Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program

National Science Foundation REU Program
Tree Science in the Anthropocene

Content Detail

Experience careers that explore solutions for climate change, biodiversity, natural resources management, and urban life through the National Science Foundation REU Program: Tree Science in the Anthropocene.

The era of unprecedented transformation of the biosphere due to human activities is termed the Anthropocene and calls for directly addressing the ecological and environmental challenges of the present and near future.  The REU at The Morton Arboretum uses trees as model systems to investigate questions related to evolution, ecology, conservation, and management in natural and built environments.

The Center for Tree Science has trained 41 students over the past six years from 32 universities across the United States. Quotes from past students:

  • “It gave me a reference that allowed me to get into grad school and do the research that I really want to do!”
  • “Keep this up! It was a very important experience for me early in my career and is still one of my favorite jobs that I have ever had.”
  • “My REU experience has strongly impacted my career path. It has opened me up to and enhanced my true interests.”
  • “Enjoy what it feels like to be dedicated to and focus your energy on one project that you’re passionate about. You will love the experience and the people around you.”

Undergraduates enrolled at a bachelor’s degree-granting institution may apply for this nationally competitive fellowship.

Participate in an intensive 10-week summer program, 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.

Research areas:

  • Evolutionary biology
  • Forest ecology
  • Conservation biology
  • Urban forestry and tree care
  • Computer modeling
  • Engineering solutions

10-week research program includes:

  • $6,000 stipend.
  • Housing, research supplies, and travel.
  • Workshops in science communication, ethics, and project management.

Access the 2019 Student Project Bulletin.

In order to create a safe and exceptional experience for students and staff, the 2021 REU program has been postponed until Summer 2022.

While the full program will not run, there may be opportunities to gain paid experience throughout the year. Please check the internship page for new positions, which are posted as they become available.

The past application process required submission of the following five items through the online application and email:

Online application:

  • Complete the online application.
  • Attach a cover letter (one page maximum) to the first page of the online application, describing 1) why you would like to participate in the REU program, 2) your career goals and how this program will help you meet them, 3) prior research experience (if any), and 4) your preferred mentor and project. A list of potential mentors and projects is provided at the bottom of this page.
  • Attach your curriculum vitae or resume to the first page of the online application.

Email to

  • Have an instructor or advisor from your academic institution send a letter of reference to
  • Send your unofficial transcript from your academic institution to

These five documents must be submitted in order to consider you for the program.

Applicants from colleges and universities with limited research opportunities, groups underrepresented in STEM programs, and first-year and second-year undergraduates are encouraged to apply.

The Morton Arboretum is a champion of diversity, supporting a culture of inclusion that attracts, inspires, and engages people to achieve success. The Arboretum is committed to hire and develop employees based on job-related qualifications irrespective of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, or veteran status. To increase diversity in professions related to the public garden realm, we encourage applications from underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and veterans.

The Morton Arboretum is dedicated to complying with obligations as an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. All applicants are guaranteed equal consideration for employment.

Please contact with questions.

Find out what past Center for Tree Science Undergraduate Researchers have been doing since their time at The Morton Arboretum.

Fall 2020 Update – Summer URF/REU Participants

Erik O. Desotelle (2014) graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a degree in Urban Forestry. He now works in Wholesale Sales at Johnson’s Nursery in Menomonee Falls, while teaching at Gateway Technical College in their Horticulture Program for Trees, Shrubs, and Evergreens. With the insight and experience provided from past and current co-workers, Erik is developing a plant resource for homeowners and contractors in Wisconsin. You can view his work here. He is also doing presentations with community groups like the Wild Ones, WI Master Gardeners, and the Milwaukee Art Museum Garden Club. Erik truly enjoys sharing his knowledge with the general public and finds it helps people get into plants.

Kathrine (Katie) Klaus (2014) graduated in May 2020 with a JD from Vermont Law School and a Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of the Environment. She took the bar exam over the summer and was sworn in as an attorney, recently joined a law firm. After her time at the Arboretum, Katie interned with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and an environmental nonprofit called Save the Sound. She was a clinician at the Yale Law School Environmental Protection Clinic, where she completed a project for a client, the Natural Resources Defense Council. Katie was published in the Vermont Law Review and the Yale Environment Review.

Mary Jordan Babiez (2015) completed a master’s degree from Rutgers in 2018 in Plant Biology, specializing in Plant Pathology. During that time, she worked in the Rutgers Plant Diagnostic Lab and is now an arborist with SavATree.  She recently got engaged to her boyfriend, who worked on similar research (isoprene levels in oaks) with her at the Arboretum. They are looking forward to finding a house soon, one with a yard full of oaks to care for!

Bruce Jake Berger (2015) completed a master’s degree in Environmental Science and a Master’s of Public Affairs degree in December 2019 from Indiana University Bloomington. He is very happy to be working with the U.S. EPA in Chicago in Clean Water Act enforcement, doing industrial/municipal water pollution inspections and case management to bring water polluters into compliance with their permits and local/state/federal laws.

Erin Pfarr (2015) lived in France for two years after her internship at the Arboretum, teaching English to elementary school children. In 2017, she started graduate school at Rutgers University where she is pursuing a PhD in Plant Biology. Erin is working with the popular flowering dogwood trees (Cornus florida and Cornus kousa) and has presented her work through oral and poster presentations at many conferences. She is currently wrapping up her research and writing her thesis.

