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Biology Research Experience for Undergraduates Program

About our Program

The Research Experience for Undergraduates Program in Systematics and Evolutionary Biology is funded by the National Science Foundation and has been in place for 24 years.  Our program brings approximately eight students to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City each summer for a ten-week experience working with our curators, faculty, and post-doctoral fellows.  Research projects span diverse fields of comparative biology including paleontology, genomics, population biology, conservation biology, and phylogenetics and taxonomy.  Students have access to the Museum's immense natural history collections as well as state-of-the-art equipment for advanced imaging (CT scanner, SEM, TEM) and genomics (Sanger and pyrosequencing platforms).  Students receive a $5000 traineeship stipend, as well as per diem costs for housing and meals, relocation expenses, and transportation subsidies.  In addition to conducting original research projects throughout the summer, students also participate in formal instruction in systematics and evolution and receive training in ethics, networking, communication and other career-building skills.  The deadline to apply for the Summer 2016 program will be announced in early October.

Project Titles for 2015 (Coming Soon!)


Who Should Apply

All students in the program must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals or permanent residents of the U.S.  Students must be entering or continuing in an Associates or Baccalaureate degree program following their summer internship.  As part of the National Science Foundation's commitment to broadening participation in STEM fields, we especially encourage students who come from community colleges, undergraduate-only institutions, and minority-serving institutions to apply

2015 Biology REU Interns and their Research Projects


2015 Project Titles


Weevil Development and Comparative Morphology

Mentors: Dr. Steve Davis and Dr. David Grimaldi  (Division of Invertebrate Zoology)

Weevils are a tremendously diverse lineage of beetles constituting one of the largest groups of extant organisms, with approximately 60,000 described species. They are of great agricultural significance because they are associated with all major groups of plants and plant tissues. Current research is aimed at describing various components of the extraordinary morphological diversity observed within this large clade, as well as understanding the development of many of these features. Student projects may include, but are not limited to, documenting scale structure (similar to butterfly scales) in representative lineages through electron microscopy, histological examination of weevil cuticle and distribution of resilin (elastic protein giving flexibility to insect exoskeleton), embryology, and using developmental techniques to understand the formation of adult mouthpart morphology. (top)



Closing the Gap: Using Landscape and Climate Models to Infer Population Connectivity in Neotropical Bats

Mentors:  Dr. J. Angel Soto-Centeno and Dr. Nancy Simmons (Department of Mammalogy, Division of Vertebrate Zoology)

Understanding how connectivity is maintained among populations is important to evaluate the ecological processes shaping species distributions. The ability of individuals to disperse between habitat patches in heterogeneous landscapes is of special importance for assessing population connectivity. Bats are of great interest because they can fly, and thus have dispersal abilities greater than those of most other small mammals. The Neotropical forests of Central America show high levels of bat species richness and differential “permeability” between habitat patches. These characteristics offer a unique backdrop to study population connectivity and how landscape heterogeneity may affect gene flow in bats. This summer we will use a modeling approach to study population connectivity in Central American bats. Using sophisticated modeling techniques, we hope to be able to predict congruent patterns of connectivity and to identify important habitat corridors for movement of bats across poorly known forested areas. The summer intern will aid in the development of a database of mainland Neotropical bats by examining museum specimen records and literature accounts, will be trained in the development of climate and landscape models, and will assist in model comparison to assess importance of landscape features in population connectivity.  (top)

REU Study Systerm

Sequencing New York City's "Aquanome": Freshwater Environmental DNA along an Urbanization Mosaic

Mentors: Dr. Rob DeSalle and Dr. Eugenia Naro-Maciel (Division of Invertebrate Zoology and The Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics)

