Projects and Mentors
Biotic and abiotic drivers of Lepidoptera diversity and community assembly
Dr. Catherine Hulshof studies plant and butterflies and the abiotic and biotic forces that drive diversity patterns across environmental gradients. M.Sc. Aura Alonso, the project manager for the Tropical Responses to Altered Climate Experiment, is studying how forest type determines the diversity and composition of moth assemblages. Students will work under the advice of both mentors in projects focused on determining what drives butterfly and moth diversity and distribution across a broad range of habitat types. Potential projects include 1) quantifying the relationship between Lepidoptera body size and coloration patterns across elevation and whether butterflies and moths diverge in their responses to elevation; or 2) measuring Lepidoptera diversity and distribution patterns across major forest types in the Luquillo Experimental Forest. Two students will be selected for this topic.
Aquatic insect ecology
Dr. Alonso Ramírez works on the ecology of aquatic insects in the streams and rivers within the Luquillo Experimental Forest, with emphasis on the role that aquatic insects play on ecosystem processes. Students will be involved in projects that focus on (1) assessing physicochemical factors affecting insect assemblages, (2) interaction between insects and shrimps and fishes, and (3) the role of insects in ecosystem processes, such as detritus decomposition and control of primary production. Students could develop projects in any of these areas and complement ongoing research or uncover new lines of research for future study.
Caddisfly (Trichoptera) Ecology
Limarie Reyes is a graduate student in the Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras. Her research interest focuses on Phylloicus pulchrus (Trichoptera) life history and effect of leaf litter processing in organic matter and nutrient release in tropical streams. Students working with her could develop a project around insect ecology and behavior, particularly Trichoptera, and the function of insects in ecosystem processes, such as organic matter processing, productivity, and nutrient cycling. Potential project ideas include the study of (1) the role of caddisflies on particle movement, (2) stressors affecting case building behavior, and (3) environmental gradients and caddisfly diversity.
Montana M. Atwater, M.S., is a PhD student of Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. Her research is broadly focused on ecology and evolution of moths, relating to their interactions with flowers. Her dissertation focuses on flower-settling moths of tropical high-altitudes, and implications to the evolution of proboscis form and function. Students will have the opportunity to gain experience and knowledge about the study of tropical Lepidoptera, and may be involved in projects encompassing behavior, diversity, community ecology and plant-pollinator interactions.
Bat communities in El Yunque
Sarah Stankavich is the coordinator for the LTER program and also helps run field projects such as the Canopy Trimming Experiment and the Elevational Gradient. However, Sarah's personal research interest is in terrestrial mammal behavior, specifically bats, and she did her master's research on the foraging activity of bats over wetlands in eastern Washington. Potential summer projects could focus on using acoustic recordings to compare bat populations or activity in different habitat types, along streams, or across a temporal scale. There may be an opportunity to utilize mist netting as well.
Bat ecology and pathogens
Anna Sjodin is a doctoral student at the University of Connecticut. Her dissertation research focuses on the population and community ecology of Puerto Rican bats and their pathogens. Student would work with bats, focusing on questions related to biodiversity, habitat use, or host and ecto-parasite ecology. Anna encourages potential students to think of independent ideas as well, as this is a critical step in the research process.
Rodent ecology and plant-animal interactions
Dr. Aaron Shiels (USDA, National Wildlife Research Center) works on rodent ecology and plant-animal interactions in tropical environments. Most of his research findings are applied towards improving ecosystem management and native species conservation. Students will develop independent projects focused on (1) plant herbivory/predation by ground-dwelling mammals, birds, and invertebrates, and (2) assessments of invasive mammal (i.e., rats, mongoose) activity in disturbed and undisturbed forest habitats.
Dr. James D. Ackerman conducts research in several areas: 1) Invasive species biology; 2) Natural selection and the evolution of floral traits; and 3) Biogeography at local to global scales. While most of his research is associated with orchids, he selects projects that have either a conceptual or applied basis, and if that means studying other groups of plants, or even fungi, insects, and reptiles, then it will get done. Students will have the opportunity to select a project that matches their interests as closely as possible.