Rosemary Gillespie, Professor

Closed (1) Dimensions In Biodiversity: Morphological and Molecular Genetic and Ecological Approaches to Community Assembly in Hawaiian Spiders and Insects

Applications for Spring 2018 are now closed for this project.

This exciting new project looks at how communities of organisms come together, and the role of ecology (migrating into a community, trophic level) and evolution (adaptation and speciation) in determining the composition of species in a community. This in turn will provide information on sensitivity to invasion and probability of speciation and extinction. To achieve our goal we are focusing on insects and spiders in Hawaii and combining a broad ecological approach based on species assembly and interaction patterns, with an evolutionary approach that examines how a given species group adapts, multiplies, or declines over time. The first approach addresses the diversity and abundance of species at a site and what are the kinds of predator-prey or other interactions between species. The second approach allows assessment of the rate at which a given lineage of organisms can adapt and diverge, including changes in abundance through time, and how the microbial community with which it is associated, may have changed.

Undergraduates involved in this project would be working on the the questions of evolutionary change and adaptation in different groups of Hawaiian insects and spiders, using either molecular or morphological approaches. For the morphological work, they will be sorting specimens (insects and spiders) to size in order that they can be used to understand how species composition changes across sites. For the molecular work, students will be trained generally in the lab, and in particular on Next Generation sequencing technologies, to measure evolutionary change. Techniques include: pcr, DNA/RNA extraction, next-generation sequencing methods, basic bioinformatics, sequence assembly/annotation. Learning Outcomes: This will depend on the part of the project with which the student becomes involved, and may include competency in microscopic work, familiarity with modern biological laboratory, and/ or computational techniques.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Natalie Graham, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Students should have completed or be currently enrolled in at least one semester of undergraduate coursework in the biological sciences, and should have an interest in island biology.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Closed (2) Chemical Recognition Cues in an Adaptive Radiation of Hawaiian Spiders

Applications for Spring 2018 are now closed for this project.

The mechanisms by which reproductive isolation evolves and is maintained in adaptive radiations are central to understanding the fundamental processes of evolution. Particularly important are situations where ecologically distinct incipient sister species co-occur geographically, necessitating finely tuned recognition mechanisms for species to maintain reproductive isolation. Chemical cues are one of the most ancient and widespread modalities of communication, yet their importance in species recognition and reproductive isolation remains largely unknown.

The overarching aim of this project is to focus on the role of chemical species recognition cues in reproductive isolation and speciation within an adaptive radiation of Hawaiian Tetragnatha spiders in which ecologically distinct sister species co-occur, and visual and auditory cues appear to play little or no role in species recognition during mating. By synthesizing techniques in chemical analysis (extractions using solvents and SPME fibers) and behavioral evaluations (2-choice y-shaped olfactometer trials, bioassays and more), this project will explore the role of chemical signaling as a mode of species recognition in an adaptive radiation.

For more information, visit our websites listed below!!


Undergraduates that take part in this project will be using a variety of techniques to explore the questions of species boundaries and chemical communication in the Tetragnatha spider lineage. Depending on the proficiency, interests, and availability of the student, they will have the opportunity to:

1) Conduct behavioral assays using a y-shaped olfactometer,
2) Extract spider pheromones using different solvents,
3) Analyze the chemical extracts using a Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GCMS),
4) Analyze video footages to score and collect data, and
5) Utilize morphological approaches to identify spiders under a microscope.

Students will also partake in the husbandry of spiders, which include tasks such as feeding, tracking of development, and maintenance of food supply colonies. Furthermore, if applicable, students will have an opportunity to gain field experience conducting behavioral observations and collecting specimens at local UC Reserves.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Ashley Adams, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Students must be comfortable working with live animals (specifically terrestrial arthropods of all kinds). They must be careful, attentive, and meticulous with their work and ready to learn at all times!

