Mentors for next summer

Projects and Mentors

Summer 2019

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) and Mosquito (Diptera) Ecology

Limarie Reyes is a Ph.D. student in the Biological Sciences Department at the University of Southern Mississippi. Depending on the REU student’s interest, the project may focus in caddisflies (1) or mosquitoes (2). Both project ideas will emphasize natural disturbances (hurricanes) on the populations.
(1) The caddisfly project will evaluate the effects of hurricanes on Phylloicus pulchrus (Trichoptera) populations in a tropical stream. The data collected can be compared with available pre-hurricane data of the population to get initial insights on how disturbances in the habitat might shift population dynamics.
(2) The mosquito project will assess vector mosquito (dengue, Zika, chikungunya) larval and adult abundance from urban areas (San Juan Metropolitan area) and rural areas (Luquillo Experimental Forest) in Puerto Rico after the impact of two consecutive hurricanes

Plant Population Ecology and Invasive Species Biology

Dr. James D. Ackerman, UPR-RP, conducts research in 3 main areas in which REU students can develop their independent projects: (1) Natural selection and the evolution and maintenance of deception pollination systems in the orchid family; (2) Dispersion of orchids and its relationship to land use history and recruitment; and (3) Invasive plant species biology. The first has its roots in evolutionary biology using Darwin's favorite model system, the orchids. As orchids are one of the most diverse groups of plants with a remarkable array of adaptations for survival and for specialized pollination, orchids are a good model system to gain insight in the diversification of flowering plants. The goal is to detect natural selection when reproductive success is rare and how these conditions affect the loss or gain of phenotypic variation. With analytical tools such as cubic spline analysis and Bayesian statistics, the importance of genetic drift and selection in plant evolution can be detected. The second area involves the spatial aspects of reproductive success from seed germination to growth, development, flowering, fruiting, seed production and dispersal. This work links directly with studies of natural selection and evolution, but emphasizes ecological aspects at local and landscape scales combining field experiments with spatial statistics and GIS technology. For the third area, invasive species, tropical islands are prone to invasions and Puerto Rico is just beginning to see an explosion in the number of exotic species becoming naturalized and invasive. How such species affect ecosystem function and what might be the pattern of spread is of great interest to the integrity natural areas. Demographic studies utilizing transition matrices, reproductive ecology, and utilization of species distribution models are the tools to be used to address these problems.

Meiofauna and Protists Ecology

Josué Santiago-Vera is a Ph.D. student in the Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras. Currently, he is interested on disturbance effects (hurricane) on community structure of meiofauna in streams. Using manipulation experiments (artificial stream channels), students will develop an independent project to evaluate effects of hurricanes (canopy gap, litter dams, sedimentation, floods) on a community level using meiofaunal species or protists as model organisms.

Soil and leaf litter fungal diversity

Dr. Sharon A. Cantrell works with fungi using molecular techniques. Her research relates the microbial community in the soil and leaf litter with environmetal factors. Undergraduate students could study the diversity of microorganisms in soil and leaf litter from various forest types, forest with contrasting anthropogenic disturbance histories, and identify microbial indicators of various forest and disturbance types. Undergraduate students will be trained in the characterization of fungi using molecular techniques. They will learn to extract DNA from environmental samples, amplify genes with fungal specific primers using PCR, conduct TRFLP, sequence using an ABI 3130 Genetic Analyzer and conduct phylogenetic analyses using various programs.

Riparian ecosystems 

Dr. Jesus E. Gomez works as project coordinator of the Stream Flow Reduction experiment at the Luquillo LTER collaborating with the data collection to assess the effects of drought and hurricanes of aquatic food webs. His research interest focus on: a) community assembly rules, particularly how species diversity of arthropods and/or small vertebrate’s changes in response to disturbance, spatial and temporal heterogeneity of the habitat. b) predator-prey dynamics and their influence on food web structure. Students could develop a project that focus on: 1) assessing how the structural complexity of the riparian vegetation influences arthropod diversity, 2) the influence of amphibian presence on riparian leaf litter decomposition.