Loren Buck, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Physiological Ecology, Endocrinology
Research in my laboratory is focused on physiological ecology. I am interested in elucidating impacts of changing environmental conditions on the behavior and physiology (reproductive, metabolic, stress) of both marine and terrestrial organisms. The high latitude environment is dynamic. It is characterized by extreme intraanual, interannual, and interdecadal variation in temperature, currents, nutrients etc. which, in turn, profoundly affect species assemblages. Research projects in my laboratory address the mechanistic linkages whereby fluctuations in the environment impact the physiology and ultimate fitness of the individual. Although focused on the individual, these data allow for extrapolation to the population. This research not only serves a basic research function of describing and understanding the fundamental evolution of physiological adaptation, but also serves to define impacts of environmental change on growth and survival.
Jennifer Burns, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Physiological ecology of diving vertebrates
Dr. Burns' research focuses on questions surrounding the physiological status of marine mammals and the behavioral strategies they use to find and exploit food resources. Particularly active areas of research in her laboratory focus on understanding how the age and physiological status of marine mammals influences their diving and foraging capacities, and on how differences in age and condition impact life history traits. A variety of laboratory-based projects are available to REU students and students have the option of working in the areas of physiology or ecology. For example, students interested in physiological adaptations could address questions surrounding age and/or seasonal differences in animal condition, hormone status, or muscle physiology. Alternatively, students interested in ecology might address questions about diet as interpreted through stable isotope analysis, or diving patterns of adult Weddell seals.
Matt Carlson, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Plant Conservation, Systematics, Evolutionary Ecology
Dr. Carlson's research focuses on the ecology, evolution, and conservation biology of plants in Alaska. His current projects include studying the role of pollinators as agents of natural selection on arctic and alpine plant species, developing native seed sources for revegetation, and invasion biology of non-native plants in the state. REU students will have opportunities to conduct pollination experiments in the field and/or use existing spatial data to study invasion vulnerabilities under current conditions and future scenarios in Alaska.
Khrys Duddleston, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Microbial ecology and host-microbe interactions
Research projects available in Dr. Duddleston's lab focus on host-microbe interactions. Much light has been shed on the importance of the gut microbial community to overall health and development of animals, including humans, and in understanding the role of gut microbes and disease (such as obesity); however, much is left to uncover. For example, little is known about the gut microbiota of animals which exist in extreme environmental conditions, and how microbes may contribute to host physiology and energetics. Animals such as arctic ground squirrels, which hibernate up to 9 months of the year, and some species of turtles, which survive conditions of anoxia for extended periods of time, are excellent models for studying host-microbe interactions. Results from these studies hold the potential to uncover heretofore unknown aspects of host physiology, and may shed additional light on a complex relationship that is important for human health and disease.
Sarah Gerken, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Crustacean Systematics
Dr. Gerken’s research focuses on discovering, describing and naming new species of crustaceans, particularly cumacean crustaceans. Current areas of study include the marine Cumacea of New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Norway.
It is frequently a surprise, when biodiversity has been a buzzword for more than 2 decades, how little we know about the numbers and distributions of living things, especially in the oceans. There are large parts of the world’s oceans where we have little to no knowledge of what lives on the seafloor. Even in places where we have collected organisms, frequently the organisms are only identified to the level of the order or family, significantly under-representing the biodiversity present.
Cumaceans are small crustaceans (1-30 mm) that live on the seafloor, common in muddy and sandy environments. Most species live in the surface layer of the sediments and deposit feed, filter feed, or actively prey on smaller organisms. Distributions are patchy, but density can be very high with up to 91,995 individuals per square meter recorded off Kodiak. Cumaceans are eaten by fish, birds, and even gray whales, and when abundant they can be very important as prey items. Cumaceans are part of the superorder Peracarida, a group known for spectacular diversity in habitat, morphology and life history, ranging from terrestrial roly-polies to parasites of fish and crustaceans. Like all peracarids, cumaceans brood their young, which are released as small copies of the adults and are not capable of dispersing very far, unlike the larvae of crabs. Adult cumaceans are also not capable of moving very far, being weak swimmers at best, leading to high rates of endemism.
Potential projects for summer research students could include describing, naming and publishing a new species, either from US waters, New Zealand, Australia or Chile, or creating a guide to the species known from Alaska. Depending on pending proposals, there may be opportunities for fieldwork, but identification and description are laboratory based.
Jerry Kudenov, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Biology and feeding ecology of intertidal marine invertebrates
Dr. Kudenov’s research ranges from the systematics of fireworms (Amphinomida) from hydrothermal vents, methane seeps and world areas, electron microscopy, and the ecology of marine invertebrates, particularly marine bristleworms or polychaetous annelids. The habitat we have been investigating includes the marine intertidal zone of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge (ACWR), which is covered by ice around 6 months per year and an important staging area particularly for migratory shorebirds. ACWR is gentle-sloped and characterized by well-sorted, highly porous fine to muddy sediments that are surficially consolidated by benthic diatoms. The few macroinvertebrate species that permanently colonize the refuge tend to be represented by stunningly abundant population densities of deposit-feeders during summer months. Potential projects include contributing to on-going efforts to characterize the community’s benthic ecology, or describing the morphology, feeding ecology, reproductive biology or larval development of selected infaunal species. Projects performed by REU students will offer both field- and laboratory-based research experiences that are collaborative and multidisciplinary.
Fred A. Rainey, D.Phil.
Research Focus: Microbiology of Extreme Environments
Exploring, culturing, and describing microbial diversity in extreme environments best describes current research interests of Dr. Rainey's laboratory. The environments which we are currently studying include arid and hyperarid lands, permafrost, glacial run off and surrounding landscapes, as well as the volcanic island of Kasatochi in the Aleutian Islands. Our aim is to determine how microorganisms survive in these extreme environments, how they adapt to changes in these environments and their persistence outside of their original microbial ecosystem. We use both classical and molecular microbiological approaches in our research. Many of the organisms that we isolate from these extreme environments represent novel taxa that can be characterized and described as new species. In addition, RaineyLab has a large collection of microorganisms from extreme environments that students interested in bacterial taxonomy and systematics can work on as part of their research experience. Projects carried out by undergraduate researchers will provide both field and laboratory experiences and give students a chance to be involved in interdisciplinary and collaborative activities.
Jonathan Stecyk, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Cardiovascular physiology of anoxia-tolerant vertebrates
Most vertebrates die within minutes of oxygen deprivation because the heart requires a continuous supply of oxygen. For example, heart attacks are one of the most common causes of death in the USA.However, in stark contrast to the majority of vertebrates, some fish and turtle species can survive for weeks to months without oxygen (termed anoxia), during which time their heart continues to beat. Research in my laboratory primarily focuses on understanding how the heart of these champions of prolonged anoxia survival can continue to function when deprived of oxygen, and how cardiac activity is modulated.A number of research techniques spanning multiple levels of biological organization are employed in the laboratory, including measures of gene expression, patch-clamp experiments on isolated cardiomyocytes, quantification of the contractile properties of isolated heart tissue preparations and measurements of cardiovascular parameters in live animals. Undergraduate researchers will have the opportunity to learn and utilize one of these techniques while assessing a specific research question.The data obtained will contribute to the understanding of why some vertebrates can live for prolonged time periods without oxygen, whereas other quickly perish.
Paddy Sullivan, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Plant and ecosystem physiological ecology
Current research projects in my laboratory include: 1. Improving our understanding of the controls on white spruce tree physiology, growth and reproduction along a west to east gradient near the Arctic treeline in the Brooks Range of northern Alaska; 2. Using carbon isotopes and dendrochronology to examine changes in ecosystem metabolism and vegetation communities of west Greenland; 3. Conducting tree ring analyses to help explain recent changes in biomass of major tree species in southeast Alaska. Opportunities may be available for students to work in the field or in the laboratory.
Bjartmar Sveinbjornsson, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Treeline ecology and the physiological ecology of mosses and lichens
Dr. Sveinbjornsson's research focuses on the dynamics of the tundra-taiga boundary as well as the physiological ecology of mosses and lichens in arctic and subarctic ecosystems. His work addresses such questions as global change and arctic ecosystems, external forces and internal processes affecting treeline position, and physiological differences between alpine and subalpine lichen populations. REU student projects typically use a combination of laboratory and field-based approaches and utilize the forests and mountains surrounding Anchorage. For students interested in treeline ecology, projects could examine 1) how soil heterogeneity (nature of organic and nature mineral layers e.g. thickness, pH, organic matter, water relations, etc.) above and below the altitudinal treeline affects species density, or 2) how damage to trees at and below treeline affects growth. Potential projects in the area of moss and lichen ecology could address questions related to 1) correlations between species occurrence and overstory canopy conditions (vascular plant canopy closure) and substrate moisture holding capacity, or 2) moss and/or lichen drying rates in natural canopies as well as in modified canopies.
Frank von Hippel, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Ecotoxicology, Evolutionary Ecology & Conservation Biology
The von Hippel lab studies problems in ecotoxicology, evolutionary ecology and conservation biology using the stickleback as a model system. REU students in von Hippel's lab will be given the opportunity to analyze the morphology, behavior, physiology, trophic ecology and/or genetics of sticklebacks or other freshwater fishes. The von Hippel lab studies a wide range of contaminants, including perchlorate, mercury, pesticides, PCBs, PBDEs, and PFCs. Projects range from mechanistic lab studies to dynamics of contaminants in aquatic food webs.
Jeffrey Welker, Ph.D.
Research Focus: Physiological and ecosystem ecology of arctic tundra and boreal forests
Dr. Welker's research centers around four themes: a) Arctic tundra ecosystem responses to changes in climate in Alaska and Greenland, b) stable isotope geochemistry (?18O & ?D) of precipitation and the processes controlling the continental-scale spatial patterns and the decadal-scale oscillations in precipitation geochemistry, c) Boreal Forest carbon cycling and long-term changes in vegetation and atmospheric processes, d) marine-freshwater riparian ecosystem interactions and the role of salmon in controlling the nutrient cycles of terrestrial systems. These research activities provide several opportunities for REU projects. Student projects could easily link into on-going projects related to: a) carbon and nitrogen cycling responses of arctic tundra to long-term warming and deeper snow in winter, b) interannual variability in precipitation geochemistry in central Alaska, c) microclimate traits of urban boreal forests and the processes governing diurnal variance in soil respiration, d) soil N traits along a salmon density gradient in south-central Alaska. http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/enri/