Nick Steichmann (2015) is attending University of South Carolina, pursuing a PhD in Biology. He studies eye design in caridean shrimp and its role in dynamic color change. He is currently working as a Graduate Instructional Assistant teaching Cell and Molecular Biology Lab. Nick passed his qualifying exam, attended the 2020 Society for Integrative & Comparative Biology (SICB) conference, and is applying for a Graduate Research Fellowship Program grant.

Mackenzie Coden (2016) is a first-year PhD student at Yale University studying Immunobiology and has authored several papers.

Kasey Pham (2016) finished her BS and MS, receiving a department fellowship upon admission to graduate school. She was the 2nd author on Garner et al. 2019 International Oaks (publication), published May 2019 in International Oaks No. 30: 131–138, and is pursuing her PhD at the University of Florida, studying the evolution of tree hybrids.

Sara Desmond (2017) completed her degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and spent time in an AmeriCorps program doing environmental restoration fieldwork. Through this experience, Sara was introduced to urban farming and is looking forward to her apprenticeship through the Chicago Botanic Garden. She is also interested in future environmental restoration opportunities in the Chicago area. The paper that Sara helped work on during her time at the Arboretum is currently in review in the American Journal of Botany and the authors are hoping it will be published!

Taskeen Khan (2017) is interning for Wolfram Alpha collecting nutrition data, and is part of a University of Illinois lab group creating science curriculums for 3rd grade. She also spent three months interning for Farmer Nick and created an e-course about houseplants and plant science that will be rolled out in Fall 2021. Taskeen is ultimately interested in finding a position in science education and communication.

Samantha Pancock (2017) was a co-author on a paper published in Global Change Biology, part of work from her time as an Arboretum intern. She worked with the EPA for a year, with several publications in the Federal Register, before returning to the Arboretum as a research assistant for Dr. Chuck Cannon in the Center of Tree Science. Samantha’s general research focus is on the evolution and conservation of trees. A major project she is working on is the ongoing implementation of a “tree observatory” platform for the simultaneous collection of many different types of data on tree behavior, growth, and status.

Liz Gibbons (2018) is currently a research data technician, working on human genetics and neurodegenerative diseases. She has published two papers in her current position and hopes to have more on the way soon. Liz is currently applying for PhD programs in RNA biology.

Lydia Schlaefke (2018) has held positions in the research field and clinical laboratory setting since her time at the Arboretum. She worked as a Research Assistant at UConn Health looking at rare bone diseases; however, Covid-19 required she change course and take a temporary position in a clinical laboratory setting processing patient coronavirus tests using Real-Time PCR. In October, Lydia started a new position in the Greater Boston area as a Research Assistant at a biotech startup called Dyne Therapeutics. They are currently exploring innovative therapeutic treatments for rare muscle diseases.

Ashley Wojciechowski (2018) began her PhD work analyzing long-term trends in aboveground biomass at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) restored grassland placed 3rd in the ESA Ecological Restoration Student Poster Competition. She is preparing a manuscript about the research she presented and is studying for her oral comprehensive exams to be a PhD candidate. She also adopted another cat during quarantine and is adjusting to life with two energetic cats while working (mostly) remotely!

Mariah Casmey (2019) is currently an MSc student at the University of Alberta in Renewable Resources with a concentration in Forest Biology and Management.

Sydney Kaplan (2019) is a senior at the Illinois Institute of Technology, pursuing a Master’s of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering. After her experience at the Arboretum, she presented her research at the International Symposium for Precision Management of Orchards and Vineyards in Palermo Italy. She completed an internship in New Zealand with Abundant Robotics, an agricultural technology startup developing an apple harvesting robot before returning to the Arboretum on a Research Experience Extension Fellowship (REEF), continuing to investigate drones for tree science, developing vision tracking software and exploring methods for semi-autonomous flight.

Ella Segal (2019) is on track to graduate in May 2021, writing a senior thesis on how grass/fungal endophyte mutualisms may shift with climate change. Since completing her time at the Arboretum, Ella has stayed involved in preparing the resulting publication with her advisors, gotten involved with an ecology lab at her school, and has an interest in pursuing graduate school.

Theodore Bohdanowycz (2020) earned his Associates degree from Washtenaw Community College in general math and science and is looking to earn his B.S. in sustainable development and restoration ecology. His internship experience solidified his desire to include conservation and restoration on his path to a future career.

Janey Lienau (2020) returned to continue her summer research as a Research Experience Extension Fellow (REEF), working in the Soil Ecology Lab to further her skills in R programming and data analysis and develop technical lab skills that were missed because of the nature of the virtual 2020 program. She plans to apply for master’s programs in soil ecology.

Leslie Vargas (2020) graduated from the University of the South a semester early and will be returning as a Research Experience Extension Fellow (REEF) working on the 2020 Tree Census Report. She is interested in a future job within the Chicagoland area focusing on natural resources or urban forestry.

