium specimens to revisit species delimitation and distribution of dust lichens. We will integrate our data with results from other international research projects to increase our understanding of lichen evolution, in particular for challenging lichen groups, such as dust lichens.

    Mentors: Dr. Felix Grewe and Dr. Thorsten Lumbsch

  • Testing the causes of organismal diversification in the most species-rich lichenized fungi

    The process of organismal diversification can be multidimensional. For example, in lichenized fungi, evolutionary diversification can be associated with different substrates (eg. soil vs. rock), different algal/bacterial symbionts, and habitat types. However, it is unclear which of the factors act as the main force promoting diversification in lichens. The project focuses on testing the effects of the above mentioned factors on genetic divergences in Xanthoparmelia lichens - the most speciose lichen genus containing ca. 800 species. The student will learn to extract DNAs, DNA sequencing, and how to quantify phenotypic and environmental differences associated with different samples.

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

  • Wing morphology and dispersal ability in New Zealand Water Beetles

    The intern will explore wing morphology in the south-temperate riffle beetle genus Hydora (Elmidae: Larainae) to better understand dispersal ability in the group and the transition between aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats in the Larainae. The student will conduct studies on the morphometrics of wings across two species of riffle beetle. The intern will a) mount and prepare wings from pinned representatives of all morphospecies of New Zealand Hydora b) photograph and take measurements of wings using MorphJ and ImageJ software, c) analyze the data in a statistical framework and d) map characters on an existing phylogenetic tree.

    Mentor: Dr. Crystal Maier

  • Across the Atlantic to the Pacific: Geographic Variation in the White Mullet, Mugil curema

    Mullets (family Mugilidae) are an economically important group of fishes found in temperate and tropical waters worldwide, occurring in both marine and freshwater environments. Several species possess widespread distributions, often across multiple oceanic basins. The aim of this project is to study geographic variation in the White Mullet, Mugil curema, found in the western and eastern Atlantic Ocean, as well as eastern Pacific Ocean. Similar systematic studies on other mullets have found that such widespread distributions often show cryptic diversity and interesting patterns of population history. Molecular, morphological, and GIS data will be used to study variation and test hypotheses surrounding the distribution, biogeography, and population subdivision within this widespread species.

    Mentor: Dr. Caleb McMahan

  • Diversity, evolutionary history and specificity of symbiotic microbes associated with turtle ants

    Symbiotic microbes are important to the origins and generation of biodiversity. Ants are a diverse and ecologically important clade associated with a number of microbial groups, yet not enough research has been conducted on the full diversity and patterns of co-evolution between microbes and their ant hosts. Turtle ants comprise a species-rich New World genus that harbors a complex gut microbiota. Previous studies have shown that these microbes have co-diversified with turtle ants over a 50 million year evolutionary history. To further explore the evolutionary history between turtle ants and their associated microbes, the REU project will greatly expand on sampling from previous studies to include almost all known turtle ant species. High throughput sequencing methodology will be used to sample the bacterial community (16S rRNA) from each ant species. The data generated will be used to investigate microbial community diversity, correlations between bacterial groups and aspects of ant ecology and phylogeny, and co-diversification and host fidelity between hosts and symbionts. The REU intern will be trained in molecular methods, including DNA extraction, PCR and library preparation for the Ilumina sequencing platform.

    Mentors: Dr. Shauna Price, Dr. Manuela Ramalho, and Dr. Corrie Moreau