Research mentors and projects for the 2018 UNF REU Program 

Check back regularly.  More REU mentors will be added shortly!



Comparative Physiology

  Dr. Greg Ahearn, Comparative Physiology, Crustacean, Teleost, and Elasmobranch Digestive Physiology


Dr. Ahearn is a physiologist that currently studies the synergistic absorption of essential amino acids and metals (e.g., zinc, copper and manganese) in the digestive tracks of marine invertebrates and sharks.  Students working with Dr. Ahearn have been/will be involved in researching: 1) nutritional physiology of marine organisms, 2) short-term grow-out experiments of juvenile penaeid shrimp, 3) molecular biology of transport proteins, or 4) physiological synergistic effects of ocean acidification, salinity, and temperature on crustacean ion and osmotic regulation. 


Plant Physiology
  Dr. Mike Aspinwall, Plant Physiology and Environmental Changes

Dr. Aspinwall’s research program primarily focuses on plant physiological responses to environmental change over the long-term (evolutionary adaptation) and short-term (acclimation, plasticity), as well as the sensitivity and resilience of terrestrial plant communities to environmental change. REU students working with Dr. Aspinwall will have the opportunity to conduct research on one of the following topics: 1) the physiological response of marsh and/or mangrove species to temperature, salinity, and nutrients; 2) temperature adaptation and acclimation in the bioenergy crop, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and 3) the response of dune and/or understory forest communities to disturbance frequency/intensity. 


Environmental Microbiology

Dr. Dale Casamatta, Environmental microbiology

 Dr. Casamatta is an aquatic ecologist that focuses primarily on describing novel microbial biodiversity and aquatic microbial ecology, and recently mentored his first REU student, an underrepresented minority, in our program in 2014.  Students working with Dr. Casamatta have been/will be involved in:  1) the investigation of microbe-microbe interactions in lichens, 2) the description of symbioses involving cyanobacteria or other microbial taxa, or 3) describing how changes in abiotic conditions lead to changes in the cyanobacterial community.  



Ecology and Biology of Sharks and Rays in north Florida waters



Dr. Jim Gelsleichter, Shark Biology, Physiology, and Ecotoxicology


Dr. Gelsleichter’s research program focuses on population ecology, reproductive biology, and ecotoxicology of fish, particularly sharks and their relatives.  REU students working with Dr. Gelsleichter will conduct research projects focused on a diverse number of topics such as shark abundance in northeast Florida waters, the roles of gonadal steroids in shark sexual differentiation, stress responses in sharks, reproductive effects of methylmercury, and the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Gulf of Mexico fishes.


Behavioral Ecology of Dolphins
  Dr. Quincy Gibson, Behavioral Ecology

Dr. Gibson is a behavioral ecologist that studies reproductive and feeding behaviors of bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus.  REU students working with Dr. Gibson have been/will be involved in: 1) elucidating the patterns and function of alliance formation in local populations of T. truncatus, or 2) comparing behaviors among three genetically distinct subpopulations of T. truncatus in the Jacksonville area.  Dr. Gibson has mentored 2 REU students in the past 3 years, one of which received the "Best Oral Presentation by an Undergraduate Student" award for her presentation at the 2014 Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Marine Mammal (SEAMAMMS) Symposium.


 Evolutionary Genetics, Speciation, Invasive Species Biology




Dr. Matt Gilg, Evolutionary Genetics, Speciation, Invasive Species Biology 


Dr. Gilg is an evolutionary ecologist interested in speciation, hybrid zone evolution, establishment and expansion of invasive species and adaptation to environmental changes.  Students working with Dr. Gilg will be involved in one of three research areas: 1) the genetic structure of a hybrid zone between closely related species of Killifish, Fundulus heteroclitus and F. grandis, and how this structure is changing with habitat shifts due to climate change, 2) determining the effects of increased international shipping through the Jacksonville Port in the St. Johns River on propagule pressure of introduced species of marine invertebrates, or 3) heritability of temperature tolerance in Caribbean corals.


Identification of

Natural Products Marine Microorganisms



Dr. Amy Lane, Biochemical identification of natural products from marine microorganisms. 


Dr. Lane utilizes marine microorganisms to isolate organic molecules known as natural products. Natural products are promising lead compounds for the development of new antibiotics and act as the “words” of chemical languages “spoken” by microorganisms. These chemical communication signals drive interactions between organisms, including symbiosis, competition, and host-pathogen interactions. Deciphering the meaning of chemical signals enables understanding of marine microbial biodiversity and opens doors for improving marine ecosystem health. NSF REU fellows in the Lane group will select from the following projects: (1) evaluating natural products as chemical weapons utilized by marine microorganisms to thwart their competitors; or, (2) identifying genes and enzymes employed by marine microorganisms to assemble natural products that act as chemical weapons and as potential human antibiotics. 


Developmental and regenerative biology 
  Dr. Vladimir Mashanov, Developmental and regenerative biology

Dr. Mashanov studies cellular and molecular aspects of development and post-traumatic organ regeneration in echinoderms. REU students interested in joining the lab will be involved in: (1) studying arm regeneration in a brittle star; (2) investigating regeneration of the anterior body region in a sea cucumber; (3) computational three-dimensional modeling of microscopic anatomy of regenerating organs.


Food webs and Ecosystem Dynamics
  Dr. Adam Rosenblatt, Environmental changes and the impact on food webs and ecosystems

Dr. Rosenblatt’s research program focuses on the effects of environmental change on food webs and ecosystems. REU students working with Dr. Rosenblatt will have the opportunity to conduct research on a topic of their choice. Potential options include: blue crab abundance and feeding patterns within the intracoastal waterway, the roles of spiders in coastal marsh food webs, the effects of climate change on alligator sex ratios, and alligator behavior and physiology within the St. Johns River. 


Genomics and Developmental Genetics
  Dr. Frank Smith, Genomics and Developmental Genetics

Research in Dr. Frank Smith’s lab follows a comparative approach to genomics and developmental genetics to study the origin and diversification of animal body plans.  The evolution of the jointed legs that are characteristic of arthropods is thought to have contributed to their evolutionary success.  Tardigrades are closely related to arthropods, but unlike arthropods, they retain the unjointed legs that were present in the common ancestor of these two lineages.  The summer research project in the Smith lab will focus on identifying homologs of the genes that control leg development in arthropods in a genome of a tardigrade and determining the function of these genes during tardigrade development.  Results of this study will provide insight into how jointed appendages evolved in the arthropod lineage.