Rosemary Gillespie, Professor

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

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This 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. We generally require students to participate in the sorting of arthropods by size into DNA extraction plates for at least one semester. Seniority in the lab group allows students to become involved in molecular methods, following assessment of an individuals attention to detail, ability to work independently, and interest in evolution and ecology. This is a terrific laboratory group experience for students to experience participation in a large collaborative macro-ecology and metagenomics project.

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 (e.g. Biology 1B) and should have an interest in evolutionary biology, ecology and/or island biology.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs
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Closed (2) Chemical Recognition Cues in an Adaptive Radiation of Hawaiian Spiders

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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: 6-8 hrs

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Closed (3) Data science approach to cataloging species interactions in Hawaii

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Do you have an interest in ecology and evolution? Want to get into the world of data science? Are you curious about the unique plants, insects and spiders of Hawaii? Have you ever wondered how researchers reconstruct food webs and networks that represent the predators, prey, parasites, competitors, symbioses, higher-trophic levels, the base of the “food-chain” and everything in between? This new project is looking to recruit a student like you. The qualified applicant will have a keen interest in biological research and be able to read scientific papers and translate information from these publications into a database that will be hosted on GLOBI—the global biotic interactions website (see link below). GLOBI is a new and exciting way for researchers from all over the world to locate and utilize data about interactions among organisms. More than that, GLOBI is a resource for all who interested in understanding more about how living things are interacting on our planet—from an elementary school child to your grandmother.

This is an opportunity to gain practical experience in scientific research and to be a part of literature review. This fall semester we will be begin by databasing the interactions of caterpillars, their host plants, and the wasps that lay eggs inside the caterpillars. However, given that this is a collaborative project, the student researcher will have the opportunity to conduct further research into organisms in Hawaii that they find of interest. Potential outcomes from this research project may include authorship in subsequent resulting publication(s), which is one of the primary things you can do to greatly enhance your academic resume.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Natalie Graham or Peter Oboyski, Staff Researcher

Qualifications: Required skills: Students must be familiar with Microsoft Excel and be able to read and understand scientific journal articles. Desired skills: Familiarity with the programming language R.

Weekly Hours: 3-5 hrs

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

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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