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Anemone Tentacles

Research mentors and projects for the 2019 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), 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.

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 work with Dr. Dix and GTMNERR staff to conduct hypothesis-driven research with coastal management application using one or more of these long-term datasets as context.

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. 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.

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.

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. Ross, Ecological Physiology

Dr. Ross is an ecological physiologist who integrates lab and field-based components to study the molecular stress responses of seagrass in response to environmental pressures (e.g., climate change, pollution, disease). New REU students working under Dr. Ross will focus their research on seagrass diseases (particularly seagrass wasting disease) affecting populations along the Florida reef tract with the intention of developing integrated measurements of seagrass stress, immunity and resistance with the ultimate goal of determining the role genetics and various environmental factors play in these attributes.

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.