With the extensive modification of ecosystems by people and increased urbanization, the disrupted ecology of metropolitan areas must be assessed. The first step in any ecological assessment is correct organismal identification. One new cutting-edge next-generation sequencing method is environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis of genetic material collected directly from water, a new paradigm in biomonitoring.  New York City can serve as a model case study in urban ecology, however environmental DNA research here is in its infancy, underscoring the need for eDNA research of freshwater biodiversity throughout the NYC “Aquanome”. This study's objectives are to expand our ongoing research on Staten Island freshwater communities to include other key sites along an urban to wild landscape mosaic of human impact in New York City. Our intern will be involved in fieldwork to collect samples, followed by taxon identification in the laboratory using a combination of eDNA, DNA barcoding, and morphology, as well as analysis with respect to environmental characteristics. (top)

REU Noctuid Face

How Can You Eat That?!  Using Genomics to Understand Ecological Traits

Mentors: Dr. Sara Oppenheim and Dr. Rob DeSalle (Division of Invertebrate Zoology and The Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics)

We use next-generation genomics tools to examine the evolution of plant-herbivore interactions in the Noctuidae, a family of moths that ranges in diet breadth from extreme generalists feeding on many plant orders to extreme specialists feeding on a single plant species. Many noctuids are worldwide crop pests, and identifying the genes responsible for their broad host plant ranges could lead to ecologically sustainable strategies for controlling them. The intern on this project will conduct bioassays with several species of caterpillars feeding on different plant species, and examine gene expression profiles of plants and caterpillar before and after feeding. The intern can expect to acquire the laboratory and bioinformatic skills needed to conduct ecological genomics experiments and use next-generation sequence data to test hypotheses about how ecologically adaptive traits evolve. (top)

REU Mako Shark Head

Inside Shark Heads: Tomographic Segmentation of the Cranial Endocast in Modern Sharks and Rays

Mentors: Dr. John Maisey and Allison Bronson (Division of Paleontology)

This internship is part of the Chondrichthyan Tree of Life Project at the AMNH, which involves studying skeletal morphology of modern sharks and rays from CT scans. The successful candidate will perform tomographic segmentation analyses of modern sharks and rays, in order to create 3-D images of the cranial and labyrinth spaces. The work will involve learning to use sophisticated imaging programs (VG, Mimics). There will also be an opportunity to learn how scanning is done and to make a scan of a shark or ray braincase using the scanner at the Museum.  (top)

REU Palaeictops

Assembling Data for the Mammal Tree of Life

Mentors: Dr. Michael J. Novacek and Dr. Paul Velazco (Division of Paleontology)

In early 2013 an international team assembled and analyzed the largest character data set  (over 30 genes and 4,500 phenomic characters ) yet for deciphering the relationships among the major living and fossil mammalian groups.  The resulting phylogenetic tree showed major resolution in certain critical and controversial areas, including the relationships at the base of the tree for placental mammals (the great group that includes humans and their primate relatives, bats, carnivores, whales, rodents and many other clades). Estimates for the times of appearance of groups based on genealogical relationships as well as dates of first appearance in the fossil record showed that the radiation of the placentals was, in the main, a relatively late event in the 210-million-year history of mammals, occurring some 65 million years ago and immediately after the Cretaceous mass extinction event that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs and many other terrestrial as well as marine groups.  We are currently continuing to test and refine these results by adding characters and taxa to the massive data matrix already assembled.  We are focusing on Mesozoic fossil groups that are well represented by skeletal features, including new taxa discovered in our Mongolian Gobi Desert expeditions.  We invite an REU student to work with us in adding new important information in terms of morphological characters and fossil and recent taxa and contributing to phenomic, genomic, and combined analysis in an effort to further resolve the mammalian tree of life.  (top)

Eunsoo Kim REU Pic

  Discovery and Description of New Protists

 Mentors: Dr. Aaron Heiss and Dr. Eunsoo Kim (Division of Invertebrate Zoology)

