REU internship in sugar maple taxonomy and distribution

MortonArboretum Morton Arborteum

Students currently enrolled in an undergraduate program may apply for this nationally competitive fellowship.
Participate in a paid, intensive, 10-week summer program, with housing and travel provided, conducting an independent research project under the guidance of a PhD-level mentor. Gain direct experience on all aspects of a research project, from reading the primary literature, experimental design, collecting and analyzing data, to presenting the results at a final symposium. Develop critical thinking, independence, self-confidence, perseverance, and collaborative skills. Interact with REUs from other Chicago institutions, and benefit from workshops on science communication and professional development. Learn skills you can apply anywhere. The Center for Tree Science also offers opportunities to return to continue your work.

Potential project with herbarium focus:

Species of the sugar maple group: taxonomy and distributions

Mentors: Richard Condit, Andrew Hipp, William Finch, Brian Keener, Senna Robeson

Summary: We propose a detailed taxonomic assessment of the sugar maple (Acer saccharum and relatives) in North America, engaging an REU student to focus on morphology of the southern taxa. Besides the well-known and widespread northern sugar maple, the black maple, chalk maple, Florida maple, plus another variety known as A. saccharum var. schneckii, are close relatives with confusing taxonomy (A. Weakely, Flora of the Southeast, is the most recent source). Robeson has completed a morphometric assessment of sugar maple and black maple, and we propose to extend this by adding the other three taxa. This project will allow an undergraduate student to 1) assemble digital herbarium specimens (8 weeks), and 2) collect field specimens in Alabama (2 weeks), where the three taxa overlap. Under the guidance of Condit, Hipp, and Robeson at The Morton Arboretum, the student will assemble 100 digital herbarium specimens per taxon, collect detailed morphometrics of leaves and seeds, and record flowering and fruiting dates whenever possible. Subsequently, at the Paint Rock Forest in Alabama, the student will collect live leaf specimens along a 100-m elevational gradient from stream valley to ridge top, with the assistance of Finch and Keener. Morphological clustering of herbarium records will test the consistency of the current taxonomic designations, while the field work will provide evidence on environmental variation plus offer guidance on identifying local diversity in the tree plot. The student will finish by writing a report on the specimens collected and their morphometry, after which supervising scientists will create taxonomic hypotheses based on the morphological clusters. Those hypotheses will provide a basis for future genetic work aimed to solidify the taxonomic entities and define ranges of the sugar maples in eastern North America and Mexico, and will offer training to a young scientist who might pursue a career in environmental science.

Preferred Qualifications: University botany class, some experience with herbarium specimens.

Project setting: Paint Rock Forest in Alabama, The Morton Arboretum herbarium

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