REU in Tropical Ecology

El Verde Field Station, Puerto Rico

STEP 1 - make sure that you are eligible, you must:

  • have US citizenship or permanent residency
  • be an undergraduate student pursuing a bachelor degree at a college or university during the summer
  • have an interest in pursuing graduate studies in ecology or evolution
  • if selected, work full-time in our program, participating in all activities, for 10 weeks during summer (including weekends)
  • be a sophomore or higher with a GPA over 3.0.
  • submit all information required by February 28

STEP 2 - complete and submit the application form

Before filling the application form, please have the following information with you:

  • Name and e-mail of two people writing letters of recommendation
  • Select three research areas of your preference from the list provided below (scroll down)
  • An essay describing how your professional career would benefit from participating of our summer program. Include information about Academic Goals (300 words max), Past Research Experiences (300 words max), and How will our program help you advance your career goals? (300 words max). The text goes in the application form.

STEP 3 - submit your transcripts and two letters of recommendation

  • Submit a copy of your transcripts via e-mail (as pdf or jpeg). Please send unofficial transcripts downloaded from your university web site or a copy of a recent original will do. We will contact you if we have questions.
  • Your two letters of recommendation must be e-mailed to us by the person writing them. Use this address:
  • Important - Incomplete applications will not be processed.

Click here to fill the application form

Projects and Mentors

Summer 2019

Aquatic insect ecology

Dr. Alonso Ramírez and his student Mariely Vega works on the ecology of aquatic insects in the streams and rivers within the Luquillo Experimental Forest, with emphasis on the role that aquatic insects play on ecosystem processes. Students will be involved in projects that focus on (1) assessing physicochemical factors affecting insect assemblages, (2) interaction between insects and shrimps and fishes, and (3) the role of insects in ecosystem processes, such as detritus decomposition and control of primary production. Students could develop projects in any of these areas and complement ongoing research or uncover new lines of research for future study.

Plant Population Ecology and Invasive Species Biology

Dr. James D. Ackerman, UPR-RP, conducts research in 3 main areas in which REU students can develop their independent projects: (1) Natural history and the evolution of orchids; (2) Dispersion of plants and its relationship to land use history and recruitment; and (3) Invasive plant species biology. The first has its roots in evolutionary biology using Darwin's favorite model system, the orchids. As orchids are one of the most diverse groups of plants with a remarkable array of adaptations for survival and for specialized pollination, orchids are a good model system to gain insight in the diversification of flowering plants. The goal is to detect natural selection when reproductive success is rare and how these conditions affect the loss or gain of phenotypic variation. The second area involves the spatial aspects of reproductive success from seed germination to growth, development, flowering, fruiting, seed production and dispersal. This work links directly with studies of natural selection and evolution, but emphasizes ecological aspects at local and landscape scales combining field experiments with current and historical patterns of dispersion. For the third area, invasive species, tropical islands are prone to invasions and Puerto Rico is just beginning to see an explosion in the number of exotic species becoming naturalized and invasive. How such species affect ecosystem function and what might be the pattern of spread is of great interest to the integrity natural areas. Data on distribution and reproductive ecology are often combined with species distribution models to address these problems.

Bryophyte biology and ecology

Dr. Amelia Merced works with bryophytes, a group of plants that includes mosses, liverworts and hornworts. Her research in the Luquillo Experimental Forest consists of documenting the diversity of bryophytes and ecological factors that affect their distribution. Students can develop projects in ecology, floristics and reproductive biology of bryophytes, and are encourage to design field experiments and use herbarium or historical data in their project.

Riparian and wetland ecology

Limarie Reyes is a Ph.D. student in the Biological Sciences Department at the University of Southern Mississippi. Mosquitoes are important disease vectors (dengue, Zika, chikungunya) and we will be studying the effects of urbanization on adult populations of Aedes aegypti in the San Juan Metropolitan

Urbanization and mosquito populations (Aedes aegypti)

Dr. Tamara Heartsill Scalley works on riparian and wetland vegetation structure and composition, and on riparian inputs to stream ecosystems within the Luquillo Experimental Forest. Students will be involved in projects that focus on (1) assessing riparian plant species composition, (2) characterizing riparian or wetland vegetation structure, and (3) quantifying various sources of riparian organic matter inputs (leaflitter) into stream ecosystems. Students would develop projects in any of these areas, with the goal to complement ongoing research while also contributing new insights to inform research and new directions for future studies.

Chironomidae Ecology

Roberto Reyes is a Ph.D. student in the Biology department at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. He will be advising a student interested in working with aquatic insects of the family Chironomidae. Projects will focus on their ecology and response to urban stress.

Soil and leaf litter fungal diversity

Dr. Sharon A. Cantrell works with fungi using molecular techniques. Her research relates the microbial community in the soil and leaf litter with environmetal factors. Undergraduate students could study the diversity of microorganisms in soil and leaf litter from various forest types, forest with contrasting anthropogenic disturbance histories, and identify microbial indicators of various forest and disturbance types. Undergraduate students will be trained in the characterization of fungi using molecular techniques. They will learn to extract DNA from environmental samples, amplify genes with fungal specific primers using PCR, conduct TRFLP, sequence using an ABI 3130 Genetic Analyzer and conduct phylogenetic analyses using various programs.

Riparian ecosystems

Dr. Jesus E. Gomez works as project coordinator of the Stream Flow Reduction experiment at the Luquillo LTER collaborating with the data collection to assess the effects of drought and hurricanes of aquatic food webs. His research interest focus on: a) community assembly rules, particularly how species diversity of arthropods and/or small vertebrate’s changes in response to disturbance, spatial and temporal heterogeneity of the habitat. b) predator-prey dynamics and their influence on food web structure. Students could develop a project that focus on: 1) assessing how the structural complexity of the riparian vegetation influences arthropod diversity, 2) the influence of amphibian presence on riparian leaf litter decomposition.