The AMNH is pleased to offer summer undergraduate research opportunities in Biology (Evolution and Systematics). The program is open to all students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, in any four year undergraduate degree program, who will not have completed a bachelor's degree before September 1, 2013.
The application deadline for summer 2013 has passed. Please check this website frequently for the summer 2014 program application information or sign up for our mailing list.
Mentors: Dr. Ronald Clouse (Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Invertebrate Zoology) and Dr. Ward Wheeler (Curator, Division of Invertebrate Zoology)
The numerous and varied landmasses that extend from Indonesia across the Pacific harbor a significant portion of the world's biodiversity, and both the islands and their associated organisms have complex and heterogeneous histories. We are interested in reconstructing the events that have led to various assemblages of leaf-litter arthropods, especially ants and minor arachnids, as well as the theoretical aspects of how biogeographic reconstructions and network analyses are conducted. Students will have wide latitude to choose how to participate in various phylogenetic studies, and they will have opportunities to learn DNA amplification and sequencing, bioinformatics and phylogenetic analysis, morphological character scoring and taxonomy, and biogeographical analysis. (top)
Mentor: Dr. Susan Perkins, Division of Invertebrate Zoology
Several species of skinks in the genus Prasinohaema from the island of Papua New Guinea have highly unusual blood physiology in that they maintain very high levels of the liver pigment biliverdin in their blood, making it and other tissues a bright lime-green color. Although similar compounds are toxic to the human malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, we have recently described a species of Plasmodium infecting these lizards. This project will involve molecular evolutionary genetic work to investigate the hemoglobin-degrading pathways in these parasites. Students with both laboratory and bioinformatics skills are especially encouraged to apply. (top)
Mentors: Dr. Randall Schuh, Dr. Christine Johnson, Dr. Katja Seltman, Division of Invertebrate Zooloy
This REU project will focus on using a large dataset of North American plant bugs, their host plants and parasitoids to examine patterns in host use and three-way interactions among interactants. As a broad evolutionary pattern, taxonomically-related insect species tend to feed on taxonomically-related host plants, with an admixture of polyphagy and specialization. The same is true for some parasitoids and their host range. By analyzing these existing data in one or more taxa, the REU will be able to establish the degree of host use by plant feeders and parasitoids, and determine whether parasitoid or host plant may impact these co-evolutionary relationships across a geographic range. In addition, the student will examine what other factors, such seasonal changes in plant and bug life-cycle, affect host use. Analysis of these data will also provide the foundation to further investigate host range in parasitoids and plant feeders across higher taxa, and how plant phenology and distribution may contribute to variation host range in plant bugs and their parasitoids. The student will gain experience using the Arthropod Easy Capture Database, PC-ORD, a software program designed for multivariate analysis and graphical representation of ecological data, and Excel. It is anticipated that the results of the project will be published in a scientific journal. (top)
Requirements: Student should have strong interest in pursuing independent research and an aptitude for data analysis.
Mentor: Dr. Eunsoo Kim (Assistant Curator, Division of Invertebrate Zoology) and Dr. Michael Levandowsky, Visiting Scientist, Division of Invertebrate Zoology
The project for the summer student in the Kim lab is to explore the diversity of single-celled protists in the rich variety of brackish habitats found locally in the New York estuarine waters, as well as subsurface and deep marine samples collected from the AMNH’s sea expeditions. The selected intern will 1) participate in field collections in local waters, 2) examine protist diversity using light and fluorescent microscopy, 3) construct 16S/18S rDNA amplicon libraries from size-fractionated environmental samples for massively parallel sequencing, and 4) analyze sequence data. (top)
Mentor: David Grimaldi, Division of Invertebrate Zoology
Amber, the fossilized form of tree resin, preserves myriad arthropods, plants and other life forms with exquisite fidelity. The REU in my lab will assist in the following: screening rough 50-million-year-old amber from western India for biological inclusions; fine preparation for microscopy and systematic study; and comparative analysis of exemplar fossil species with close relatives, both living and extinct. Indian amber was formed during a critical time period, approximately when the subcontinent was crashing into Asia, when earth was entirely tropical and modern types of tropical forests proliferated, and during the radiations of some major groups of insects like ants. Given sufficient time and resources, studies will also be made using electron microscopy of the cellular and subcellular preservation of internal tissues of the inclusions. (top)
Mentor: Dr. Mark Siddall (Curator, Division of Invertebrate Zoology)
