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Research Experiences for Undergraduates in CONVERGENCE ECOLOGY
at Southern Illinois University


REU start date is June 2, 2014

This NSF-funded Site REU offers a diverse array of research opportunities resulting from an extraordinary combination of ecological focal areas and ecological processes studied by Center for Ecology faculty members in southern Illinois, a distinctive physiogeographic region where prairie, forest, wetland, floodplain, and river systems converge. Participants will receive a stipend ($5,000) and housing will be provided.


The 10-week REU summer program in Convergence Ecology will immerse students in activities aimed to foster:

The REU summer program will culminate with The Colloquium of Undergraduate Research in Ecology (The CURE), a symposium of oral presentations delivered by SIU REU students, Center for Ecology Interns, McNair Scholars, and other undergraduate researchers at SIU.



Center for Ecology REU Faculty Mentors:

Sara G. Baer
Human decisions in the ecological restoration process can impose novel filters on the development of plant communities.  Multiple field experiments are available to research the ecological of consequences of plant sources (variation within species) and re-introduced composition of species (variation among species) in restorations. Projects will be designed to yield insights into mechanisms by which plant sources or restored community composition influence belowground processes. 

Example REU research questions:

Marjorie L. Brooks
Global warming and increasing pollutant exposure pose great risks to aquatic animal populations. Oxygen demand by ectotherms depends on metabolic rate, which rises with increasing temperature and when animals detoxify or eliminate chronic pollutants. Higher temperatures may aggravate contaminant effects by increasing ventilation and feeding rates, causing faster pollutant uptake. Then again, when pollutants increase their metabolism, invertebrates and fish may begin suffocating in warm water that contains less oxygen. It is critically important to identify how multiple stressors can interact to push animals into negative energy balance?the point where they cannot grow and reproduce normally?which profoundly affects their population viability in a rapidly changing world.?

Example REU research questions:

Da Chen
Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are commonly added to thermoplastics, textiles, and coatings to reduce their flammability.  As most BFRs are not chemically bound to the finished products, a fraction may escape throughout the production life cycle and enter the environment. Some widely used BFRs have generated concern due to their persistence in the environments.  Ecological factors such as diet and habitat (terrestrial vs. aquatic) likely play a role in influencing avian exposure to BFRs.  Individual dietary preference may lead to inter-individual or inter-population exposure variations within species.

Example REU research questions:

Rachel Cook
Maintaining and enhancing soil productivity is the foundation for sustainable management in agricultural systems.  Effective nutrient and tillage management is critical for crop productivity and to protect precious natural resources, particularly with the threat of regulation if water quality is not improved.  There has been increasing interest in the role that winter cover crops can play in protecting soils from erosion, capturing excess nutrients, and building soil organic matter in typical corn/soybean systems. Additionally, a recent project is exploring the concept of sustainable soil management in vineyards to protect soils on highly erodible slopes. This region provides a unique assortment crops, soils, and topography to analyze how to better manage agroecosystems for long-term productivity and soil health.

Example REU research questions:

Leslie A. Duram 
Increasing concerns about our global food system have led to the development of a variety of alternative food networks (AFNs). Human decision making within the context of sustainability is a critical component of rapidly developing AFNs, particularly farmers? markets, farm stands, and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture with membership shares). REU students will be involved in service learning activities in our region and research will employ a combination of qualitative and quantitative social science survey methods to predict environmental impacts. 

Example REU research questions:

David J. Gibson
The invasion of non-native plants poses a practical problem for conservation and restoration of native species in degraded ecosystems.  There is a need to understand performance related functional traits of invading species in the context of biotic and abiotic filters to be able to predict the colonization and persistence of these species in plant communities. Projects will be designed to relate growth and reproduction of non-native plants to limiting processes in restored prairie and successional old-field system. 

Example REU research questions:

Michael Eichholz
Hydrologic modification of rivers has substantial impacts on wetlands.  The Cache River in southern Illinois represents an example of how drainage efforts have degraded wetland integrity.  Specifically, diversion of the channel directly to the Ohio River from its natural course to the Mississippi created 2 separate drainage basins, the Upper Cache and Lower Cache.  One on-going research project is examining how differences in flow affect river productivity (e.g., emergent insect production) and ultimately abundance and nest site selection of cavity nesting birds. 

Example REU research question:

Eric J. Holzmueller
Oak dominated forest is the predominant forest system of Illinois and historically it was maintained by periodic, low intensity fires. Over the last century fire has been largely suppressed, resulting in the suppression of oak regeneration. Long-term field experiments indicate thinning and prescribed fire can encourage oak regeneration to perpetuate oak forests, but less is known about the impact of these management practices on herbaceous communities. 

Example REU research questions:

Clayton K. Nielsen
Habitat composition and physiognomy have profound impacts on how wildlife use, interact, survive, and reproduce in spatially-heterogeneous landscapes.  Anthropogenic changes to landscapes may further mediate interactions between wildlife and habitat.  Within this broad theme of wildlife-habitat relationships, REU students will participate in projects to quantify the impacts of grassland buffer zones on avian and mammalian predators in agricultural ecosystems, determine how habitat structure impacts interactions between sympatric eastern cottontails and swamp rabbits in bottomland hardwood forest ecosystems, and assess predator responses to prescribed fire in grassland ecosystems.

Example REU research questions

Jon E. Schoonover
Water quality is at the forefront of environmental issues and it is imperative that agricultural producers take a proactive approach to improve management practices in anticipation of impending nutrient standards.  Multiple field and watershed scale experiments are underway that examine riparian buffer?s, composed of grasses or forest vegetation, influence on water and soil quality.  These projects are designed to help landowners and land managers make informative decisions when developing nutrient management plans for agricultural landscapes. 

Example REU research questions include:

Brian C. Small
Estuaries are productive systems that support high biodiversity and are recognized as important nurseries for many fish species. Invasive species threaten freshwater and marine biodiversity.   Understanding the salinity tolerance of Asian carp embryos is needed to evaluate the potential for populations to become established within estuarine areas as it relates to the seasonal timing and magnitude of the salinity cycles along the natural longitudinal salinity gradient. 

Example REU research questions:

Matt R. Whiles
There is increasing economic investment in stream restoration projects in the US, but many of these efforts are unfortunately not based on sound ecological principles or guided by scientific studies.  Further, few projects are monitored after completion to assess success.  Ongoing restoration efforts in the Cache River in southern Illinois provide opportunities for ecological assessments of past efforts and evaluation of current and proposed projects.

Example REU research questions:




Principal Investigators:

Clayton K. Nielson, Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory and Department of Forestry, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901 618-453-6930
Sara G. Baer, Department of Plant Biology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901 618-453-3228