Rosemary Gillespie, Professor

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

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2021 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2021.

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, Ph.D. candidate

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

Related website: https://nature.berkeley.edu/hawaiidimensions/
Related website: https://nature.berkeley.edu/evolab/

Closed (2) Neurosensory environments shift spider predation behavior

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

No matter the size, all organisms interact with the world via their senses. Sensory input dictates reactions to stimuli, and the ability of organisms to adapt their neurological and sensory structures is critical to success and survival. Web building spiders in particular use webs as an extension and enhancement of their senses; however, web building is frequently lost over the course of evolution. What sensory adaptations do these spiders have to account for the lost web structure?

Using a genus of long-jawed orb-weaving spiders (Tetragnatha) as a model system, this project uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine the specific changes in morphology and neurophysiology linked to the loss of web building.


Students involved in this project will take part in the care of live specimens, utilize morphological approaches to sort, examine, and document Hawaiian Tetragnatha specimens, and will have the opportunity to assist with behavioral experiments. During the latter half of the semester, students may be able to take part in movement tracking of this footage using analysis software such as DeepLabCut depending on interest and quality of footage from the behavior experiments.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Kathy Nagel, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Applicants should be organized, detail-oriented, and able to work independently. Some background or interest in entomology, arachnology, or animal behavior is recommended but not required. Previous experience with video analysis software is a plus, but not required.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Related website: https://nature.berkeley.edu/evolab/

Closed (3) Insect and Spider Diversity Along a Habitat Modification Gradient in Hawaiʻi

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

To what extent can diversified agricultural landscapes in Hawaiʻi retain native insect and spider diversity and community structure? This is the primary question this project seeks to investigate. Agricultural landscapes occupy ~40% of the Earth’s land surface. To preserve native biodiversity and the diverse benefits it offers, researchers must reconcile biodiversity conservation in protected areas within the broader landscape matrix producing goods for humanity. Diversified agricultural landscapes are a promising approach to support native biodiversity within food production systems. However, whether such landscapes can provide long-term suitable habitat to sustain biodiversity, rather than serving as a biodiversity sink and avenue for infiltration by non-native species, remains unresolved. Farmers’ interests in diversified landscapes have increased as they recognize that provisioning of key ecosystem services, such as pollination and pest control, requires robust species interaction networks in which native species are key. This balance between conservation and agricultural needs is particularly critical on oceanic archipelagoes, where native species are acutely vulnerable to habitat modification and there is limited land area for agriculture.

Students that take part in this project will utilize morphological approaches to sort specimens (insects and spiders) from various agroforestry, coffee, and native forest sites in Hawaiʻi to size and/or order. Towards the latter half of the semester, students may be able to engage in molecular work such as DNA extraction and next-generation sequencing methods depending on the progress of specimen sorting and interest.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Leke Hutchins, Ph.D. candidate

Qualifications: Applicants should be organized, detail-oriented, and able to work independently. Some background or interest in agriculture, conservation biology, entomology, or molecular methods is recommended but not required.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Related website: https://nature.berkeley.edu/evolab/

Closed (4) Genomics of repeated evolution in Hawaiian spiders

Closed. This professor is continuing with Spring 2021 apprentices on this project; no new apprentices needed for Fall 2021.

Remote islands provide an opportunity to integrate ecological and evolutionary processes, advancing our understanding of the processes shaping biodiversity. Adaptive radiation is common on these islands, and lineages that have radiated are particularly useful for examining eco-evolutionary dynamics. Our study examines Hawaiian spiders in the long jawed genus Tetragnatha in which different species have repeatedly evolved similar ecological forms. We are examining the genomic basis of these repeated evolutionary events: Are the same genes involved? And/ or the same selective pressures? What is similar and what is different?


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 lab work and bioinformatics.

Depending on the specific aspect of the project, students will be trained in bioinformatics and population genomic.


Day-to-day supervisor for this project: José Cerca, Post-Doc

Qualifications: Applicants should be organized, proactive and possess an interest in evolutionary biology. Some background and interest in molecular approaches 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