Undergraduate Research Opportunity in Alpine Ecology

The Doak lab at CU Boulder and the Morris lab at Duke University are recruiting two motivated undergraduates for a summer research internship in alpine plant ecology as part of NSFÂ’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.  The students will design and conduct independent research that contributes to a larger NSF-funded project to investigate how demographic variation across geographic ranges determines species range limits and responses to climate change. To answer this question, we have been conducting a long-term, multi-site study of the demography and flowering phenology of two widely distributed and well-studied herbaceous perennial tundra plants, moss campion (Silene acaulis) and bisort (Polygonum viviparum). The REU students can combine short-term experimental or observational field studies with 15+ years of existing demographic data, spanning multiple populations, habitat types, and geographic regions, to ask compelling questions about the ecology or evolution of alpine plants. Examples of excellent questions that REU students could address include:

  • How do changing climate conditions (snowmelt, temperature) influence the timing of flowering and pollinators?
  • Studies of pollination limitation for plants in female or hermaphrodite-dominated subpopulations of the gynodioecious Silene acaulis
  • Evidence for up or down-slope range expansion of either species in response to climate change
  • Impacts of plant neighborhood structure on growth and survival
  • Studies of these or other species across local elevational gradients, to assess changes in form or population structure that would correspond to or arise from demographic shifts.

The REU students will be based at the Mountain Research Station at Niwot Ridge, CO from June 1 to August 3, 2019 (the main flowering and growth season). Staying at the Mountain Research Station will allow the student to engage in rigorous field work at Niwot Ridge, take advantage of long-term research plots, and interact with other REU students and researchers. In addition, the student will be able to supplement field research at Niwot Ridge with trips to nearby alpine areas and other greenhouse or computer modeling work at CU Boulder. In late July, the student will also participate in the main project by collecting demographic data in long-term plots at Niwot Ridge and New Mexico.

We will provide the REU student with travel expenses, room and board at the Mountain Research Station, and a $400/week stipend. We will also provide support for research expenses, including materials or research-related travel.

The ideal candidate will be interested in pursuing a career in ecology, environmental sciences, or evolutionary biology, and have demonstrated abilities in critical thinking, organization, and working as part of a team. Candidates should have some background in ecology, environmental sciences, or evolution, and the ability and willingness to engage in physically strenuous or uncomfortable activities (e.g., hiking at high elevation, carrying heavy packs, working outdoors under a variety of weather conditions, etc.). Candidates must be enrolled in an undergraduate program at the time of the REU (i.e., students that graduate prior to the program are not eligible). Students from underrepresented backgrounds (first-generation college students, women, minorities, etc.) are especially encouraged to apply!

Applications should include: 1) copy of unofficial transcripts, 2) contact information for two professors or other academic references who have agreed to be references for the applicant, 3) CV, and 4) a one-page description of your academic background and goals, your interest in the REU position, any previous research experience, and any experience working or hiking at high elevations.

Applications and letters should be sent to Dr. Megan Peterson at [email protected] with “2019 REU application” in the subject line. Review of applications will begin March 15.