Leeches in several families including the Glossiphoniidae, Piscicolodae, Haemadipsidae and Praobdellidae differ in size at sexual maturity by orders of magnitude depending on the species. Characteristics that are of central importance in leech systematics comrprose both internal and external anatomical details. With larger leeches, both can be accomplished with a stereomicroscope, some dissection and digital photography. However, with species that do not exceed 5 mm in length, the act of dissection itself risks damage to the very internal organs that require characterization. Historically, this was circumvented by serial thin sectioning of wax-embedded and histological staining with later inference as to what this represents in 3 dimensions. With the advent of new techniques developed by Siddall and colleagues, micro-CT scanning can be leveraged at AMNH, achieving better than 5 micrometer resolution of soft-bodied invertebrates like leeches. The student selected for this project will develop a skill set in advanced imaging using CT scanning and 3-dimensional reconstruction software. Learning goals include general principles of invertebrate systematics including concepts in histological chemistry, homology, and anatomical ontology and descriptive taxonomy all applied toward an new species description outcome for leeches obtained from a South American catfish. In light of background literature associated with the type locality of the new species a preference will be given to students who are fluent in Spanish. General understanding of methods in DNA isolation, amplification and sequencing is also desired but not required. (top)
Mentors: Dr. Mary Blair and Dr. Eleanor Sterling (Director, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation)
Slow lorises are small nocturnal primates threatened by the illegal wildlife trade in South and Southeast Asia. This project will utilize the Museum's collections to collect genetic and/or morphological characters to delineate among slow loris species in order to improve our understanding of their diversity and evolution, and also the management and enforcement of wildlife trade policies. (top)
Mentors: Dr. Paul Velazco (Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Mammalogy, Division of Vertebrate Zoology) and Dr. Nancy Simmons (Curator, Department of Mammalogy, Division of Vertebrate Zoology)
Bats represent the most ecologically diverse radiation in all of Mammalia. Ranging in size from 2g to >1kg, different species show specializations for aerial insectivory, gleaning insectivory, carnivory, piscivory, omnivory, frugivory, nectarivory, and even sangivory (blood feeding). Detailed phylogenies based on DNA sequence data are being developed, but we cannot yet date divergence points accurately because fossils have not yet been fully integrated into studies of the group. A long-term project is being developed to address these problems through creation of a Virtual Museum of bat fossils and exemplars of extant bats that will be openly accessible to researchers all over the world via MorphoBank (http://morphobank.org/), a web-based platform for morphological systematics. A dataset of >350 cranial and dental characters for bats has been developed in that platform that will facilitate placement of fossil bat species into more comprehensive phylogenies based on morphology and gene sequence data. This summer, work will focus on gathering cranial images and data from taxa highly modified for different feeding strategies (e.g., frugivory, nectarivory, blood feeding) and incorporating fossils of Eocene bats. Work will also include collaborations with scientists working on the NSF AVAToL project "Next Generation Phenomics for the Tree of Life" (http://avatol.org/) which is using exemplars from our bat project to adapt methods of computer vision and crowd sourcing for studying phenotypic evolution on a vast scale. (top)
Mentor: Dr. John Maisey and Dr. Amy Balanoff, Division of Paleontology
Modern sawfishes (family Pristidae) are bizarre cartilaginous fishes related to skates and rays. Their most obvious specialization is a long snout, armed on either side with a row of sharp denticles. The REU project will involve tomographic scanning one or more modern sawfish specimens and segmentation analysis of the skeleton (especially the braincase) using 3-D imaging software (MIMICS or VG Studio MAX). The results will provide a basis for comparison in Cretaceous sclerorhynchids (extinct relatives of pristids) and will hopefully clarify the early evolutionary history of sawfishes. (top)
The successful applicant will receive training in scanning and 3-D imaging, so some technical aptitude is desirable in addition to a strong interest in Natural Science.
Mentors: Dr. George Barrowclough (Associate Curator, Department of Ornithology, Division of Vertebrate Zoology) and Dr. Jeff Groth (Manager, Cullman Molecular Laboratories, Division of Vertebrate Zoology)
Evidence for substantial genetic differentiation across the Gulf Coast of the U.S. has become extensive for many organisms, including both plants and animals. This is probably the result of long-term barriers to dispersal during the Pleistocene, but birds have represented a major exception to the rule. However, recent data suggest that, in birds, annual migration may inhibit genetic divergence due to increased dispersal and gene flow. We will test this hypothesis by using DNA sequences to examine the genetic structure of non-migratory red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) populations from throughout eastern North America, with particular focus on the Gulf Coast region. The lab work will consist of PCR and standard DNA sequencing techniques. Interest in birds and geography is desirable. (top)
Mentor: Dr. Estefania Rodriguez, Division of Invertebrate Zoology
Sea anemones (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Actiniaria) are common and conspicuous inhabitants of many chemosynthetic ecosystems, often dominating their microhabitats in these systems. The taxonomic placement of sea anemones endemic to this unique deep-sea environments based on morphology is especially problematic: most taxa from chemosynthetic environments present a combination of characters that made them incompatible with the diagnoses of other genera. The high level of endemicity (over 95%) of sea anemones in these environments and the taxonomic confusion of many of the groups to which these animals belong makes their systematic relationships obscure.
One REU student will be train in taxonomic methods: he/she will become familiarized with the organisms, learn to recognize diagnostic morphological characters, practical methods to process the material (histological techniques, microscopy) and generate data, and help to interpret, illustrate, and discuss the results. (top)