Research Experiences for Undergraduates available for summer 2019!

Join the researchers of the VCR-LTER for summer 2019. NSF-funded opportunities are now available. Applications due February 1st 2019.

Project opportunities include:

Coastal Forests Migration (Gedan, PI) 
Coastal forests are retreating as sea level rises and being replaced by marshes. We are establishing a new long-term disturbance experiment at the forest-marsh boundary to test feedbacks that govern this transition and to inform ongoing modeling of ecosystem state change. We will girdle trees in transitioning areas and areas subject to future state change to test the hypothesis that the cessation of tree regeneration due to salt stress is a key change in ecological processes during the course of ecosystem transition; only when pine regeneration ceases and adult trees die or are experimentally killed, light availability will be sufficient for marsh grass and salt-tolerant shrubs (Baccharis halimifolia and Iva frutescens) to colonize and complete the transition. The student researcher will assist with the set-up, instrumentation, and initial data collection in experimental plots in transitioning coastal forest, and will have the opportunity to develop an independent research project that complements the main experiment. By collaborating with several PIs involved in the experiment (Gedan, Kirwan, Fagherazzi, Johnson), the student will gain exposure to and skills in plant community ecology, insect ecology, geomorphology, and hydrology during the summer. Student will be supervised by Keryn Gedan. Must be able to stay until mid-August, when the last round of plant community data will be collected.

Biodiversity of seagrass meadows (Castorani, PI)  
The VCR is home to the largest successful seagrass restoration in the world. This REU position will focus on understanding patterns of faunal biodiversity within these seagrass meadows, including study of fishes and benthic invertebrates through field collections, surveys, and new experiments. The successful candidate will join a group of interdisciplinary ecologists working across the barrier island–lagoon landscape, and work closely with Dr. Max Castorani (UVA) and his team of graduate students (https://castorani.evsc.virginia.edu). The ideal candidate should be strongly interested in perusing a career in ecology, hard working, detail orientated, and dedicated to his/her work. The student should also be comfortable working on boats, swimming in coastal waters, and handling small marine animals (fish, crabs).

Oyster-Marsh boundary dynamics (Reidenbach, PI)  
Work along an oyster reef- marsh transition zone examines oyster reef restoration and marsh sediment dynamic. At the oyster reefs, we are collecting and analyzing infauna and sediment cores and quantifying oyster density and/or recruitment on reefs at different elevations. We are also quantifying the exchange of sediment between adjacent Hog Island Bay and the marsh. The student will help with these initiatives and can also help deploy wave instruments used to measure wave energy dissipation across reefs.  We have an extensive data set from sensors deployed in a tidal creek, and the student will help collect and analyze suspended sediment samples and hydrodynamic data to complement our sensor data.

Shrub expansion on barrier islands (Zinnert, PI)  
Shrub expansion into grassland has been occurring across the Virginia barrier islands due to warmer winter temperatures. However, most studies have been conducted on adult shrubs, and we do not fully understand the role of seedlings and potential interactions with the grassland species into which shrubs invade. This project is part of a newly established long-term experiment following shrub growth from seedling to adult. The student will examine biotic interactions between grasses and shrubs in experimental plots where grasses have been clipped around shrubs seedlings compared to plots with grasses intact. The student will quantify nitrogen availability and shrub physiology from these plots. Additional measurements on functional traits of grasses growing near shrubs and away will also be made.

Seagrass productivity & resilience (Berg, PI) 
Opportunities are available to examine seagrass resilience via studies of productivity and biogeochemical cycling. Our current work focuses on seagrass metabolism in the largest restored meadow in the world. We are investigating the patterns and drivers of seagrass ecosystem metabolism, with particular focus on two known seagrass stressors: high temperatures and sulfide toxicity. There are opportunities here for a REU student to complement this research via work on pCO2 and photosynthesis, sediment sulfide, or epiphytes. The selected candidate will work closely with a graduate student on both field and lab work.

…Additional project opportunities on migratory and beach nesting birds coming soon!

To apply:

National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) positions are available with the Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Ecological Research (VCR-LTER) program for summer 2019. VCR-LTER researchers study patterns and mechanisms of ecosystem function, connectivity, and state changes in the coastal barrier system – from mainland marshes to intertidal and subtidal bay habitats and barrier islands. Potential REU projects range from sediment and plant dynamics to marine fauna responses to seagrass and oyster reef restoration. REUs also help collect data for ongoing long-term field projects. REUs spend the summer in a thriving research community; the VCR-LTER is based in the village of Oyster on Virginia’s Eastern Shore – one of the last coastal wildernesses on the east coast. The 10-week program begins the first week of June. REUs are provided a stipend plus on-site lodging and research support administered through the University of Virginia. More information about VCR-LTER research initiatives and potential advisers can be found in Research Highlights at www.vcrlter.virginia.edu. Specific project opportunities will be available in mid-January on the VCR LTER website (www.vcrlter.virginia.edu). Applicants are also encouraged to contact potential mentors directly. Applications are due February 1st and decisions will be made no later than March 1st. A resume and letter of interest should be sent to the Site Director, Cora Johnston, at coraj@virginia.edu. Please include “VCR REU Application” in the subject line.