Undergraduate Research

I am happy to supervise undergraduates conducting research, either for class credit (ECOL 4960) or for Honors research, or for students who simply want research experience. Directed reading (ECOL 3900) is also a possibility, especially for topics related to organismal physiology.

The topics below are some examples of research possibilities under my supervision. I'd be glad to discuss other related topics if the student has a particular interest. Most of these ideas can be completed in one semester, and most should be extremely fun!

To see examples of completed projects, view them on the Odum School's new Undergraduate Research page.

Effects of parasites on insect physiology and physical performance

I have supervised several undergrad projects recently that involved conducting experiments using a locally-common (and harmless) beetle species - the horned passalus beetle. These projects focused on the amazing strength of this critter - they can pull 100 times their own weight - and have been a lot of fun. They have also led to some media coverage - link. These beetles also harbor an impressive number of parasites, which leads to the question - how can they get by being so infected?

Investigations into animal ecology, behavior and fitness using hematological approaches (hematology is the study of blood).

This involves counting and measuring red and white blood cells (pictured right) under a microscope. There are a wide range of questions that students could address with field studies and experiments (mostly using amphibians). There is a steep learning curve for these projects, since students must become proficient at identifying blood cells (right). These are good projects for pre-vet students.

Significance of amphibian coloration.

These questions involve measuring colors using photographs of animals, either live or from museum specimens, and using special computer software to quantify the shade of color.

The newts to the right vary in the degree of 'greenness'. Usually there is some variation like this in any given species. Why is this?

Understanding factors that influence immune function in insects.

One of my favorite study subjects is the large milkweed bug (right), which can be reared in the lab and used in simple experiments to address this question.

The functional significance of mammalian fur.

This is a recent interest and there are many questions that could be addressed, primiarily with museum specimens, and in combination with photographic image analysis. Questions I'd like to address include: Why is there variation in fur color? Are there differences in hair thickness between males and females? Is there a relationship between hair thickness and individual health?

Effects of blood parasites on their hosts.

Similar to the hematological questions above, these types of projects involve capturing animals, gathering blood samples and making blood smears for light microscope viewing. Blood parasites (right) can then be counted and measured. These projects would be good experience for students interested in disease ecology.

The image to the right is a hemogregarine parasite that lives inside the red blood cells of a turtle from the Whitehall Forest.

Stress physiology of salamanders

I conduct a number of projects looking at what happens when animals becomes stressed, and I often use a locally-common salamander (aquatic mole salamanders, pictured right) as a study subject. These can be collected readily from nearby ponds and brought to the lab for experiments.

These experiments usually can be conducted in a matter of weeks, making them ideal for undergrad projects.

Monarch butterfly migration.

This topic is one of my favorites. Monarchs migrate through the UGA campus every fall in large numbers. Students could conduct surveys of their locations, examine directions of movement, or catch them and measure them to determine rates of fat deposition. These projects would have to be done during the fall semester only.