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.
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.
Mentor: Dave Grimaldi, Division of Invertebrate Zoology
The intern working in my lab will assist in research on 50 million-year-old amber that was recently excavated in western India, which contains a wide diversity of extinct life forms from the early Eocene. This time period is geologically and evolutionarily critical, when the Indian subcontinent is thought to have collided with the Asian continent, and when paleoclimate was warmer than most times during the geological past. The intern will help prepare and screen through the amber to discover insect and other biological inclusions, prepare the specimens for scientific study and learn techniques for studying them, and participate in a scientific study on a select group of insects in the amber. (top)
Mentors: J. Angel Soto-Centeno and Dr. Nancy Simmons, Department of Mammalogy, Division of Vertebrate Zoology
Islands, and especially archipelagos, provide unique opportunities to study biogeographic processes because of their finite niche availability, distinct natural boundaries, and degree of isolation from the mainland by oceanic straits. The West Indies are characterized by a complex climatic and geologic history that make them an exceptional center for the study of diversity, evolution, and extinction of bats. Analyses of cave fossils have suggested extinction of 18% of all species of bats in the region from Pleistocene to modern times. Our primary goal is to compile multi-species fossil datasets of bats and develop time-scaled ecological niche models (ENM) to assess the influence of climate change on the extinction of West Indian bats from the late Pleistocene to the present. ENMs will also be developed combining bats into ecological guilds to assess if climate change affected bat distributions at the community level. A summer intern will aid in the development of a database of Caribbean fossil bats by means of fossil identification and currently available records from the literature. Additionally, the intern will be trained in the development of ENMs and statistical comparison of changes in bat distributions across time. (top)
Mentors: Melanie Stiassny and Liz Alter (York College, CUNY)
The Lower Congo River is a region of high freshwater diversity and endemism, punctuated by some of the most spectacular rapids on Earth. The extraordinary hydrology of the river represents a model system for exploring mechanisms of population divergence and speciation. An ongoing biotic survey and inventory in the region has yielded large collections of fish specimens and tissues, which combined with the latest developments in remote sensing technology, will allow us to investigate some of the pressing questions concerning the evolutionary history and ecological interactions of aquatic organisms in the Lower Congo rapids as well as providing critical biodiversity data for conservation planning and global freshwater biodiversity assessments. An REU student will craft a research project within the framework of this broader program. This project will involve molecular and possibly morphological analysis at the population and species level of selected fish taxa collected from localities along the main channel of the Lower Congo, and will provide the opportunity for experience analyzing next-generation sequence data. GIS mapping and tools will augment the study and provide a geographic context for understanding the role of rapids in structuring populations.(top)
Mentors: Jack Tseng and John Flynn (Division of Paleontology)
Modern mammalian predators have evolved diverse prey-killing adaptations, from solitary ambush to group-hunting slashing specialists. This project uses computer imaging, reconstruction, and model simulations to study the biomechanical capabilities of the extinct relatives of modern predator species. Using high-resolution CT data, the intern will reconstruct, build, and analyze a computational model of the skull of a modern predator and a fossil counterpart, making comparisons to other forms in a phylogenetic framework. The research will enhance our understanding of the different specializations for hunting and processing prey that have evolved over more than 50 million years in the Carnivora (dogs, cats, bears, seals, etc.) and nearest relatives. (top)
Mentor: Melanie Hopkins (Division of Paleontology)
The Trilobita is a group of entirely extinct marine arthropods, and one of the first major macroscopic fossil groups to show up in abundance in the fossil record. Trilobites are also remarkably diverse, with over 20,000 species described. Despite considerable systematic work, higher-level phylogenetic relationships among different groups of trilobites remain largely unresolved. The goal of this project is to elucidate the evolutionary history of the earliest trilobite groups, focusing particularly on the placement of the order Corynexochida. The student selected for this project will learn how to prepare, photograph, and describe trilobite specimens previously collected from the Lower Cambrian of Nevada. The student will also describe the full ontogeny (development) of at least one trilobite species. Finally, the student will learn how to code morphological characters, build phylogenetic trees, and use the trees to address questions of early character evolution. It is anticipated that the results of the project will be published in a scientific journal. (top)
Mentors: Paul Velazco and Michael J. Novacek
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 focussing 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)
Aaron Heiss and Eunsoo Kim
Protists (single-celled eukaryotes) 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 make them easy to overlook.
This project will explore this diversity in locations both exotic and ordinary, and already has a number of organisms awaiting description. You will learn how to maintain cultures of novel organisms, extract DNA from these organisms and sequence genetic data from them, and also learn to use those data to reconstruct evolutionary relationships. New skills that will be practiced along the way will include preparation of culture media, sterile techniques, light microscopy, and molecular genetic methods. (top)