Weekly Hours: 6-9 hrs

Related website: https://nature.berkeley.edu/~seira.adams/?page_id=898
Related website: https://nature.berkeley.edu/evolab/

Closed (3) Biodiversity of beetles in the Valdivian temperate rain forests of Chile

Applications for Spring 2018 are now closed for this project.

The Valdivian temperate rain forests ecoregion is located mostly in Chile and extending into a small part of Argentina. It is recognized globally for its biological distinctiveness, and has been placed at the highest priority for conservation on a regional scale and has been ranked number two of the world’s five major temperate rainforest ecosystems by Conservation International.

The Valdivian forests contain many unusual species and higher taxa, and represent a unique assemblage of species, both floral and faunal, which today persist as relicts of Gondwana. Such species are often key to understanding evolution in many taxonomic groups. This region is extremely vulnerable to deforestation and development and Valdivian forests are in danger of disappearing soon carrying with them all the natural history of the species they supported. Inventories are urgently needed to preserve a snapshot of the biota in these hotspots and taxonomy is needed to provide the reference system and framework on which measures of biodiversity are based.

We are looking for a part-time assistant students interested in conducting morphological work with beetle specimens from Chile in the Essig Museum of Entomology.

The project involves:
(1) Working with dried insect collections.
(2) Database insect specimens.
(3) Research and editing grant proposals.
(4) Contact environmental agencies for possible funding.
(5) Taking automontage and SEM photographs.
The time required for this work is flexible, with an expected 4-10 hours maximum.


Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Elizabeth Arias, Staff Researcher

Qualifications: Students should have completed at least one year of undergraduate coursework in the biological sciences, and should have an interest in beetles and conservation biology.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Related website: http://essig.berkeley.edu/about/people/arias/

Closed (4) Functional evolution of spider webs on the biodiversity hotspot of Sulawesi, Indonesia

Applications for Spring 2018 are now closed for this project.

Spider webs have captured human fascination for hundreds of years due to their intricate design and structural properties. For spiders, the evolution of webs and silk was integral to the radiation of the group, allowing spiders to specialize on prey and occupy novel niche space, leading to the thousands of diverse species we know of today. The architecture of webs is widely variable, from expansive orb webs to minuscule tangle webs to the loss of web use altogether. Web usage and architecture provides quantifiable measures to a spider’s ecological role, a behavioral ‘phenotype’ that is highly adaptable to environmental pressures yet constrained by certain variables. Both evolutionary biologists and ecologists can make use of webs to better understand spider evolution, diversity, and functional roles in an ecosystem.

This exciting project investigates spider diversity and web architectural variation in one of the most biodiverse regions of the world: Sulawesi, Indonesia. The island is understudied for the majority of taxonomic groups, and especially arthropods. Our project aims to understand patterns of biodiversity across elevational gradients and how this diversity is shaped by the ancient geological formation of the island as well as more modern environmental and anthropogenic pressures. Along with collecting and describing thousands of specimens, we are documenting web architecture to examine diversity of functional roles, architectural variation over space, and web structure as it relates to phylogenetic relationships.


Undergraduates involved in this program would be investigating spider diversity, evolution, and biogeographic patterns on an island system through different techniques. The primary role will be assisting with web architecture photo analysis through computational tools as well as data entry. Depending upon student expertise and interest, students may also assist with future morphological work (sorting, counting, photographing, and identifying specimens), molecular work (DNA barcoding, and gut content analysis) and basic bioinformatic tasks. Through this project, students will have the opportunity to learn about microscope work, computational tools, modern molecular techniques, and, last but not least, spiders!

Depending on the specific aspect of the project, students will learn the basic molecular techniques, as well as downstream skills such as collection curation and databasing.


Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Anna Holmquist, Ph.D. candidate

Qualifications: Applicants should be organized, proactive and possess an interest in biogeography. Some background and interest in islands and/or spiders would be recommended but not required.Students should have completed or be currently enrolled in at least one semester of undergraduate coursework in the biological sciences.

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated