Overview. The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site: ‘Ecology, Evolution, and Genomics of Grassland Organisms’ will provide research experiences and professional development for talented undergraduate students in the biological sciences. Students will gain practical research skills in molecular techniques, field methods, and experimental design by conducting independent projects under the guidance of experienced research scientists. Mentors will benefit through opportunities to direct summer projects with enthusiastic undergraduates who are seeking specialized training in new research areas. Other activities of our REU Site Program are designed for professional development of the undergraduate participants. A weekly seminar in Ecological and Evolutionary Genomics will educate students about current questions in ecology and evolutionary biology, and will expose them to cutting-edge techniques used in genomic studies of grassland organisms. During summer field trips, the REU students will visit important natural areas and museum collections in the state of Kansas. Students will develop skills in public speaking by presenting project results as oral presentations at a Research Symposium at the conclusion of the summer program. Students with successful projects will be invited to present their research in a special poster session at the Annual Symposium of the Ecological Genomics Institute in the fall. The REU Site Program will provide students with a summer stipend of $4,500, which will include housing and a budget for research supplies. For many participants, the REU Site Program will be a stepping-stone from undergraduate studies to graduate research programs in the biological sciences. For other students, the REU Site Program will offer research experiences that will provide a foundation for applying ecology in careers in secondary education, government agencies, environmental consulting, and other professions.
Research themes. Temperate grassland organisms have been heavily impacted by habitat destruction and changing land use practices , with detrimental effects on the associated flora and fauna. REU students can work with species of conservation concern to address applied questions in Conservation Biology. Contemporary evolution in grassland organisms due to human-caused selection is well documented. Rapid adaptive evolution has been shown in flowering time, photoperiodism, the sexual signal of invasive field crickets , and in changes to climatic conditions. Global Change Biology examines the effects of environmental change, including organismal responses that are mediated by changes in genomic architecture. Ecological Genomics is a highly integrative field of study, spanning multiple levels in biological complexity, which seeks to understand the genetic mechanisms underlying short- and long-term organismal responses to the natural environment. The Ecological Genomics Institute at K-State integrates across multiple disciplines by combining approaches from genomic technology, molecular biology, genetics, bioinformatics, ecology, statistics, modeling, and computer science to address major questions in ecology and evolutionary biology. The Konza Prairie Biological Station provides a unique natural laboratory to study field ecology because the Natural History is well known for many groups of grassland organisms. For example, annotated species lists are available for vascular plants (Towne 2002), butterflies (Wright et al. 2003), grasshoppers (V. Wright, unpubl. data), birds (Zimmerman 1993), and mammals (Kaufman et al. 1998). The primary goal of long-term studies in Grassland Ecology at the Konza Prairie LTER Program is to examine the roles of fire, grazing and climatic variability as interacting environmental factors that shape the structure and function of terrestrial and aquatic habitats in mesic grasslands. Related questions in Evolutionary Biology include studies of the coevolution of grassland plants and their fungal symbionts , evolution of life history strategies in grassland organisms, and their potential evolutionary responses to global environmental change Undergraduate REU projects on the ecology, evolutionary biology, and genomics of grassland organisms will help Konza Prairie Biological Station to meet a three-fold mission of ecological research, conservation, and science education.
Resources for this REU Site Program are unique. First, the Ecological Genomics Institute (EGI) provides an outstanding intellectual environment, as well as resources and logistical support for integrated research projects that investigate gene and genomic function of organisms in rapidly changing environments. The EGI has a core of 26 faculty from six departments in three colleges, offering REU students a range of potential research projects in ecological genomics. The EGI has major instrumentation and software to support genomics research. The K-State Gene Expression Facility provides services for high-throughput gene expression experiments including microarray chip processing, real-time PCR, a new genome sequencer (454 GS-FLX), and personnel to operate the equipment. Second, REU field projects can be conducted at Konza Prairie Biological Station in northeast Kansas, the largest natural reserve of tallgrass prairie dedicated to ecological research in North America. Konza Prairie has been a core research site in the NSF Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network since 1981, and is one of the most intensively studied grasslands in the world. The 3,487 ha research site is subdivided into 60 experimental units that are subjected to different fire and grazing treatments in a replicated and controlled experimental design. Konza Prairie offers a range of lab space, permanent instrumentation and field vehicles for student use. The LTER program offers access to research sites associated with new and ongoing field experiments and long-term ecological datasets. The Division of Biology at K-State will provide administrative support for the REU Site Program, as well as specialized research facilities, including labs for mass spectrometry and microscopy. Participating mentors are experienced faculty and research scientists who work in a diverse range of molecular and ecological disciplines.
Last updated: October 2010