REU Advisors & Projects

Dr. Richard Forward conducts research on the physiological ecology of marine invertebrates. Past REU students have done studies on (1) behavioral responses of crab larvae to light and hydrostatic pressure as related to vertical migration and depth regulation (2) circadian rhythm in activity by a supratidal amphipod and the environmental cues (light:dark cycle and daily temperature cycle) that set up the timing of nocturnal activity (3) respiration and osmoregulation of the same amphipod, (4) tidal rhythms in activity by mole crabs and (5) circadian rhythms in egg hatching by estuarine crabs. Six publications by REU students have resulted from these studies. For summer 2018, I anticipate my advisee will continue to study the rhythm in egg hatching by an estuarine crab. As background, eggs are attached to the abdomen of female crabs and embryos take about 10-14 days to develop. The time of egg hatching is not random and occurs at very precise times in the daily light:dark, and temperature cycles. For subtidal crabs, the model is that the female is responsible for the synchronous development of the embryos and setting up the timing (entraining) of the circadian rhythm in egg hatching in the embryos. I would like my REU student to continue these studies next summer looking at (1) the minimum light intensity in the light:dark cycle necessary to entrain the circadian rhythm and (2) the minimum length of the light phase in the light:dark cycle that is necessary for entrainment. The study will involve field work collecting crabs and laboratory studies of the effects of light on the rhythm in egg hatching.


Matthew Godfrey  is a biologist for the state of North Carolina, and adjunct faculty at the Duke Marine Lab. He coordinates the Sea Turtle Nest Monitoring and Protection Program of North Carolina, which involves >1000 collaborators who patrols all ocean-side beaches for freshly laid sea turtle nests. For the summer of 2015, Dr. Godfrey is looking for an REU student to work on the sea turtle monitoring project at Bear Island (part of Hammocks Beach State Park). Monitoring on Bear Island began in 1975, making it one of the oldest sea turtle projects not only in North Carolina but also along the entire east coast of the US.  The student will be involved in night-time monitoring for nesting female loggerheads on Bear Island, including measuring carapace lengths and applying tags. The student will use data collected on the nesting beach in the summer of 2015, plus historical data, to research the relationship between clutch size, female size, and reproductive success, across four decades. Students should have a background in biology and ecology, and experience with Excel. The ferry dock to Bear Island is roughly 25 miles from the Duke Marine Lab, so students working with Dr. Godfrey must have a vehicle for transportation. The REU program reimburses students for travel associated with their project.  Students interested in Dr. Godfrey as a research adviser must indicate they will bring a vehicle in their statement.


Dr. Jim Hench The Hench lab conducts research on shallow-water physical oceanography, environmental fluid mechanics, and physical-biological interactions. Much of our current research involves understanding circulation and transport on coral reef systems. REU project topics for summer 2017 include: 1) Modeling flows in and around marine sponges; 2) Quantifying coral reef rugosity and patchiness; 3) Analysis of wave-driven flows over coral reefs; 4) Modeling marine connectivity between reefs and islands. Summer REU students in the Hench lab receive training in quantitative data analysis methods and modeling techniques. Past summer REU students in Hench’s lab have presented their research at national scientific meetings and gone on to Ph.D. programs at top universities including Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Stanford, and UC-Berkeley. Students with a background in engineering, applied math, and physics are particularly encouraged to apply. Marine sciences or environmental science majors with quantitative interests and background are also welcome.


Dr. Douglas Nowacek’s research focuses on marine bioacoustics, specifically the link between acoustic and motor behavior in marine animals. Sound is a fast and efficient means of exploring and/or communicating in the marine environment, and Nowacek's lab explores numerous aspects of marine bioacoustics. Also, Nowacek works on the development of technology for marine conservation research, e.g., ocean gliders. Opportunities exist in Nowacek’s lab to work on ocean engineering projects, e.g., small scale energy harvesting to power ocean instruments such as whale tags.  Through Nowacek’s joint appointment in the Pratt School of Engineering, REU work could involve design, testing, and analysis of various engineering projects.  His current research topics include bioacoustics and foraging ecology of Antarctic cetaceans, behavioral ecology of odontocete cetaceans and their responses to acoustic threats, and the effects of ocean noise on marine animals. Nowacek has hosted numerous undergraduate independent study students, and  REU students. Research by his REU students has focused on the analysis of bioacoustic data collected from marine mammals around the world. For example the titles for research projects for his past four REU students are (1) Project Finbit: Designing a Cetacean Tag Extension to Collect Pulse and Blood Oxygen Level (2) Identifying signature whistles in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in estuarine North Carolina, (3) Use of social sounds by humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Western Antarctic Peninsula feeding grounds and (4) Passive acoustic monitoring of North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis) Cape Hatteras, NC. Students interested in working with Dr. Nowacek should have some knowledge of bioacoustics and computer analysis of large data sets. See his website for more information about research in his laboratory.