Fall 2020 Update: Past fellows and interns

Marina Jawad (2016-17) finished her internship and went on to become the President of Bethel University’s Creation Restoration club, conducting invasive plant species removals around campus with students. She graduated in 2016 and has been working as a consultant for an environmental consulting firm. She uses her plant ID skills in the field during site visits and soil sampling activities. She writes Environmental Assessments and Reports and continues to learn more about the state and country’s changing environmental regulations.

Jessica Oros (2017-19) began her undergraduate degree studying microbiology at the University of Chicago and joined a virology laboratory. She also joined a competitive synthetic biology team on campus and had the chance to do computational work this summer in support of a wet lab project engineering a microbial system to degrade microplastics in contaminated water systems. Jessica also had the chance to participate in a Virtual Sustainability Trek program through the university where she heard from urban foresters, chemical engineers, and economists focused on promoting sustainability across the country and world.

Norbaya Durr (2020) attends Elmhurst College, taking an advanced chemistry course and another Honors Research course. She attended the 2020 Wild Things conference, had two publications, and is busy applying for grants.

Fall 2019 Update

Bruce “Jake” Berger (2015) spent the summer of 2019 working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Chicago. This biology internship involved monitoring and modeling invasive fish populations and movements. Jake will be graduating this December from Indiana University Bloomington, with an M.S. in Environmental Science and Master of Public Affairs, focused on Water Resource Management.

Nick Steichmann (2015) is pursuing a PhD at the University of South Carolina, working in the Speiser Lab. His interests include biology, marine invertebrates, scallops, shrimp, chitons, and conch. Nick let us know the two summers he spent at the Arboretum helped him become a more confident presenter, ask more meaningful questions, and discover new opportunities in research he wouldn’t have otherwise known about.

Mackenzie Coden (2016) is currently a Research Technician performing immunology research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Mackenzie has presented research at various regional and national conferences, published two papers last year, and has several papers in preparation.

Kasey Pham (2016) received a department fellowship to attend the University of Florida, pursuing a PhD in Botany/Plant Biology, and is working in the Laboratory of Molecular Systematics & Evolutionary Genetics at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The project she pitched for her PhD dissertation work was developed at the Arboretum.

Amy Byrne (2017) is now working as a Global Tree Conservation Assistant and Oak Consortium Coordinator at The Morton Arboretum, focusing on outreach and communication with arboreta and botanic gardens while utilizing her environmental science background. Amy has submitted proposals to present at two conferences, assisted in submitting a large grant proposal, and participated in numerous professional development opportunities.

Taskeen Khan (2017) returned to the Arboretum in the summer of 2018. As a REEF (Research Experience Extension Fellow), she continued her work from the previous year and presented it at the 2018 Undergraduate Research Symposium. She is currently a Research Assistant in the Fraterigo Lab, studying the impact of forest fires, and in May of 2020, she will complete her undergraduate degree in Integrative Biology Honors and Chemistry. Taskeen received the Integrative Biology Honors Junior Achievements Scholarship, and is an Illinois Undergraduate Research Ambassador, promoting undergraduate research.

Sierra Lopezalles (2017) continues to pursue her undergraduate degree in Biology at Caltech and will graduate in June of 2020.

Cori Butkiewicz (2018) graduated from the University of Maryland with a BS in Biological Sciences: Ecology and Evolution and is currently pursuing an MS in Forestry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cori enjoyed participating in National Dendroecological Field Week and when asked how her time at the Arboretum impacted her career, she told us it gave her a reference that allowed her to get into grad school and do the research she really want to do!

Lydia Schlaefke (2018) has completed her BS in Environmental Biology/Microbiology with a minor in Environmental Sustainability Studies from Michigan State University. Prior to graduating she worked as a Lab Technician at MSU’s Department of Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences, and as a Laboratory Supervisor at Fibertec Industrial Hygiene Industries. She was recently hired as a Research Assistant for Orthopaedic Surgery at UConn Health.

Ashley Wojciechowski (2018) continued her research as a REEF (Research Experience Extension Fellow) through her senior year and presented her work at the Midwestern Ecology and Evolution Conference. She completed her degree from North Central College and is now a Graduate Research Assistant in the Baer Lab at The University of Kansas, pursuing a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. See Ashley’s REEF project here.

Gabriela Krochmal (2019) will be graduating from Loyola University Chicago in December of 2019, with a BS in Environmental Science. When asked about the impact of the summer research experience on her career path, she noted an increase in her independent research skills, ability to formulate a project, and statistical analysis, as well as learning to communicate science more efficiently.

Fall 2018 Update

Liz Carter (2014) is pursuing her MS in Environmental Science at DePaul; published her URF project results, “Do oaks with a provenance related to warmer climates emit more isoprene?” in the DePaul science journal, DePaul Discoveries in 2015; and presented the results of her senior thesis project at the International Urban Wildlife Conference in May of 2015. The poster was titled “Linking mammalian habitat use to vegetation community structure in the Chicagoland region.”

Kathrine Klaus (2014) is an Environmental Mission Scholar at Vermont Law School. She recently wrote and presented a Note suggesting the Clean Water Act encompasses the discharge of pollutants to groundwater that is hydrologically connected to surface water and she is seeking publication for that Note. In the summer of 2017, Kathrine worked for the EPA in the Office of Regional Counsel in Chicago, and in the summer of 2018, she worked for the Department of Justice in the Natural Resources Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division in Washington, D.C.

