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potential projects

REU students will receive hands-on scientific training from Auburn faculty mentors, who are experts in many subdisciplines of warm-water aquatic ecology.  Moreover, the students will have opportunities to conduct their research in diverse ecosystems located throughout Alabama.  Students will be encouraged to develop an independent research project with their mentor following acceptance into the program.  Examples of potential REU projects can be found below.

Quantifying impacts of marsh crabs on lizard reproduction. 

Mentors: Dan Warner and Jamie Oaks

Ecologists are broadly interested in understanding how organisms interact with their environment and how natural selection has shaped those interactions. We are particularly interested in how maternal environments influence reproduction, and how early-life conditions influence phenotypes and survival of offspring. Our work focuses primarily on lizard populations that inhabit small islands in a saltwater estuary in Florida. These island populations are influenced by marine invertebrates, which serve as both a prey base for the lizards as well as predators of lizard eggs and hatchlings. A potential research project by an REU student involves quantifying the impacts of marsh crabs on survival of lizard eggs in the field. The project will likely involve setting up experimental enclosures and manipulations to egg density, habitat, and crab density, followed by observations on crab behavior and egg predation rates.


Consequences of multiple stressors on individual- and population-level traits

Mentors: Tonia Schwartz and Alan Wilson 

Using the freshwater zooplankton model system, Daphnia, the REU student will conduct lab and field experiments testing the effects of multiple stressors, such as food quality and quantity, metals, pathogens, and elevated temperature, on important physiological and ecological traits and trade-offs at the individual and population levels, respectively.  The REU student will have opportunities to learn analytical and genetic methods in addition to gaining a better understanding about experimental design and statistical analyses.


Exploring the nexus between urbanization and health of salt marsh resident fishes in coastal Alabama.

Mentors: Latif Kalin, Chris Anderson, and Dennis DeVries

Salt marshes are critical habitats for Gulf of Mexico (GOM) fishes. As human populations along the northern GOM coast continue to increase, it is important to know how related land-use changes will affect critical fish habitats. The REU student will help in sampling and analyzing water quality and resident fish communities from multiply tidal creeks draining to salt marshes along coastal Alabama. The student will also develop statistical models to evaluate the strength of the relationship between salinity and dissolved oxygen on marsh fish diversity and biomass. These findings will be related to the land use/cover of the catchments draining to these creeks to elucidate how urbanization in coastal watersheds impacts the health of the coastal habitats.


Investigating hydrology and geochemistry of streams and groundwater aquifers. 

Mentors: Ming-Kuo Lee, Yucheng Feng, Loka Ashwood, and Ash Abebe

This project will provide an engaging field and laboratory experience to increase students’ appreciation, knowledge, and protection of water resources. Using the Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS) Laboratory and several hydrogeology field sites near Auburn campus, the REU student will conduct multi-elemental analysis of water samples, measure stream discharge and water quality, and quantify hydrologic properties (permeability and storage capacity) of a variety of aquifers. Geospatial and statistical analysis will be conducted on environmental and health data collected from a rural Alabama community with an emerging cancer cluster. The REU student will obtain hands-on experience of collecting field hydrology data and analyzing water and aquifer samples to identify clean and safe water resources.


Modeling water withdrawal strategies from streams using ENSO forecasts.

Mentors: Jasmeet Lamba and Brenda Ortiz

In this project student will assist in watershed level modeling activities.  The focus of this research project is on developing water withdrawal strategies from streams for irrigation based on hydrologic forecasts (using hydrologic models, ENSO, and weather forecasts), monitoring stream stage and discharge data, and in-stream flow criteria.


Unlocking ancient algae: using modern primary producer signals to understand historic algal communities.

Mentors: Matt Waters and Alan Wilson

This project will combine field techniques and laboratory analysis to further the understanding of phytoplankton ecology, cyanotoxin production, and the reconstructing of ancient environments using the sediment record.  Students will collect modern samples from water and sediment environments attempting to calibrate the sediment signal with water column data.  Analyses will include microscope enumeration of algae, determination of primary producers through photosynthetic pigment measurements using an HPLC, cyanotoxin measurements, and other sediment techniques.  Students will be taught a background of paleolimnology (reconstructing histories using lake sediments) and apply these techniques to sediment samples in the Waters’ lab.


Teasing apart the factors related to taste and odor compounds in drinking water and aquaculture reservoirs.

Mentors: Alan Wilson and Todd Steury

Taste and odor compounds, such as geosmin and MIB, negatively affect drinking water and aquaculture-raised fish by causing muddy flavors and odors.  Despite significant research dedicated to removing these compounds from water, relatively little research has examined the abiotic (e.g., climate) and biotic (e.g., food-web interactions) factors responsible for taste-and-odor episodes.  The REU student will work their mentors to design and conduct complex lab- and field-based experiments that help explain the complicated interactions driving off-flavor production in diverse aquatic systems. 


Using side-scan sonar to locate large riverine fishes and describe their summer habitat use. 

Mentors: Dennis DeVries and Rusty Wright

Large riverine fishes make long spawning runs up and down the Alabama River, some even migrating into the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and Mobile Bay at the downstream end.  However, their upstream migrations are often hindered by the presence of lock-and-dam structures, ultimately affecting their population dynamics.  Finding these fish within the river, particularly at non-migratory periods such as summer is difficult, and new technologies such as side-scan sonar may prove useful.  The REU student will assist graduate student researchers with work on the Alabama River studying movement and potential passage of large riverine fishes; this work will involve work in the field to locate fish, as well as possible work in ponds and in the laboratory to quantify fish swimming behaviors. 


Biochar as a tool for managing harmful algal blooms.

Mentors: Sushil Adhikari and Alan Wilson

Biochar is a carbon-rich by-product of the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass residues using pyrolysis and gasification that can have diverse properties, such as variation in surface area, pore volume, and size.  Biochar surface modifications might be effective at removing pollutants in freshwater.  The REU student will create and study the effectiveness of different biochar materials at reducing important algal toxins, including microcystin.

mentor spotlight

Dr. Chris Anderson