Skip to Main Content
students with professor on ramp

Research mentors and projects for the 2020 UNF REU Program

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

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). REU students working with Dr. Aspinwall will have the opportunity to conduct research in one of the following areas: 1) the physiological response of marsh and/or mangrove species to temperature, salinity, and/or nutrients; 2) genetic variation in leaf and stem physiology in the bioenergy crop, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and 3) forest tree responses to climate warming and heat stress.

Dr. Nikki Dix, Estuarine Ecology for Coastal Management

Dr. Dix is off campus at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve ( where she serves as Research Director. Her research interests involve understanding how ecosystems respond to natural and anthropogenic change with the intent of informing natural resource management. The research program at GTMNERR is founded in long-term monitoring of weather, water quality, plankton, salt marshes, and oyster reefs. REU students will have the opportunity to gain experience in a variety of areas,but will likely work on a project related to an ongoing NSF-funded project, "Warming Ecosystem Temperatures in a Florida Ecotone Experiencing Transition (WETFEET)". See for more details.

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.

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.

Dr. Laura Habegger, Functional Morphology in Fishes

Dr. Habegger is a functional morphologist interested in understanding how form affects the function of a variety of structural components in vertebrates, particularly fishes. Her research interests are wide ranging from the estimation of bite forces among marine top marine predators to the elucidation of the osteological composition and formation of extreme skull adaptations. Students working with Dr. Habegger will be involved in one of the three following topics:

  1. investigating the osteological development of different skull components in pelagic fish larvae
  2. characterizing major structural differences on the skin of sharks and rays,
  3. characterizing fish otolith (ear stones) morphology from a material science standpoint to understand its potential significance in fish hearing.

Dr. Eric Johnson, Fisheries Ecology

Dr. Johnson is a fisheries biologist that integrates basic ecology with fisheries science to address important research questions related to commercial and recreational fisheries, predominantly along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. Students working with Dr. Johnson have in the past, and will potentially investigate: 1) ecology of the invasive lionfish in Florida, or 2) population dynamics of blue crabs in the St. Johns River.

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.

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.

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.