Angélica Bannwart Lopes (2015) is currently teaching English to children ( ages 12 to 15) at a state school in Goias, Brazil. She earned her Forest Engineering degree, thanks, in part, to the skills received during the URF, and although she plans to pursue a career in the field, Angélica is truly enjoying her job as a teacher.

Bruce (‘Jake’) Berger (2015) is studying Water Resource Management at Indiana University Bloomington, pursuing an MS in Environmental Science and a Master of Public Affairs. He is working with faculty at IU Bloomington to study how well states are preparing for conservation issues related to climate change in their federally mandated State Wildlife Action Plans. Jake has performed fieldwork in the Galapagos Islands to catch and study sea turtles and has worked with the Indiana Clean Lakes Program to perform lake sampling and measurements for public water bodies to assess water quality.

Nick Steichmann (2015) presented his research on Lake George in Illinois City to the Upper Mississippi center, and this spring he went to Australia and completed an internship at the University of Sydney working with native bees and ants.  He enjoyed visiting the Great Barrier Reef so much that he is currently applying for PhD programs in marine biology.

Mackenzie Coden (2016) changed her field of study and is currently a research technician in the Department of Allergy and Immunology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She has attended and presented at local, regional, and national Immunology conferences, authored two publications, with several more in preparation for submission, and is planning to pursue a PhD in the coming years.

Kasey Pham (2016) is pursuing her MS at Michigan State, studying Plant Biology. She published Pham et al. 2017 in the journal Genome, is a coauthor on Fitzgibbon et al. 2017, also in Genome, and received a PLANTS grant to attend the Botany 2017 meeting, where she presented a talk.

Quinn Taylor (2016) is currently a high school science teacher and Math/Science department head at Fusion Academy.  She co-authored a paper on her research with her URF mentor, Dr. Meghan Midgley, which can be found in the March 2018 issue of Forest Ecology and Management.  In August 2017 Quinn traveled to Portland, Oregon to present this research at the ESA Annual Meeting.

Amy Byrne (2017) spent the summer working as a Population Biology intern at the Lincoln Park Zoo Conservation & Science Department. She will be a co-author on a paper “Sex-specific median life expectancies from ex situ populations for 330 animal species” that is still in the editing phase. She collected the new data for this paper and will be presenting her research findings on Red-capped Cardinal post-hatch survival rate and transfer mortality rate to the Conservation & Science Department at the zoo. Amy recently returned to the Arboretum to continue working with Dr. Andrew Hipp.

Alyssa Gao (2017) is in her junior year at Dartmouth. She organized a day-long summit that brought together student leaders in sustainability from six peer institutions to connect and build a network; she was awarded the 2017-18 Carol Folt Research Scholarship to continue her work in the Kapuscinski lab, and was selected for the Environmental Studies Foreign Study Program and will travel to South Africa and Namibia in the fall of 2018.

Katie McGee (2017) completed her senior thesis and graduated magna cum laude from James Madison University (JMU), where she was also recognized for service to the biology department. She has had several internships, including one at JMU that investigated bird behavior and urbanization and another doing environmental education/ trail work and conservation in Massachusetts with the Student Conservation Association. Katie is currently finishing up an internship as a biology technician at Redwoods National Forest in California and has internship opportunities lines up for 2019.

Meet the Center for Tree Science undergraduate research program participants and learn more about their projects and experiences at The Morton Arboretum.

2020 Undergraduate Researchers

Major funding was provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program and Morton Salt; additional funding is noted below.

Theodore James Bohdanowycz
Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor, Michigan
“U.S. Wild Harvested Tree Species: A Conservation Snapshot.”
Advisors: Dr. Jessica Turner-Skoff, Dr. Murphy Westwood, and Christina Carrero
Symposium presentation

Andrew Ernat
Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
“Exploring Remotely Sensed Data as an Indicator of Phenological Sensitivity in Oaks.”
Advisors: Dr. Christy Rollinson and Lucien Fitzpatrick
Symposium presentation

Maddie Fernandez-Laris
DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
Exploring Barriers to Recruitment of Transplanted Seedlings of the Endangered Quercus Brandegeei
Advisor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare
Symposium presentation

Janey R. Lienau
Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
“The Effects of Forest Type on Ground Beetle Abundance and Diversity.”
Advisors: Dr. Meghan Midgley and Dr. Rob Buchkowski
Symposium presentation

Katelyn McBride
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois
“Sap flow variation in response to environmental factors in American sycamores.”
Advisors: Dr. Chuck Cannon and Samantha Panock
Symposium Presentation

Tanya R. Perez
The University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas
“Tree Growth in Response to Slope in a Highway Setting.”
Advisors: Dr. Jake Miesbauer and Dr. Allyson Salisbury

Kaylee J. Rosenberger
Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois
“Sampling to Capture the Most Genetic Diversity when Population Sizes Vary in a Rare Species.”
Advisors: Dr. Sean Hoban and Emily Schumacher
Symposium presentation

Pranav Sai
Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Processing and Analyzing LiDAR Scans of Trees
Advisors: Dr. Chuck Cannon and Colby Borchetta

Leslie M. Vargas
The University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee
“Early Detection and Rapid Response: Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) Monitoring.”
Advisors: Dr. Chai-Shian Kua, Tricia Bethke, and Dr. Chuck Cannon
Funding provided by: Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program and Morton Salt
Symposium presentation

2019 Undergraduate Researchers

Major funding was provided by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program and Morton Salt; other funding sources are noted below.

