Over the 10-week RIME program (6 June – 12 August 2022), undergraduate students will learn laboratory skills in molecular ecology, work in the lab to generate DNA sequences of parasites collected from coral reefs of the central equatorial Pacific, and lead their own independent research projects with support from mentors at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB; Alison Haupt and Randi Barton), Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Stuart Sandin, Brian Zgliczynski, and Beverly French), and the University of Washington (Chelsea Wood, Maureen Williams, Katie Leslie). Students will also receive professional development training in responsible conduct of research, presentation skills, writing skills, professionalism, and graduate school preparedness, administered by CSUMB’s UROC program.
The larger project
As Earth’s ecosystems experience rapid biodiversity change, disease ecologists have turned to an urgent question: how might reductions in biodiversity affect the transmission of parasites? In other words, does biodiversity loss increase the abundance of parasites by eroding natural “checks and balances” on transmission? Or does it decrease parasite abundance by removing the free-living biodiversity on which parasites depend? Answers to these questions are urgently needed if we are to mitigate or prevent an uptick in parasite transmission for ecosystems experiencing biodiversity loss. Our team is addressing these questions by quantifying the abundance of parasites across a highly resolved gradient of biodiversity, for more than 77 parasite species and 18 replicate coral reef ecosystems in the central equatorial Pacific. Because parasites that disperse great distances will tend to be genetically homogenous across space, the DNA sequence data produced by RIME interns will tell us how far parasites in our dataset are dispersing. We can then test our hypothesis that parasites with short dispersal distances should be more sensitive to local-scale impacts on biodiversity (e.g., fishing) than are parasites with long dispersal distances. RIME interns will also use the data to advance their independent research projects on questions of their own choosing (e.g., identifying barriers to dispersal, assessing variation in genetic structure among parasite taxa, estimating effective parasite population sizes).
RIME interns will present the results of their research at the CSUMB Undergraduate Summer Research Poster Symposium during the week of 1 August 2022. Students will receive authorship on all manuscripts that make use of the molecular data they produce and will be encouraged and supported to carry their research forward into undergraduate honors theses, to publish their work in peer-reviewed journals, and to present at the annual meeting of the Western Society of Naturalists in Fall 2022.
By integrating RIME students into the heart of our project, we will provide an unparalleled undergraduate research experience, one that allows students the opportunity to work with mentors from primarily undergraduate institutions as well as large R1s. Empirical data show that authentic research experiences like the one proposed here are high-impact practices for teaching. We will work closely with UROC to assess the effectiveness of the RIME program by administering pre- and post-research experience surveys.