Opportunities also exist in Nowacek’s lab to work on ocean engineering projects, e.g., small scale energy harvesting to power ocean instruments such as whale tags.  Through Nowacek’s joint appointment in the Pratt School of Engineering, REU work could involve design, testing, and analysis of various engineering projects


Dr. Zackary Johnson  The Johnson Lab broadly studies the abundance, diversity and activity of marine microbes. We are biological oceanographers, marine molecular ecologists, marine microbiologists and biogeochemists.  Our research focuses on the marine cyanobacteria Prochlorococcus, the most abundant phytoplankton in the open oceans and an excellent model marine microbe, as well as the biotechnological applications of marine microalgae. Potential REU projects include (1) investigating the community diversity of cyanobacteria as a function of temperature in a coastal ecosystem and (2) characterizing the balance of carbon uptake (photosynthesis) and release (respiration) of coastal phytoplankton both as windows into future climate scenarios. We use a broad array of techniques including classical approaches to advanced molecular procedures, using both laboratory and field-based techniques.


Dr. Andy Read focuses on the ecology and conservation biology of marine mammals and other mega-vertebrates. During the summer of 2017 he is looking for a student to work on an Analysis of pilot whale photo-identification data from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Photographs of individual marine mammals enable us to document temporal and spatial movement of individuals over time and space. By photographing natural markings on the fins of pilot whales we are able to match the same individuals between different encounters. We are interested in looking at movements of pilot whales between multiple sites in the Caribbean and the US coast. The student will be required to sort and match photographs and develop an analysis of sighting patterns.


Drs. Kathy Reinsel and Jim Welch are faculty at Wittenberg University and conduct research at the Duke University Marine Laboratory each summer and co-advise research by REU students. Their current research focuses on settlement site selection in fiddler crab larvae. Many marine organisms, particularly invertebrates, have a life cycle that includes a larval stage, which often lives in a habitat different from the adult. The larva, or a postlarval stage, therefore needs a mechanism for transporting to and settling into the appropriate adult habitat. Larvae of many species have been shown to use one of two strategies: some larvae have a mechanism to 'choose' appropriate adult habitats; others settle more haphazardly, and only those that happen to settle in appropriate adult habitats survive. REU student projects involve investigations of the settlement site selection process in 3 species of fiddler crabs that live in coastal North Carolina. Since the larvae of these 3 fiddler crabs are morphologically identical, a molecular technique that involves DNA extraction, PCR and gel electrophoresis allows us to identify individual larvae. Specific projects for next summer involve exploring the behaviors that underlie settlement site selection. They could include: (1) determining whether chemical cues from adult conspecifics or habitats in combination with different salinities stimulate larvae to molt into juvenile crabs more quickly; (2) examining rhythms in activity in the three species and whether those rhythms change in the presence of chemical cues from fiddler crab adults of the same or different species, or (3) determining whether larvae are attracted to or repelled by chemical cues from adults of the same or different crab species, or habitat cues. Students interested in marine ecology and invertebrate larval biology should consider Dr. Reinsel and Dr. Welch as advisers.

Dr. Tom Schultz  is a molecular biologist, who serves as the Director of the Marine Conservation Molecular Facility. His research interests lie in the use of molecular/genomic tools to address conservation genetics questions in marine organisms. Dr. Schultz has several potential research projects for REUs this summer including: 1) identify the number of juvenile summer flounder (Paralichthys dentatus) populations using the Pamlico Sound as a nursery ground using genotype-by-sequencing data (RADseq), 2) characterize linkage disequilibrium in a hybrid population of landlocked river herring, 3) characterize tidally-regualted genes in inter-tidal crabs, and 4) identify sex-specific genetic markers from genomic data.


Dr. Brian Silliman is a community ecologist who works in intertidal and shallow systems examining the relative importance of consumers, physical stress, and positive interactions in controlling ecosystem structure and function. Dr. Silliman works in marshes, seagrasses, mangroves, oyster reef and coral reef ecosystems. Many of his projects also deal in coastal conservation. Recent research projects by REU students in Dr. Silliman's lab include: 1) Testing for the role of multiple predators in controlling marsh community structure, and 2) Examining the importance of facilitation cascades across diverse ecosystems. Students interested in working with Dr. Silliman should have a background in ecology and statistics and be willing to work in the field for long hours.