Andrew Archundia
Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois
Title: Tree Physiology and Soil Amendments in Highway Environments
Advisors: Drs. Jake Miesbauer and Allyson Salisbury

Alice Bieda
Macalester College, St Paul, Minnesota
Title: Investigating Phylogenetic Trends in Vole Herbivory Patterns on Tallgrass Prairie Species
Advisors: Dr. Andrew Hipp and Marlene Hahn
Funding provided by: National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates supplemental funding.

Mariah Casmey
Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota
Title: Using Open Source Data to Identify Conservation Priorities at Large Spatial Scales
Advisors: Dr. Murphy Westwood, Christina Carrero, and Emily Beckman

Perry Giambuzzi
University of the Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Title: Comparison of wood growth sensitivity to timing of optimal temperatures among trees varying in xylem anatomy and mycorrhizal association
Advisor: Dr. Christy Rollinson

Sydney Kaplan
Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois
Title: “Drones for Tree Science: Multi-sensor 3D modeling and Precise Canopy Sampling.”
Advisors: Drs. Chuck Cannon and Matthew Spenko

Gabriela Krochmal
Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Title: “Tree Growth Responses to Chronic Fertilization in a Lowland Tropical Rainforest.”
Advisors: Drs. Silvia Alvarez Clare and Richard Condit

Jessica Langguth
Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
Title: “Fine-root Functional Traits Across the Gymnosperm Phylogeny.”
Advisor: Dr. Luke McCormack

Jamilys Rivera
University of Puerto Rico, Humacao, Puerto Rico
Title: “Comparison of Growth and Recovery in Response to Drought Stress Across Wood Types.”
Advisor: Dr. Christy Rollinson

Ella Segal
Rice University, Houston, Texas
Title: “The Impacts of Fine Root Mass and Soil Nitrogen Availability on Nitrogen Uptake Rate in Trees.”
Advisors: Drs. Meghan Midgley and Ray Dybzinski

2019 Undergraduate Research Program Participants

Bailie (Fredlock) Munoz, Research Technician Fellow (RTF)
Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Illinois
Title: “Botanic garden populations of Quercus havardii: are we conserving enough genetic diversity?”
Advisor: Dr. Sean Hoban
Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

2018 Undergraduate Researchers

The Arboretum is thankful to Morton Salt for their generous contribution to the 2018 undergraduate research program; additional funding is noted below.

Alyssa L. Barrantes-Leonard

Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois
Title: Species richness protects prairie species from vole herbivory
Advisors: Dr. Andrew Hipp and Mary-Claire Glasenhardt
Funding provided by: National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates supplemental funding.

Cori L. Butkiewicz
University of Maryland – College Park, College Park, Maryland
Title: Forests on the Edge: Climate, soil, and fire on the prairie-forest boundary
Advisor: Dr. Christy Rollinson
Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

Elizabeth M. Gibbons
Michigan State, East Lansing, Michigan
Title: A Phylogenetic Analysis of Biodiversity in an Oak Dominated Forest of the Chicago Region
Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp
Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

Lydia Schlaefke

Michigan State, East Lansing, Michigan
Title: Root regeneration after fall and spring root severance of two common urban tree species, Acer platanoides and Betula nigra
Advisor: Dr. Gary Watson
Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

Rachel S. Sims
Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana
Title: Leaf habit versus mycorrhizal fungi association: A framework for predicting tree species effects on soil
Advisor: Dr. Meghan Midgley
Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

Ashley A. Wojciechowski
North Central College, Naperville, Illinois
Title: Foliar Nutrient Concentrations of Understory Plants in a Chronically Fertilized Lowland Tropical Wet Forest in Costa Rica
Advisor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare
Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

2018 Undergraduate Research Program Participants

Alice Bieda
Downers Grove North High School graduate, Downers Grove, Illinois
Project: Species richness protects prairie species from vole herbivory
Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp and Mary-Claire Glasenhardt

Marion Deal
Downers Grove North High School graduate, Downers Grove, Illinois
Project: Species richness protects prairie species from vole herbivory
Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp and Mary-Claire Glasenhardt

Amayrani Sanchez
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Aurora, Illinois
Project: Foliar Nutrient Concentrations of Understory Plants in a Chronically Fertilized Lowland Tropical Wet Forest in Costa Rica
Advisor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare

Mary Ashley Tenedor
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Aurora, Illinois
Project: Foliar Nutrient Concentrations of Understory Plants in a Chronically Fertilized Lowland Tropical Wet Forest in Costa Rica
Advisor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare

2017 Undergraduate Researchers

Our thanks to Morton Salt for their generous contribution to the 2017 undergraduate research program; other funding as noted.

