Erica Rosenblum, Professor

Closed (1) From colour to number: quantifying lizard background matching

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

The White Sands are a novel environment that imposed new evolutionary challenges to lizard populations originally inhabiting the surrounding chihuahuan desert. One of the most striking adaptations of lizards that colonized the white sands is their blanched dorsal colouration, which has been shown to increase background matching and decrease chances of predation. However, some questions remain unanswered within this story:

Can lizards within the White Sands alter their dorsal brightness when placed on darker soils?
Is the dorsal pattern overall blanched or did the evolutionary changes affect specific areas?

To address these we need to transform colour into number and characterize and quantify in detail the dorsal pattern of lizards exposed to different environments (both in controlled experiments and in the wild).

We are recruiting a student to develop and test quantification tools for color photography data of Sceloporus undulatus and Holbrookia maculata lizards. The student’s main activities will include (1) developing a standardized protocol for colour analysis and (2) analysis of photography data in ImageJ and R. The student will gain experience in designing methodologies for hypothesis testing, pattern quantification in evolution and ecology and handling of big datasets.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Dr. Telma G. Laurentino and Dr. Alex Mauro , Post-Doc

Qualifications: Basic R programming skills are recommended but not required. Most important is an interest in the system and willingness to learn.

Weekly Hours: 3-5 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: There might be necessary introductions in person, but in case it is necessary, this work could be performed remotely from any computer.

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Closed (2) Sex, parasites, and lizards

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

Some species can rapidly evolve to live in novel habitats. But what are the consequences of adapting to these unique, new environments? This project addresses this problem by studying the lizards living on the unique white sand dunes at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. We are trying to understand whether adapting to life on White Sands has sex-specific effects on lizards and whether lizards are dune-life leads to new parasite dynamics. The project will analyze an archive of calibrated photographs to address these questions by studying sexual ornamentation and parasites on White Sands lizards. Given the current coronavirus pandemic, this project is ideal for working from home.

The undergraduate researcher will use image analysis software to analyze the size and color patterns of sexual ornamentation of lizards at White Sands. Additionally, the researcher will use the photographs to analyze parasites on the lizards. We have multiple images of hundreds of lizards, allowing for a robust ecological analysis. These data will be used to answer questions like why sex ratios differ between White Sands lizard populations and whether parasite rates differ among White Sands populations. The researcher is expected work with postdoctoral scientists and to learn to use image analysis software, statistical analysis in R, and to ask their own independent questions using data from this project.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Dr. Max Lambert, Post-Doc

Qualifications: A passion for ecology, evolution, and natural history as well as a strong balance between an independent work ethic and collaborative spirit.

Weekly Hours: 3-5 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: This work can be performed remotely from any computer. Given the current coronavirus pandemic, this project is ideal for working from home.

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Closed (3) Lizard exclusion and trophic cascades in a desert dune community

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

Trophic cascades are permutations across at least two links in a food chain, and are most frequently invoked when there are shifts in the primary trophic level (plants) caused by changes at least two trophic levels above plants. The strength of any trophic cascade following changes in a species or guild is a way to gauge the importance of that group in a community. Although the importance of trophic cascades has been demonstrated in many ecosystems and with many taxa, the effect of desert reptiles on lower trophic levels remains generally unexplored.

For the last two years, we have been running an experiment where lizards are excluded from portions of desert in White Sands, New Mexico. These desert patches are then compared to others where lizards are present. Response variables include arthropod community composition, herbivory, plant cover, plant reproduction, plant growth and plant community composition. Early results include changes in ant, beetle, and spider abundance, herbivory, and plant reproduction following lizard exclusion.

Specific duties will mainly include identifying and sorting arthropod specimens to Order (whole specimens from sticky and pitfall traps). Duties may be tailored to the experience and interest of the URAP researcher, and can include plant work if there is interest. Work will take place in labs in Hilgard Hall.

Applicants can expect to strengthen skills related to identifying arthropods, managing data, and collecting plant ecology data.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Clay Noss, Ph.D. candidate

Qualifications: Strong interest in ecology, evolution, botany and/or entomology is required. Strong attention to detail and great note-taking skills are required. Previous experience identifying arthropods is helpful but not mandatory. In general, we always seek applicants who are passionate about ecology, evolution, plants and/or animals!

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

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Closed (4) Conservation genomics of an endangered California amphibian

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

Genomic approaches in conservation biology are integral in the recovery of threatened species. Mountain yellow-legged frogs were once one of the most abundant vertebrates in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Over the last few decades, these amphibians, which play important an important ecological role in California's montane communities, have been lost from more than 90% of their historical range. Using DNA from non-invasive skin swabs, this project will be completing a comprehensive range-wide population genomic study to aid in recovery efforts among state and federal management agencies. Through spatial and population genomic analyses we will identify the major conservation management units and assess population diversity to inform conservation strategies on the ground.

Specific duties will include DNA extraction, sample quality control, troubleshooting PCRs, genomic library prep, and population genetic analysis

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Andrew Rothstein, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Strong interest in biology, genetics, and/or molecular lab work is required. Strong attention to detail and lab notebook skills are required. Previous lab experience running PCRs or other genomic sequencing experience is highly preferred. Experience using R and/or other programming language is preferred but not required. In general, we always seek applicants who are passionate about genetics, evolution, and/or conservation biology.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs