Research Opportunities

Undergraduate or Graduate Students Research Opportunities

Dr. Reece is now recruiting undergraduates and graduate students interested in research experience to work in his lab for 2015.

 The following projects are in need of student researchers. Please contact me at if you are interested in any of these projects. In your email, include any research experience you have, relevant coursework, your education/career goals, and why you chose my lab. 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 a minimum of one semester, preferably two.

Phylogenetics of the Federally Endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow

Florida Grasshopper SparrowThis project will involve molecular lab work, specifically the sequencing of DNA (wet lab work) and analysis (computer work). The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum floridanus) is a rare bird endemic to south central Florida. It has been on decline for known reasons for the last 20 years, but in the last 5-10 years the rate of decline has increased for unknown reasons and there are fewer than 200 breeding males in existence. This project seeks to evaluate the subspecies status of the bird to see if it warrants consideration as a full species. Students can work on the laboratory DNA sequencing or on the computer analysis of DNA sequences. Experience with DNA isolation and PCR is preferred. There is also an option to examine morphological data to find evidence for phenotypic differences, which will require some knowledge of/ability to learn statistics.  

  • 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
    • DNA sequence analysis and phylogenetics
    • Statistical analyses of morphological data

Prioritizing Species for Conservation in Georgia

GA MapA 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 Georgia. This work will involve data collection and analysis, including speaking with species experts. This project is part of a Masters Student’s thesis and you will work closely with Dr. Reece and the graduate student. 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.

  • 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

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

Moray eel

Fish 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

Hagfish phylogenetics and the evolution of hagfish morphology and biomechanics

HagfishHagfish are jawless vertebrates that lack limbs and feed mainly on detritus and carrion on the sea floor. They exhibit some interesting skin, muscle, and biting processes that are being investigated by Dr. Uyeno, in collaboration with colleagues from several other institutions. Dr. Reece is joining their research team on this project to provide a phylogenetic perspective to the evolution of hagfish morphology. Interestingly, both hagfish and moray eels, Dr. Reece’s specialty, exhibit “knotting” behavior when trying to tear chunks of bite-sized food from a larger food item. An additional project might be observing this behavior in live hagfish and moray eels to compare and contrast their knotting behaviors.

  • Skills/work involved
    • Analysis of published gene sequences to reconstruct phylogenies
    • Collecting data on hagfish morphology
    • Using phylogenetic programs to examine how morphological traits evolve in an evolutionary context
    • Husbandry of keeping fish alive in aquaria, high speed video recordings of feeding events


Dr. Mott is recruiting undergraduate student researchers in several areas of amphibian ecology, biogeography, and conservation

A brief description of each research area is listed below.  Please contact me at if you are interested in any of these projects.  Although responsibilities will vary by project, students are typically required to commit to one year of research, the first semester of which is dedicated to training and data collection and the second of which is dedicated to writing a paper or creating a poster to be presented at local, regional, national, or international meetings.  Students may engage in undergraduate research through either “for credit” or “not for credit” pathways, and hourly paid positions (i.e. non-research positions) may be available at times, so feel free to contact me for more details.  Students with strong analytical and/or writing skills, as well as those whose career aspirations include ecology, herpetology, or conservation biology, are especially encouraged to apply.


Comparing abundance estimates of aquatic vertebrates through time- and area-constrained capture methods

Aquatic vertebrates are often sampled using either time-constrained methods (i.e. how many individuals captured per minute, hour, etc.) or area-constrained methods (i.e. how many individuals captured per square meter, kilometer, etc.).  However, the results of these disparate approaches are in different measurement units, preventing potentially useful comparisons of abundance among separate populations.  We are resolving this issue by relating abundance estimates from each method under standardized densities of amphibian larvae.  Beginning as early as January 2015, students involved with this project will sample amphibian larvae using time-and area-constrained methods from cattle tank arrays at Lake Louise Experimental Research Station and compare the results of both sampling methodologies to facilitate future conversions between time- and area-constrained abundance data to best monitor population trends among aquatic vertebrates.

Population age structure as a range-limiting factor for ectothermic vertebrates

Species often adhere to an “abundant center distribution”, a pattern in which population density decreases dramatically as the geographic range edge is approached, though little is known regarding the factors creating such distributions.  We are Lithobates sylvaticusexamining the role of breeding population age structure in maintaining abundant center distributions.  Beginning in Spring 2015 and continuing indefinitely, students involved in this research will determine age structure for range edge and range core populations using non-lethal capture (mark-recapture) and aging (skeletochronology) methods for several amphibian species found throughout the southeastern United States.  This will initially be a largely field-based research program, and therefore flexible schedules and an ability to work under adverse conditions are highly beneficial. No special skills are required for this research, though students that have taken (and done well in) Herpetology and/or Ecology and Evolution are especially encouraged to apply.

Ambystoma talpcideum

Are the effects of size structure on trophic cascades mediated by demographic feedbacks?

Our understanding of the impacts of predator size variation on trophic cascades is limited, yet variation in size-structured interactions can help explain why the strength of trophic cascades varies so much across systems and within individual systems over time.  Many opportunities are available for students involved in this NSF-funded research program, though most will focus on analysis of invertebrate prey consumption under differing levels of predator size variation and the subsequent effects on primary producers, ecosystem functions, and survival and/or morphology of future predator generations.  Students who have excelled in Ecology and Evolution are especially encouraged to apply, and because much of this work may involve identification of aquatic invertebrates, students interested in entomology and/or aquatic ecology are also encouraged to apply.

Summer Research Opportunity in Ecology


As part of a research program supported by the National Science Foundation, applications are being accepted for one VSU student to participate in a summer-long (10 weeks) research experience located at the Hancock Biological Station (Murray, Kentucky) and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL: Crested Butte, Colorado).  The student will work with undergraduate students from Murray State University and Kentucky State University on research involving predator-prey interactions in larval salamander communities in the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area and RMBL.  The student will receive a summer stipend of $5000, as well as an additional travel stipend and some food allowances, and rustic housing will be provided at both field sites.  Students will work with Dr. Cy Mott (VSU) and Dr. Howard Whiteman (MSU) in developing an independent research project, in connection with the broader goals of the research program, to be presented at RMBL’s annual student research symposium.  Applicants should be capable of hiking mountainous terrain and working long hours under potentially adverse conditions (heat, rain, mosquitos, etc.).  Applicants should also be comfortable with the rustic cabin-style living conditions provided at HBS and RMBL.

This opportunity is intended for students with career interests in research in ecology, animal behavior, and/or herpetology, and funding may also be provided for students to present the results of their work and other national and/or regional scientific meetings.  The ideal candidate will also have taken, and performed well in, BIOL 3250 Ecology and Evolution, though this is not a requirement.  Interested students should contact Dr. Mott for more details, and applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until a suitable candidate has been selected.