Amy Byrne
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois
Title: Diversity mechanisms shape first-year survivorship in a phylogenetic and functional diversity prairie restoration experiment
Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp
Funding provided by: National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates supplemental funding

Sara Desmond
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois
Title:  Latitude predicts leaf size in bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp
Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

Alyssa Gao
Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
Title: Examining the Effects of Bacterial Leaf Scorch on the Leaves of Quercus mongolica trees within The Morton Arboretum Collection
Advisor: Dr. Chuck Cannon
Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

Taskeen Khan
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois
Title: The Impact of Injury on Sap Flow in Quercus palustris
Advisor: Dr. Chuck Cannon
Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science
Blog posts

Sierra Lopezalles
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
Title: Effects of prescribed burn regime on the growth of mature trees in Midwest oak forests
Advisor: Dr. Christy Rollinson
Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science

Kathryn (Katie) McGee
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Title: The Effect of Prescribed Fire Regimes on Seedling Regeneration and Nitrogen Dynamics in an Oak Forest
Advisor: Dr. Silvia Alvarez Clare
Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science
Blog posts

Samantha Panock
Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Title: Uncovering belowground properties of urban forests: The relationship between root systems, soil characteristics, and fungal communities in deciduous and evergreen trees at The Morton Arboretum
Advisor: Dr. Meghan Midgley
Funding provided by: Morton Salt and Center for Tree Science
Blog posts

2016 Undergraduate Researchers

Mackenzie Coden
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
Title: Testing protocols for preserving oak leaf tissue and extracting DNA for use in oak conservation genetic studies
Advisor: Dr. Sean Hoban
Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

Alison McGarigal
Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Title: Comparing the Efficiency and Accuracy of a Digital Photography and Laser-Based Technique in Conducting Forest Surveys
Advisor: Dr. Chuck Cannon
Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

Quinn Taylor
University of San Diego, San Diego, California
Title: Burn Forest Burn: Effects of Annual Burning of Forest Soils
Advisor: Dr. Meghan Midgley
Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

Kirsten Triller
University of Northwestern-St. Paul, St. Paul, Minnesota
Title: Environmental impact and influence on urban tree health of biochar and biosolids
Advisor: Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch
Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

Kasey Pham
Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
Title: A time and place for everything: The shifting predictors of genetic diversity in the oak chloroplast
Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp
Funding provided by: National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates supplemental funding
Kasey’s summer research experience

2015 Undergraduate Researchers

2015 Participant Blog Posts

Mary Babiez
DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
Title: The correlation between basal isoprene emissions and climate of the native range within oak species
Advisor: Dr. Mark Potosnak
Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

Bruce Jake Berger
University of Wisconsin – Madison, Madison, Wisconsin
Title: Isolating the invasive mechanisms of non-native canopy trees on white oak and sugar maple seedling growth
Advisor: Dr. Robert Fahey
Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

Jacob Cerminar
University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
Title: Biosolids and biochars initial effects on environmental quality in urban soil
Advisor: Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch
Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

Angélica Bannwart Lopes
West Virginia University & Universidade Federal de Viçosa – Viçosa, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Title: Testing the accuracy of imaging software to measure tree root volumes
Advisor: Dr. Jason Miesbauer
Funding provided by: Center for Tree Science

Erin Pfarr
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Title: Genome sizing of wild collected weigela and weigela cultivars
Advisor: Joseph Rothleutner
Funding provided by: The Daniel P. Haerther Charitable Trust

Nick Steichmann
Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois
Title: Hybridization across the Bur Oak Range
Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp
Funding provided by: National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates

2014 Undergraduate Researchers

2014 Participant Blog Posts

Breane Budaitis
Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio
Title: Inferring the history of morphological diversification in sedges
Advisor: Dr. Andrew Hipp
Interns: Alexa Cotton and Kasey Pham

Elizabeth (‘Liz’) Carter

DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
Title: Do oak species that are genetically associated with warmer climatic niches have greater isoprene emission rates?
Advisor: Dr. Mark Potosnak

Erik Desotelle
University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
Title: Assessing performance of volunteers to monitor the urban forest
Advisors: Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch & Dr. Lara Roman

Christina Fites
Indiana University – South Bend, South Bend, Indiana
Title: Carbon storage and dynamics of The Morton Arboretum
Advisor: Emma Bialecki

Stuart Hupp
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia
Title: Oak seedling survival and growth in relation to canopy structure and understory competition
Advisor: Dr. Robert Fahey

Kathrine Klaus
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois
Title: Towards a sustainable designer urban soil for trees
Advisors: Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch and Michelle Catania

Brian Maule
Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois
Title: Effects of urban trees and green infrastructure on water quality and runoff
Advisor: Dr. Bryant Scharenbroch

Felipe Santich
University of California – Davis, Davis, California
Title: Assessing the use of morphological characteristics to predict branch attachment strength
Advisor: Dr. Jason Miesbauer

The Tree Observatory Research Platform

Mentors: Chuck Cannon, Sam Panock
Summary: The Tree Observatory is a research platform at the Morton Arboretum to gain a holistic understanding of tree biology by integrating phenotypic, physiological, and other data gathered simultaneously from several types of sensors, observations, and sample collecting. We have accumulated over two years of data for a small number of trees and plan to explore the addition of new sensors. The project could involve exploring and analyzing existing data to gain insight into tree behavior and response to the environment or the application of new technologies and techniques to compare to the base physiological measurements being gathered. Comparisons are also possible between individual open-grown trees with closed-canopy grown trees in a forest plot setting.
Preferred qualifications: Biology, botany, environmental sciences; hopefully some experience with R
Project setting: The Morton Arboretum

