Research Opportunities

Undergraduate or Graduate Students



Dr. Reece is now recruiting undergraduates interested in research experience to work in his lab. The following projects are in need of student researchers. Please contact me at jreece@valdosta.edu if you are interested in any of these projects. Please note that the type of work and/or skillset involved for each project is described, so make sure that this is something you either know how to do or want to learn. Time commitments will vary for each project, but should entail a couple of hours every week for approximately one semester.

Genetics of the Federally Endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow

Florida Grasshopper SparrowThis project will involve molecular lab work, specifically the sequencing of DNA and genotyping microsatellites of North America’s most endangered bird. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus) is a rare bird endemic to south central Florida. It has been on decline for unknown reasons for the last 20 years, but in the last 5-10 years the rate of decline has increased and there are fewer than 200 breeding males in existence. This project seeks to examine the genetic diversity of Florida Grasshopper Sparrows and to compare that genetic diversity to samples taken 50 and 100 years in the past to see if the diversity today is much lower than it was in the past. The results of this work may shed light on the role of inbreeding and low genetic diversity in the decline of this unique species. If the student has molecular lab experience or skills, there is the potential for this to be a paid position.

  • Skills/work involved
    • Isolating DNA from blood samples
    • PCR, gel electrophoresis
    • Literature searches of scientific papers
    • Microsoft Excel- organizing database of samples and sequences/genotyping data

 Sea Level Rise and impacts to coastal regions of Florida

A student researcher could assist in research on the implications of climate change, human population growth, and sea-level rise on species and natural communities in Florida. This work is 100% computational and will involve computer work. As a result of working on this project, you will become familiar with natural communities in the southeastern US and the threats that they face from sea-level rise, coastal development, and climate change.

Florida Map

  • Skills/work involved
    • Conduct literature searchers on different natural communities
    • Organize a large Microsoft Excel database
    • Coordinate with expert biologists on their formal assessments of different natural communities

Computer programmer: SIVVA

I am currently publishing a method (the Standardize Index of Vulnerability and Value or SIVVA) for quantifying species risk to climate change, sea-level rise, and human population growth (Reece and Noss in press, Natural Areas Journal). A computer programmer with expertise in software development is needed to take a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with several embedded calculations and translate it into a stand-alone data entry and calculation program. Alternatively, someone familiar with Visual Basic who can program Macros within Excel could take that route. The ultimate goal is to take a clunky, ugly but valuable Excel worksheet and turn it into something pretty.

  • Skills/work involved
    • Computer programming
    • Fluency in Visual Basic programming language
    • Advanced Microsoft Excel skills

Moray eel phylogenetics and the evolution of color patterns and body shape

Moray eelFish can recognize predators by the placement of their eyes, among other things. Predatory fish often have eyes that are close together to maximize binocular vision for striking prey. To avoid detection, predatory fish often evolve spots or color patterns that mask the placement of the eyes, or they evolve disruptive coloration that makes it difficult for prey to identify them at all. In this project, we will use a phylogeny (basically a “family tree” for different species of moray eels) and data on color patterns to examine how those color patterns have evolved. In addition, I am interested in body size and shape, especially how much of the eel’s body is tail and how much of it is “body”. One expectation is that the more tail you have, the faster a swimmer you are; therefore, morays that eat fast prey like fish should have relatively longer tails than morays that eat slow prey like crabs. This project would also involve a phylogeny and accumulating data from online resources on the relative tail length of different species.

Skills/work involved

  • Data collection and management
  • Learning how to use phylogenetic programs
  • Doing literature reviews