Freshman

Spider perception

Our lab is engaged in several projects on spider perception. Students will be assigned to particular projects based on their skills and interests. At the start of the semester, we will spend a lot of time in the field collecting spiders for use in projects later in the semester. Projects include: (1) How spiders explore visual stimuli with their principal eyes. The principal eyes of jumping spiders are moveable, and we can track their movements with a specialized eyetracker. We are testing several species and their responses to various stimuli, including videos of courting male spiders.

Global Invaders

Invasive species reduce biodiversity and are considered a major threat to ecosystems worldwide. Despite general knowledge of their widespread impacts, we still lack a consistent list of which species are invasive, where they have been studied, and what sorts of specific impacts have been identified. This information is critical for understanding the conditions that lead to invasion and informing effective monitoring and management.

Armored scale insects

Our laboratory uses DNA sequences and morphological characters to investigate the diversity, evolution and ecology of armored scale insects (class Insecta: order Hemiptera: family Diaspididae), especially in tropical rainforests. Paid lab assistantships are available for students to prepare DNA and microscope slide mounts from individual armored scale insect specimens. For advanced students, independent research projects are also possible.

Developing a Model System for Studying the Plant Microbiome

Model organisms and model systems are a cornerstone of biological sciences, enabling researchers to control all factors but one for a mechanistic understanding of complex biological systems. There is not currently a model system for the plant-soil ecosystem, since soil is a complex natural system not easily replicated. In this project, a student will work primarily with Dr. DeAngelis (Microbiology) as well as with advice form Dr. Hazen (Biology) and Dr. Ma (BMB) to grow the model plant Brachypodium distachyon in an artificial soil matrix developed in the DeAngelis lab.

How does corn use programmed cell death to develop flowers?

The goal of my research is to understand the function of genes involved in corn flower development. Corn plants have separated male and female flowers called the tassel and ear. Early in development, female organs (carpels) are suppressed in the tassel by programmed cell death (PCD), a tightly regulated form of cellular suicide. To understand how carpels are suppressed by PCD in the tassel, I am characterizing a genetic mutant that fails to suppress carpels that we call rapunzel (rzl). Several other maize mutants have been identified that fail to suppress carpels in the tassel.

The genetics and development of specialized floral tissue in grasses

The goal of this project is to determine the genes involved in the development of a specialized floral tissue type in grasses - the awn. The awn, a projection from the tissue that protects the developing seed, has diversified widely throughout grasses. Awns are specialized for a number of ecological roles, including photosynthesis to provide the seed with nutrients, as well as seed dispersal and establishment. Although the ecology of awns has been examined, the genetics and development of awns have not been well-studied.

The evolution of seed dispersal in weedy rice

Some plants have evolved to be troublesome weeds of human agriculture. A trait common to many weed plants is efficient seed dispersal. This project involves comparisons between cultivated rice, which does not disperse its seeds, and weedy rice, a bad weed related to cultivated rice that disperses its seeds efficiently. The undergraduate student involved with this project will assist a graduate student who is studying the genetic basis of seed dispersal.

Wildlife ecology of residential yards and urban green space

We are seeking a student intern to assist with a quantitative literature review of urban wildlife papers to determine spatial and temporal trends, the proportion of research that takes place on different types of green space and whether these patterns have changed over time. Duties will include organizing and compiling relevant literature, reviewing research articles to collect information and entering data in excel. There may also be opportunities to assist with occasional field work in the local area (e.g. mist-netting backyard birds).

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