Sampling and sensing the tree canopy using drone-based devices

Mentors: Chuck Cannon, Colby Borchetta
Summary: We are developing tools for collecting observations and samples from the tree canopy using a drone-based platform. This ongoing project has several avenues of development, including a device suspended below a drone to collect small twigs; mechanisms for placing, leaving, and later retrieving a sensor in the desired position in the tree canopy; and the creation and integration of structural and phenotypic models of the tree canopy using different imaging and sensing systems. The student would develop an appropriate summer project on a particular element of this overall research program.
Preferred qualifications: enrolled in a mechanical engineering degree
Project setting: The Morton Arboretum

Can we predict species’ sensitivity to climate variability?

Mentor: Christy Rollinson
Summary: Species responses to their environment, including climate variability, are governed by anatomical and physiological traits such as leaf morphology, wood anatomy, or water use strategy. These traits are the result of species-level adaptations to their habitats but are also subject to phylogenetic constraints. The student will compare climate responses observed in tree growth and phenology, traits and phylogenetic history of oaks from around the world in The Morton Arboretum’s living collections. The student will learn a variety of ecological approaches, including measurements of traits and ecophysiology in the field, data analysis/ecological modeling, and community-driven science (citizen science).
Preferred qualifications: Must be interested in plant ecology and have completed at least one college-level course relevant to the study of plants. Students must also be willing to discuss and develop research questions, conduct fieldwork and laboratory analyses, and perform statistical analysis with data interpretation. Experience with the statistical software R or other coding is preferred.

  • Coursework/background: introductory biology; ecology or geography course preferred
  • Ability to work in both field (hot, humid, rain) and lab (standing/sitting for prolonged periods) situations
  • Bonus points: experience with biogeography, ecophysiology, and/or adaptation; exposure to coding/data analysis

Tree species effects on soil biodiversity

Mentors: Meghan Midgley & Rob Buchkowski
Areas of expertise: Soil ecology
Summary: A classic question in plant ecology is “why is the world green?” In other words, why don’t herbivores eat all the plants, resulting in a world without leaves? Two mechanisms – predator control and plant defenses – aid in suppressing herbivory. In this project, we flip this classic question on its head and ask: why is the ground brown? Dead plants form the base of the below-ground food chain. But plant defenses against herbivory above ground results in litters that decompose more or less quickly and shape soil food webs, leading to some of that organic matter being converted into nutrients and some organic matter being stabilized in the soil – the brown ground. In this project, the fellow will use single-species tree monocultures at The Morton Arboretum to assess the effects of different tree species on soil animal biodiversity and soil organic matter pools.
Preferred qualifications: Must be interested in soil ecology and have completed at least one college-level course relevant to the study of plants. A desire to collect and identify soil insects is critical. Students must also be willing to discuss and develop research questions, conduct fieldwork and laboratory analyses, and perform statistical analysis with data interpretation. Experience with the statistical software R is preferred.

Safeguarding rare plants through botanic garden best practices

Mentor: Sean Hoban
Area of expertise: Tree Conservation Biologist
Summary: Our laboratory is interested in why rare species are rare, what threatens them, and how we can conserve their evolutionary potential in the wild and in botanic gardens and seed banks. We have three projects in mind, but highly self-motivated students interested in projects outside of those described below, including in other aspects of conservation (sociology, policy or law, geography, morphology, psychology or economics) are also welcome to propose ideas in their cover letter! The projects are (1) to help generate and analyze DNA data in a molecular laboratory (e.g. with PCR) for several threatened oak species, to make conclusions and recommendations for managing these species. (2) to participate in genetic or population modeling, analysis or simulations to determine how best to safeguard species in botanic gardens. This would involve management of R code and multiple datasheets, and possibly research in historical records of plant collections and survival, to test hypotheses. (3) understanding in situ threats and opportunities for rare species using GIS approaches. A tolerance for sometimes tedious laboratory work or extensive computer work is needed. We do not have any outdoor/ field projects for this year.
Preferred qualifications: Required Coursework: 2 semesters of biology courses. Suggested (one or more of): genetic or chemistry lab, ecology or natural resource management, introduction to programming or GIS. Beneficial: (1) prior hands-on experience in a laboratory setting (outside of classroom exercises), ideally in genetics or molecular biology, but any laboratory work experience demonstrating very strong organization skills, attention to detail, good note-taking, and use of specialized equipment such as micropipettes. OR (2) Experience in or willingness to learn basic computer programming, good ability to manage multiple data files, enjoys working at a computer terminal.

