Undergraduate Research Opportunities for 2019-2020

Updated: December 11, 2019

Below are the current research opportunities for undergraduate students looking to gain additional experience in their fields of study.  These opportunities can also fulfill the AEC 492/493 Learning Experience requirement for Applied Ecology minor students.  All below opportunities are available to any undergraduate students (not just AE minors).


Topics: Aquaculture, Microbiology, Collections
Supervisor/Lab: Benjamin Reading
Email: bjreadin@ncsu.edu

Metegenomics of food preservation and seafood:
  • -Understanding the microbes that live on fishes and how they might relate to spoilage of seafood or other food products
  • -Identifying some microbes that may facilitate food spoilage and others that might prohibit or slow these effects
  • -Understanding how microbes on fish skin may influence the immune functions of the fish
  • -Understanding the diversity of microbes on fish skin and how these microbial communities might vary between different environments
Aquaculture and fish husbandry:
  • -Experience in tilapia breeding, husbandry, and culture
  • -Research on larval fish rearing and survival
  • -Construction of aquaculture systems
  • -Experience in fish rearing (aquaculture)
  • -Understanding the growth of fishes and feeding rates
  • -Learning about aquaponics
  • -Note that the student would need to have transportation to the Lake Wheeler Field Laboratory (off main campus)
Undergraduate curator for the Applied Ecology Fish Collection:  We are seeking a motivated student who would like to help manage the Applied Ecology Fish Collection, which has over 5000 preserved specimens. This person would help to archive specimens, identify unknown specimens, and also learn how to preserve fish and curate the collection. The collection routinely receives new specimens from other students, resource biologists, and other institutions and many of them are available for use in teaching courses such as AEC 441 Biology of Fishes (every fall semester). The research project would entail helping to digitize the collection, learning about organization of specimens in collections as conducted in museums, and fish preservation, taxonomy, identification, and morphometrics.

Topics: Microbiology, Entomology
Supervisor/Lab: Rob Dunn
Email: rrdunn@ncsu.edu

  • The effects of alcohol on fecal-oral pathogens (e.g., did alcohol help to safeguard medieval populations against unsafe drinking water).
  • The use of ants to make new kinds of vinegars.
  • The geography and ecology of insects eaten by chimpanzees
  • Spice use as a function of climate
  • A flavor profile of ants from different parts of the world

Topics: Pollination Biology, Plants, Pathogens, Climate Change
Supervisor/Lab: Rebecca Irwin
Email: reirwin@ncsu.edu 

Opportunities to work with live bees studying the effects of nectar and pollen diet and chemistry on bee health and disease.  Opportunities to work with pinned bees to study the effects of climate change and urbanization on bee abundance, diversity, and functional traits.


Topics: Stream Ecology, Invertebrates, Fishes
Supervisor/Lab: Alonso Ramirez
Email: alonso.ramirez@ncsu.edu

Undergraduates interested in urban streams are welcome. 

  • What general systems I study
    • Urban stream ecology, in particular how stream restoration benefit fish and macroinvertebrate fauna.  We focus on Rocky Branch, our campus urban stream.
  • What research opportunities are currently available to undergrads, and/or what sorts of opportunities you are interested to develop 
    • Studies on benthic macroinvertebrates and fish
    • Insect identification 
    • Hourly work sorting insects from samples


Topics: Urban Pollination Biology
Supervisor/Lab: Elsa Youngsteadt
Email: ekyoungs@ncsu.edu

Undergrad projects will likely have something to do with urban pollinators or urban plant-insect interactions; I welcome students who want to take on an independent project or who are interested in working hourly on various projects in the lab, such as specimen prep, counting/weighing seeds, etc.


Topics: Water Quality, Algae, Aquatic Research
Supervisor/Lab: JoAnn Burkholder
Email: joann_burkholder@ncsu.edu

We welcome undergraduate students to the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology. There are several research opportunities available, including:

  • Water quality
  • Algae (ecology, and interactions, i.e. predatory behaviors)
  • Aquatic technology
  • Data management

Topics: Freshwater Ecology, Algae, Invertebrates, Fishes
Supervisor/lab: Brad Taylor
Email: brad.taylor@ncsu.edu

We primarily study species interactions, food webs, and carbon and nutrient cycling in streams, wetlands, and small lakes and ponds.  We do research in the mountains and piedmont of North Carolina and in the Colorado Rockies.  For students interested in hourly work please contact us. For students interested in developing independent projects we are open to your ideas and are also interested in students who want to pursue projects related to the following questions:

  • Do aquatic insects have functional taste receptor genes (i.e, Umami, phosphorus, sweet, bitter) that they use for selective feeding to enhance their growth or alleviate stoichiometric imbalance between their diet and bodily demands?  How do taste receptor genes and diet preference vary among insect feeding modes (i.e., detritivore to predator)?
  • How do parasites modify the amount and type of nutrients in animal pee and poo?  Do effects of parasites on host pee and poo depend on the relatedness between host and parasite?  Can we predict how different parasites (e.g., viruses to nemotodes) will affect animal nutrient excretion based on differences between host and parasite elemental stoichiometry, body size, phylogeny, life history, or growth rate?
  • Do fish that eat insects affect the flight traits (e., wing size, flight muscle, metabolic enzymes) of their aquatic prey?  Do fish form a visual template for specific prey, for how long does this template persist (memory), and does the frequency of exposure, size, or quality of new prey types degrade this template?
  • Compared to bacteria and fungi, how important are aquatic insects for the decomposition of leaf litter in wetlands and small ponds?  How do wetland insect species vary in the effects on decomposition?  How does insect processing of detritus propagate through the food web to affect algae and other insects?

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