REU: Wheelchairs & Tardigrades In the Canopy


The Research Project

This is a three-dimensional research project to define the taxonomy and distribution of tardigrades (water bears) in the canopy and the herbivory of insects on a North American deciduous forest.The project is a fast-paced, tree-climbing, data-collecting, rapid-analysis and results-oriented internship. It is not for the timid. The plan is to climb and collect in the cooler mornings and spend the hotter afternoons and evenings processing specimens in the labs. Weekends include visits to local cultural sites and water bear hunts. (Update: though this project has ended, our fascination with Water Bears has not!  We continuously update information on Water Bears and will answer your questions on Water Bears at any time.  Just click here: Dear Dr. Water Bear to learn more and submit your question.  You’ll also find other Q&As on that page — so start exploring now!)

Students will be professionally trained to ascend into the canopy. There they will measure the impact of micro and macro invertebrates on the habitat and establish a baseline from which change can be measured. This is the cutting edge of ecological analysis in a world affected by climate change. Students will learn to use remote sensing, GIS, HPLC, GC-MS, and an EA scanning electron microscope to document the microenvironment.

Students will be employed for the summer. They will collaborate with the principle investigators to prepare their data for presentation and publication. They will also meet and network with the scientists and graduate students at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, University of Kansas Microscopy and Analytical Imaging Lab, Kansas State University long-term environmental research site, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Students may attend a regional, national, or international meeting and present their results.

Students will be part of a small team of young scientists who are defining and establishing a base line for the condition of the temperate forests before global warming completely exerts pressure for the forests and canopy to change.

The Hypothesis

Unlike in the tropics, there are no differences in the animals or plants that live at different levels of deciduous trees in temperate forests.

To test this hypothesis students will conduct vertical transects at multiple sites on various species of trees. Field collections will be moss, lichen and leaves.

Based at the new Boyd Center at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan., the project will explore the canopy of the transition zone between the eastern deciduous forest and the tall grass prairie biomes.

In the lab, students will extract, identify and quantize the animals (water bears) found in each sample and learn to create scanning electron microscope images.

Students will analyze the chemistry of the habitat (moss/lichen) with GC, Mass, spec, and HPLC for its influence on the interstitial aquatic environment in which the animals live. The leaves of the trees will be analyzed for insect herbivory.

The data will be mapped with GIS to predict other places where similar populations might exist. The data will establish a baseline from which change caused by global warming can be measured in the future.

Students will use professional tools such as PowerPoint to present their findings at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and regional meetings. They will also have the opportunity to produce manuscripts for publication.

Opportunity for the Ambulatory Disabled

This canopy-based REU project offers students of all abilities equal opportunity to explore and learn. Students can discover new species, new ecologies and new limits and reach new heights.

Designed for eight students, four with ambulatory disabilities and four without, this project is based on the idea that a wheelchair is not a limit to good field biology. To explore the canopy we climb ropes not trees, and in the lab we use microscopes, computers and minds, which have no limits.

Learn more at the Baker University website for this project:

William R. Miller

Meg Lowman

Elzie McCord

Latest REU: Tardigrades Updates RSS

Tardigrades or Water Bears
These microscopic animals are little known, little studied, and easy to work with. They provide the opportunity for students to quickly get to the edge of knowledge and embark on true taxonomic and ecologic exploration and discovery.

Want to learn more about Tardigrades? William R. Miller’s paper on Tardigrades is available in PDF format here: “Tardigrades: Bears of the Moss”

The measure of insect usage in temperate deciduous forests is totally under documented and offers the opportunity of putting students on the cutting edge of discovery.

Habitat Chemistry
The chemistry of the interstitial aquatic habitat found between leaves of mosses and the thali of lichens is also under recorded and we will explore the variation relative to the height in the trees.