Improving tree growth in highway environments

Mentors: Allyson Salisbury, Jake Miesbauer
Area of expertise: Environmental science, plant-soil interactions, urban ecology, arboriculture
Summary: Highway corridors are difficult environments for trees to grow, however, these areas provide important opportunities for communities to increase forest cover. In partnership with the Illinois Tollway Authority, we are studying how to improve tree growth and survival alongside highways. This project will examine the relationship between soil conditions and plant growth in the highway environment. The research will be conducted outside at tree-planting sites as well as inside in a laboratory and on the computer. We will be assessing indicators of plant growth and stress such as leaf chlorophyll content as well as measuring soil physical and chemical properties. Prior experience working with this type of research is not necessary, but a foundational knowledge of plant biology and/or soil science is helpful.
Preferred qualifications: The applicant should have a strong interest in soil, plants, and/or urban forestry. This project will involve both field and lab work. Applicants should be comfortable working outdoors in summer weather as well as lifting up to 30 lbs. (assisted). Attention to detail, organization and the ability to work independently as well as part of a team are also critical for a successful project both in the field and lab.

Assessing the sustainability and conservation potential of wild-harvested tree species

Mentors: Jessica Turner-Skoff, Christina Carrero, Murphy Westwood
Area of expertise: Tree Conservation/ Science Communication/ Non-timber Forest Products
Summary: Currently, 60-90% of medicinal and aromatic plants in trade are wild-collected, sustainably, or unsustainably. Many of these products come from trees (e.g., juniper ‘berries,’ frankincense, shea), and this collection process forms an industry worth billions of dollars. There is little information compiled about wild-harvested tree species (WHTS) and what role botanical gardens could play in conservation efforts. This project will focus on using a literature review about the state of WHTS and the industries associated with the harvest, with the goal of facilitating strategic conservation actions in the future. When possible, students will use the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List as a conservation tool to gather data on species use, trade, and ex-situ collection. This data will inform the severity of harvest threat to each tree species and their conservation needs. Students will then complete a gap analysis, write a technical report, and assess the feasibility of potential conservation activities. If time permits, students will gain skills in design software or mapping software.
Preferred qualifications: Students should have a passion for conservation and sustainability. This project will be primarily computer-based, focusing on improving skills in literature reviews and information synthesis. Student should be proficient in the Microsoft Office Suite. Applicants need to be organized, have strong attention to detail, and be interested in working both independently and with a team.

Ecology and conservation of a Mexican endangered oak

Mentors: Silvia Alvarez-Clare, Meghan Midgley
Summary: Quercus brandegeei or the Arroyo Oak is a beautiful and charismatic tree that only occurs in the very tip of the Baja California Peninsula, in the Los Cabos Area of Mexico. Although this species has occurred here for millennia, there have been no new trees established in the last 100 years. In order to save this species from extinction, we are trying to figure out why. One of our hypotheses is that changes in climate have made the site too dry. Another one is that nutrients in the soil are too low. In this project the REU student will travel to Mexico to collect Q. brandegeei leaves in three sites varying in annual rainfall and soil nutrients to explore if leaf traits, such as leaf shape, nutrient concentrations, or chlorophyll content, provide clues on the effects that climate has on tree physiology and survival. After the one-week trip, the student will spend the rest of the time processing the leaves and conducting chemical analysis in the soils lab. The student will learn about tree conservation research and be part of an international group of scientists working to save this tree from extinction.
Preferred qualifications: The student must be interested in ecosystems ecology and conservation biology. Should have completed at least one college-level course relevant to the study of plants and one chemistry class. The student must have a valid passport, be willing to travel to Mexico for a week where we will sleep in precarious field conditions, eat foreign foods, endure hot climates, and spend long hours in the field. Student must also enjoy laboratory work, have attention to detail, and be willing to learn new chemical analysis, such as how to measure leaf Carbon and Nitrogen content. Knowledge of Spanish is a plus.
Project setting: One week trip to Baja California Sur, Mexico followed with laboratory analyses, data processing, and computer work.

Impact of Soil Amendments on Tree Physiology and Soil Microbial Activity

Mentors: Chad Rigsby, Andrew Loyd
Area of expertise: Tree Physiology, Microbiology, Soil Science, and Applied Arboriculture
Summary: Researchers have been studying the effect of soil amendments on tree health for many years. The urban environment is a notoriously poor one for trees as planting sites typically have little soil volume, soil compaction issues, and a low amount of microbial activity. This REU will spearhead one of a few projects in the Rigsby laboratory centered on how soil amendments impact tree physiology and response to stress and/or the impact of soil remediation techniques on soil microbiota. Examples of these projects include the impact of silica (Si) amendment on tree stress physiology. For many years, Si has been used successfully in agricultural systems as a general stress-relief amendment as well as to enhance disease resistance, and has been considered a pseudo-essential element of plant nutrition. This greenhouse-based project will explore the use of soil Si amendments to enhance stress responses. Various responses will be measured using various laboratory equipment, such as an HPLC and a spectrophotometer. Another example project will explore how soil remediation techniques impact soil microbiota. In these experiments, compacted, nutrient-, and organic-poor soils will be remediated and various soil microbial abundance and activity parameters will be quantified.
Preferred qualifications: Students should have an interest in the intersection of tree physiology and biochemistry, soil science, and soil microbial communities. Experience working in a greenhouse, laboratory, and in the field is preferred. Additionally, the student must be willing to learn laboratory techniques and instrumentation such as HPLC. This research may also require occasional travel with overnight stays out of town.
Project setting: The Morton Arboretum, greenhouse, and field components