Protists (eukaryotes that are not also plants, animals, or fungi) are everywhere, and yet their diversity remains underappreciated.  This is especially true of heterotrophic flagellates under 10 µm long, which are abundant and important members of marine and freshwater food webs, but whose small size and lack of pigmentation has made them easy to overlook. Our lab explores this diversity in locations both exotic and ordinary, and already has a number of organisms awaiting description.  We seek an intern to (1) maintain cultures of novel organisms, (2) extract and sequence genetic data from them, and (3) use that data to reconstruct evolutionary relationships.  Prerequisites include some background in genetics, molecular biology, cell biology, microbiology, and/or evolutionary biology.  Skills that will be practiced along the way will include preparation of culture media, sterile technique, light microscopy, and PCR.  The student may also gain experience in sampling and isolation of new organisms, next-generation sequencing, and/or electron microscopy.    (top)

REU Endoparasites

  Phylogenomics and Urban Prevalence of Cnidarian Parasites

 Mentors: Dr. Mark Siddall and Jonathan Foox (Division of Invertebrate Zoology)

An REU student will work on some of the oldest, simplest, and smallest animals: the Myxozoa. These animals are a bizarre group of endoparasites of aquatic vertebrates, remarkable for their close evolutionary relationship to medusozoans (jellyfish, hydroids, and cube jellies). Myxozoans have a significant impact on the economy, as they cause huge loss in farm-reared salmon and trout species. Despite this, very little is understood about their phylogenetics or their molecular mechanisms. The student will be trained in DNA and RNA extraction, molecular sequencing, and phylogenomic pipelining to understand the evolution and functional genetics of these parasites. The student will also characterize the extent of myxozoan impact on commercial fish meat in markets throughout New York City through molecular and microscopic identification.    (top)

REU Pontobdella

  Vampires No Longer: A Study of the Selective Pressures Relating to Loss of Blood-Feeding Leeches

 Mentors: Dr. Mark Siddall and Michael Tessler (Division of Invertebrate Zoology)

At least since the beginning of recorded history, leeches have inspired powerful emotions from disgust to hope (when utilized in a medical context). These reactions largely revolve around leech anticoagulants – we bleed a lot after a leech bite. Yet contrary to common conceptions, in the freshwater habitats of most continents the majority of leeches are predatory and do not feed on blood. Surprisingly, the one predatory leech that has been screened for anticoagulants has and is actively transcribing several anticoagulants. This project seeks to determine the extent to which ancestral anticoagulants are retained in other non-bloodfeeding leeches and whether or not they are released from the strong purifying selection that is known for anticoagulants in bloodfeeding species. To accomplish these goals the student who is selected for this project will conduct a subset of their choosing of the overall research. The project will begin by using Next Generation Sequencing techniques from RNA isolation through the bioinformatics pipelines necessary to process the data. Following data acquisition, molecular evolutionary selection and phylogenetic methods will be utilized to test the questions posed by the student.  (top)


  Form and Function in Fishes

 Mentors: Dr. John Sparks and Dr. Christopher Martinez (Division of Vertebrate Zoology)

Morphological comparisons of biological specimens are useful in a wide range of applications, including studies in evolution, development, population/species discrimination and many more. Specifically, geometric morphometrics is a powerful tool that allows for direct comparison of shapes with potential covariates. This project will entail the use of geometric morphometrics to address research a question relevant to the field of ichthyology. The student will learn about the theory and analytical methods surrounding geometric morphometrics. He or she will put this knowledge to use in a practical application in one of several ongoing morphometric projects. Examples include a study on the development of light organs in midwater fishes and another on the role of the form-function relationship in shaping the evolution of feeding systems in fishes.    (top)


REU Kid n Pig

  Evolutionary Network Analysis of Viruses and Human Language

 Mentor: Dr. Ward Wheeler (Division of Invertebrate Zoology)

The evolution of many biological and behavioral systems are best described as networks (allowing horizontal exchange) rather than trees (allowing only vertical transmission of information).  Two interesting cases of this are influenza virus and human language.  Using bioinformatics techniques, an REU student will examine potential cases of non-treelike evolution in the history of viruses and language.  (top)



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