CMU Great Lakes Summer Research Program

2014 Program and Dates

Five to seven students will be chosen to work with CMU faculty members on projects related to the Great Lakes ecosystems from June 2 to August 8, 2014. Students will live and work on Beaver Island at the Central Michigan University Biological Station (CMUBS) in northern Lake Michigan during the 10-week program.


A complete application is due by March 21, 2014 and needs to include:
  • A complete, submitted online application form
  • Paper copies of the following, mailed to the contact and address noted below:
    • A copy of your current undergraduate transcripts
    • Two (2) letters of reference from faculty at your home institution who know your work

    Materials should be mailed to:

    CMU Great Lakes Summer Research for Undergraduates
    c/o Jessica Lapp
    ET Building 228
    Central Michigan University
    Mount Pleasant, MI 48859


Students must still be undergraduates in the following fall semester after the research experience. Priority will be given to students who have completed at least their sophomore year at their home institution.

2014 Summer Research Topics

Examining the Connection between Wetland Microbial Diversity and Biogeochemistry

Mentor: Dr. Deric Learman

About: Microbes have a wide range of metabolic diversity that allow them to define the limits of life on Earth, play key roles in major biogeochemical cycles and thrive in dynamic environments. Wetlands are a hotspot of biogeochemical cycling and can act as a sink, source or transformer of not only major nutrients but also toxins. The goal of the project is to understand how microbial communities in wetlands respond to changing redox potentials. Wetlands can go through daily cycles of aerobic and anaerobic conditions. This is driven by high primary productivity during the day (oxygenation) and then high rates of aerobic respiration that can drive the system to anaerobic conditions. These daily fluctuations should have a profound effect on the wetland microbial diversity and thus alter biogeochemical cycles (carbon, nitrogen, iron, sulfur). An REU student will be involved in collecting samples from water and soil (grab samples and cores) from various wetlands. Students will also be involved in chemical analysis and extracting DNA. Microbial diversity will be defined by DNA sequencing (16S rRNA gene). Overall, students will gain field and lab experience along with learning to analyze next generation sequencing data and connect diversity to environmental parameters.

Requirements: A background in biology or environmental science with a strong interest in microbiology, environmental chemistry (biogeochemistry) and wetlands.

Wetland Drying/Wetting Impacts on the Nitrogen Cycle

Mentor: Dr. Dale LeCaptain

About: Coastal wetlands provide flood protection, erosion control, wildlife food and habitat, water quality, recreation and carbon sequestration. This ecosystem impacts people and the environment in numerous ways and is valued at billions of dollars. Localized wetland protection is critical for a very diverse ecosystem and it is well established that wetland recovery takes several years, in large part due to available carbon and the nitrogen cycle that establishes an oxic/anoxic balance. Unlike terrestrial nitrogen cycling, this balance is impacted by oxygen availability when submerged. Considering that one of the roles wetlands play in the global scale is carbon sequestration, changing the nitrogen cycle changes that sequestration. As atmospheric levels of CO2 and air temperatures are increasing, the global water levels change, which in turn changes the wetland coverage. The exposure to air pushes the nitrogen cycle balance to increase decomposition and release more carbon. These rates of release are critical to understanding the impact of the change and a key component to predicting the carbon release. All is related back to nitrogen forms and levels that can be predictive markers for the state of the system.

The primary objective of the summer project is to conduct site evaluations on three distinct wetland regions on Beaver Island. Nitrogen cycle evaluations will be conducted through determination of various nitrogen forms as a function of water coverage. Water, soil and air quality analyses at select sampling points will be performed. The REU student will be running standard wet chemical and potentiometric water/soil quality analysis, as well as gas sampling and analysis focusing on, but not limited to, the forms of nitrogen. The gas phase analysis as well as preliminary semi-volatile analysis will be done with gas chromatography and mass spectrometry at the research station.

Requirements: The ideal student will have completed 1 year of chemistry and at least 1 semester of organic and/or analytical chemistry.

The Effect of Zooplankton Transport on Nearshore Fish Communities in Lake Michigan

Mentor: Dr. Kevin Pangle

About: Nearshore and offshore regions of the Great Lakes are often studied in isolation of one another; however, it is becoming increasingly apparent that changes to one region may strongly affect the other. The goal of this project is to examine the role of water currents in coupling the regions through the transport of offshore zooplankton to the nearshore fish community. Specifically, Dr. Pangle will work with an REU student to carry out a field study in which fish, zooplankton and hydrodynamics data will be collected along nearshore-to-offshore transects adjacent to Beaver Island. The study will include regular field sampling as well as laboratory time at the CMU Biological Station enumerating zooplankton and analyzing fish stomach content. Through involvement in this research, the REU student will gain experience in sampling design, statistical analyses, GIS mapping and limnological field and laboratory techniques.

Requirements: A background in biology, strong interest in aquatic ecology, and the ability to work on a boat and with a microscope (but not at the same time).

Trace Metal Uptake by Fish and Mussels in Environmentally Controlled Freshwater Mesocosms: A Comparison of Fish Otolith and Bivalve Shell Carbonate Chemistry

Mentor: Dr. James Student and Dr. Don Uzarski

About: Understanding of wetland-near/offshore coupling of the Great Lakes ecosystem is essential for science-driven management and preservation. For example, the movement of fish and exchange of carbon energy between coastal wetlands and adjacent offshore habitats represent a critical, understudied cross-habitat linkage. We have been using state-of-the-art technology to study this linkage. We estimate wetland and near/offshore-based contributions to the diets of fish communities via nitrogen and carbon stable isotope food web analysis. We then track fish movements in and out of wetland habitats from the near/offshore using otolith microchemistry. Otoliths, or "ear stones," are unique carbonate structures within fish that grow in daily growth rings. Although composed primarily of calcium carbonate, several trace elements can substitute in for calcium depending on their concentration in the water when the ring was deposited. This study will contribute to the understanding of this process.

The proposed study will explore relationships between the elemental chemistry and temperature of water and the resulting trace element chemistry of Perca flavescens (yellow perch) and Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass) otoliths and Pyganodon grandis (giant floater mussel) shells. Ultimately, these data may reveal that otolith and shell microchemistry is dictated primarily by the chemistry of the water irrespective of changes in water temperature. These data are necessary because otolith microchemical studies have been largely limited to marine habitats, however, in order to track fish movements using otolith chemistry in freshwater habitats, we must understand elemental uptake in ambient conditions similar to those of the Great Lakes. Moreover, by including a second species of fish and a freshwater mussel, we hope to determine if there is a predictable relationship between a) otolith chemistry across species, and b) otolith/bivalve shell chemistry. This will help determine if certain fish or mussel species' carbonate material can be used to monitor the long-term trace element record of specific ecological niches due to the sedentary life histories of mussels and select fish species.

Before placing fish and mussels in environmentally-controlled mesocosms, they will be tagged with an enriched barium-137 isotope in order to document where the growth of new carbonate material begins at the initiation of the experiments. Developing this marking method could be beneficial to future studies. The student will primarily track and control mesocosm conditions, collect water samples, document physical conditions and monitor fish, mussel and algae growth over a ten-week period. Randomly selected fish will be sampled periodically to determine the nature (rate) of otolith growth throughout the experiment as determined by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The student will learn otolith and water sample preparation methods. Otolith, shell and water samples will be analyzed for Sr and Ba by inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy (ICPMS) at the Center for Isotopic and Elemental Analysis (CELISA). Knowledge and use of these cutting-edge techniques will be invaluable.

Macroinvertebrate Response to Water Level and Cladophora Fluctuations

Mentor: Dr. Daelyn Woolnough

About: Annual discharge into Lake Michigan (CMUBS) and the Great Lakes Region is predicted to decline 5-20% in the next 60 years. This discharge change is expected to accelerate decline of biodiversity and have direct effects on invertebrate assemblages. Concurrently with water level chanes, a nuisance algae, Cladophora, has been fouling the shorelines of Beaver Island. This project will consider how macroinvertebrates respond to water level and Cladophora fluctations that have occurred in the past years. This study will focus on macroinvertebrates as they are a key component and link in to any aquatic food web. The objectives of this REU project will be to test responses of a variety of macroinvertebrates species in microcosms (individual species) and in the new CMU Biological Station mesocosms (individual species and assemblages) to various water levels and Cladophora fouling. Responses that the REU student will test may include: 1) behavioral, 2) survivorship and 3) reproduction. These data will then be related to field collection of macroinvertebrates along the shoreline of Beaver Island.

This REU experience will include, but not be limited to, the following: Macroinvertebrate sampling and identification (shallow waters of Lake Michigan and snorkeling in inland lakes), experimental design, seasonal water level influences, literature review on climate change, use of microcosms in a greenhouse environment, experience with environmentally-controlled mesocosms, teamwork and data analysis skills. 

Required Skills: Strong swimmer, attention to detail and enthusiasm!

Morphometrics and Phenotypic Plasticity in Freshwater Gastropods of Beaver Island and Coastal Lake Michigan

Mentor: Dr. David Zanatta

About: Freshwater mollusks are among the most imperiled taxonomic groups in the world (Christian and Harris 2008) with over sixty-eight percent of freshwater gastropods in North America considered to be at risk of extinction (Lydeard et al. 2004). The existence of diverse assemblages of freshwater mollusks in bodies of freshwater is an outstanding indicator of ecosystem function in warm water systems (Vaughn and Spooner 2006), however their use as indices for ecosystem health has yet to be fully explored.

In previous research (Harris et al. 2011), we explored the freshwater mollusk communities on Lake Michigan islands. As a follow-up to this project, we will use geometric morphometric techniques to assess phenotypic diversity in freshwater gastropods and compare these morphologies across varied habitats in both inland lakes and in coastal areas of Lake Michigan. These data will be used to identify drivers of diversity. Secondarily, we will use DNA barcoding (Hebert and Gregory 2005) as a useful tool to assess genetic diversity of species to determine if differences in phenotype are related to changes in genotype or if they are simply ecophentotypically plastic as a response to different habitats (substrate composition, water chemistry, etc.)

Student Training: Students working on this project will be trained in the use of morphological landmarking, meristic measurements, and multivariate statistics in conjunction with DNA barcoding (mtDNA sequencing). Students will be trained to use microscopy (dissecting), morphometric techniques and multivariate analyses to assess morphological diversity of these important mollusks across a range of habitats in the Great Lakes. Training will also be provided in DNA barcoding techniques to determine genetic diversity within and among sampling locations.

Research Outcomes: The results of these student-led research projects will likely lead to publications in aquatics journals and/or specialized mollusk journals. Studies will also enhance the ability of ecologists to make field identifications of these morphologically challenging, yet potentially useful, indicator taxa for overall biodiversity, particularly in the Great Lakes.


During Summer 2014, each student will receive a stipend of $4,000, lodging at CMUBS and meals provided in the cafeteria there. Funding of up to $500 is available to reimburse each student for travel costs to reach Beaver Island. Faculty mentors will also receive $500 in research funding for supplies and research-related travel.


Students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and will be undergraduates with a grade point average of 2.5 or higher are eligible to apply. Women and minorities are particularly encouraged to apply.

Contact Information

For more information on the CMU Great Lakes Summer Research for Undergraduates program, and to submit additional application materials:

CMU Great Lakes Summer Research for Undergraduates
c/o Jessica Lapp
ET Building 228
Central Michigan University
Mount Pleasant, MI 48859


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