Rauri Bowie, Professor

Closed (1) Adaptation and evolution of hummingbirds, sunbirds, and lizards

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

We are working on a project to study the adaptation and evolutionary history of hummingbirds and sunbirds. Hummingbirds and sunbirds are two groups of birds that have independently adopted nectar as a major component of their diet and have evolved to be morphologically similar. Our project aims to explore whether convergent genetic evolution is responsible for adaptation in these two bird groups. We aim to collect genetic data from all known species of hummingbirds and sunbirds. This genetic data will be used to reconstruct the phylogenetic relationships among the species in each group of birds to better understand their evolutionary history. We will then reconstruct how particular genes of interest have evolved in different ecological conditions. For example, a number of hummingbird and sunbird species have independently colonized high-elevation habitats and we will be looking to see if these species share similar genetic changes in genes that promote survival in low-oxygen conditions.

We also have a similar project that is studying adaptation and evolution in side-blotched lizards. Male side-blotched lizards exhibit three mating strategies whose competitive dynamics are the first known example of a biological rock-paper-scissors game. Orange-throated males can dominate blue males and control large territories with many females because of their greater mass and testosterone levels. Blue-throated males closely guard their females and thereby exclude yellow males. Yellow-throated males mimic females and sneak onto other males’ territories to obtain mates, which works well in the large territories of orange males. The male morphs cycle in frequency over time because each has high fitness when one other type is common. We are investigating the genetic basis of these color morphs and how they evolved.

The initial role for the student would be to assist with the extraction of DNA from field collected samples from birds or lizards. The student would need to learn basic molecular genetics techniques, such as how to extract, quantify, and visualize DNA. Students who show a strong interest in the project may also be involved in additional laboratory techniques and the analysis of the data. This project would be a good fit for students interested in evolutionary biology that have with a strong desire to learn genetic laboratory skills. Critical skills for laboratory work are high levels of attention to detail and strong organizational skills. Previous laboratory experience is not required, but students with prior experience are encouraged to apply, as they will be able to make more rapid progress in the lab. The DNA extraction protocol requires being in the lab for 6-8 hours. Thus, students need to have sufficient time open in their schedules to permit an extended stretch of lab work. It is also desirable to work with students that can be involved with the project for multiple semesters, because of the time required for initial training in the laboratory. Students will be mentored by Ammon Corl, who is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab.



Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Ammon Corl, Post-Doc

Qualifications: Students applying for this position should write about the following topics in their URAP application: 1) How this project would fit with their personal and career interests; 2) How much time they have available for lab work during weekdays between 9:00-5:00; 3) Whether they have prior research experience; and 4) Why this particular project is of interest to you.

Weekly Hours: 9-11 hrs

Related website: https://ammoncorl.github.io/

Closed (2) Analyzing skull shape variation in eagles, hawks, falcons, and vultures

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

Raptors are a diverse and geographically widespread group of birds. This research project will look at the different morphologies of the raptor skull across their diversity, and how these differences relate to their diets, habitats, and behaviors. In particular we will be exploring what characteristics of the skull have become altered to facilitate scavenging in the vultures and caracaras.

Students interested in this research will learn about bird anatomy, learn how to manipulate and use 3D data for analysis, and use code in Mathematica and R.


Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Mackenzie Kirchner-Smith, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Looking for a disciplined, enthusiastic student who is able to pay close attention to detail, and possesses a strong interest in the fields of ornithology, natural history, and or museum-based research. Students that have taken either the Natural History of the Vertebrates (IB104) or Ornithology (IB174) courses will be considered stronger candidates. No prior experience in any of these areas is necessary, but applicants need to show a genuine interest in morphology and bird biology, and be willing to learn to use and work with 3D graphics and software.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Closed (3) DNA sequencing to investigate bird diversification and the role of pathogens in modulating biodiversity

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

Students can assist with several ongoing research projects that investigate geographic variation and species limits in birds and integrate these data with quantification of prevalence of disease vectors such as bird malaria and trypanosome infections.

This project would be good for students with a strong interest in learning laboratory skills. Good organizational skills and high levels of attention to detail in the lab is a must. Previous laboratory experience is not required, but students with prior experience are encouraged to apply, as they will be able to make more rapid progress in the lab. The DNA extraction protocol requires being in the lab for 6-8 hours. Thus, students need to have sufficient time open in their schedules to permit an extended stretch of lab work.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Rosa Jimenez, Graduate Student

Weekly Hours: 9-11 hrs

Closed (4) Architectural Innovation and Evolution of Weaverbird Nests

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

Nest structures are widespread across animals including insects, fish, amphibians, and most conspicuously, birds. Despite their ubiquity, nests remain one of the most understudied components of avian life history. Some of the most remarkable examples of elaborate nest design are within the passerine weaverbirds (family Ploceidae). Weaverbirds are an Old World radiation of sparrow-like birds primarily distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with several species occurring in tropical Southeast Asia and on several islands in the Indian Ocean. The family is comprised of 116 species in 15–17 genera and as their name implies, are perhaps best known for their elaborately designed nests which some species construct by intricately “weaving” together nesting materials using specialized knots, making them exceptionally strong and pliant. Our research primarily focuses on studying the extensive nest diversity exhibited by the family, by taking morphological measurements directly from nest specimens in museum collections. Data from hundreds of nests have already been collected from representative species across the family and will be used to look at variation in nest design between them. These results will ultimately be placed within a broader evolutionary context in order to identify the potential forces of selection that have influenced avian nest design.

We seek a URAP student (or two) that will be supervised by an IB graduate student and will assist in 1.) processing and organizing images of individual nests taken from museum specimens; 2.) assisting in proper species identification of nests using online resources and published field guides; 3.) collecting morphological data from nest images using analytical software such as ImageJ. Through working on this project the URAP student will gain experience in morphological data analysis, museum-based research with direct exposure to museum specimens, and instruction in the fields of evolutionary biology, avian natural history and ecology.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Jackie Childers, Graduate Student

Qualifications: Qualifications: Looking for a disciplined, enthusiastic student who is able to pay close attention to detail, and possesses a strong interest in the fields of ornithology, natural history, and or museum-based research. Students that have taken either the Natural History of the Vertebrates (IB104) or Ornithology (IB174) courses will be considered stronger candidates.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs