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Faculty Research Projects Involving Students

The Department of Biological Sciences maintains an active student research program that welcomes Biological Sciences Majors. A faculty – mentored student research project is an excellent way to prepare for a career, graduate school, and the pre-health professions. The Biological Sciences faculty are always looking for enthusiastic, motivated students to become involved in their research projects. 

Dr. Eric Bollinger Dr. Bollinger's general research interests are in the conservation biology and behavioral ecology of birds and mammals.  Specific research interests include the ecological and evolutionary aspects of cowbird parasitism and the impacts of habitat fragmentation on grassland birds.  

Dr. Gary Bulla Dr. Bulla's research focuses on mechanisms controlling mammalian gene expression and development. Three areas of interest include: Activation and silencing of hepatic gene expressio, the link between hepatic gene expression and cellular response to signaling molecules, and the role of hepatic transcription factor mutations in the development of diabetes. 

Dr. Thomas Canam  My research focuses on using plants for bioenergy and bioproduct applications. One aspect of my research involves using biotechnology to tailor plant traits for specific applications, such as bioethanol production.  I am also interested in using bacteria and fungi as pretreatment agents of agricultural residues destined for biomass-to-bioenergy processes, such as gasification. At EIU, my research will complement the numerous green energy initiatives on campus, including the Renewable Energy Center and the Center for Clean Energy Research and Education.

Dr. Barbara Carlsward Dr. Carlsward’s research interests incorporate techniques of plant anatomy and molecular phylogenetics to study plant evolution. The primary goal of her research is to generate reliable hypotheses of evolution and then use these phylogenies as a foundation for studying character evolution of plant structure. Most of Dr. Carlsward’s research has focused on orchids.  Students interested in gaining hands-on experience with plant structure and evolutionary questions should contact Dr. Carlsward. While her foci are anatomy and phylogenetics, Dr. Carlsward also has experience with floristic projects as well as ethnobotany and could direct graduate research with students interested in any of these fields.

Dr. Robert Colombo My research focuses on how fish populations respond to anthropogenic impacts.  Specifically, I am interested in the responses of native fishes to harvest, invasive species and habitat alterations.  Most of my research focuses on commercially or ecologically important species in lotic (flowing) water system.

Dr. Janice Coons Dr. Coons' interests include plant physiology and horticulture.  Her research has the overall focus of understanding the reproductive biology of plants that are native to Illinois. Her emphasis is in two areas. One area deals with plants that are endangered or threatened in Illinois. These studies seek to identify factors that limit the success of these plants including many reproductive ones such as development and pollination of flowers, development and production of fruits and seeds, dispersal and longevity of seeds, dormancy and germination of seeds, and development of seedlings.  Another area of research is the use of native Illinois plants in landscaping. This area ties to reproductive biology because little is known about the culture of most native plants using pots or containers in greenhouses, which is a common practice for growing herbaceous plants frequently used in landscaping.

Dr. Steven Daniel Dr. Daniel's specialty areas are anaerobic microbiology, microbial physiology, environmental microbiology, and microbial ecology.  His general research interests include the ecological and metabolic roles that microorganisms, especially anaerobic bacteria, play in the turnover of matter and energy in various environmental systems such as the human/animal guts, soils, and sediments.  In particular, he is interested in the degradation of toxic dietary compounds (plant-derived) by gastrointestinal bacteria and its influence on the health of the host animal; the impact of soil microorganisms on the growth and survival of native prairie plants; and the physiology and enzymology of microbial soybean pathogens.   

Dr. Jill Deppe  My research focuses on wildlife-habitat associations. My research projects are diverse but aim to understand the factors explaining why species occur where and when they do, patterns of animal movement in search of suitable conditions, and the consequences of movement and habitat selection on fitness and species distributions at various scales. Understanding species’ habitat requirements is a fundamental component of animal conservation and management; thus, my research program includes applied components as well as theoretical ones. My research program can be divided into four general areas: (1) migration ecology, (2) wildlife responses to bioenergy crops, (3) wildlife-habitat associations in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, and (4), evaluation and application of acoustic recording systems for monitoring wildlife.

Dr. Ann H. Fritz Ann Fritz’s research is in behavioral ecology, particularly of insects. Ann’s lab is currently investigating reproductive biology, population dynamics and genetic introgression. Dr. Fritz’s research is currently melding behavior, morphology, and molecular methods to address hypotheses on the dynamics of sperm storage and use in female insects affecting paternity outcomes. Insects are ideal study subjects since there is often a temporal separation between insemination and fertilization allowing greater potential for female manipulation of sperm.  Female control over fertilization outcomes adds a new dimension to understanding the evolutionary conflict between the sexes, thus changing our views on the degree to which females influence male reproductive success.  Dr. Fritz also has collaborative projects on microbial constituents of the gut and reproductive tracts of flies, and with institutions in Brazil and Bolivia on the population biology/genetics of fruit flies of economic importance.  

Dr. Gary Fritz My research interests are broad, and I have published papers in ecology, taxonomy, medical entomology, and genetics, including such taxa as frogs, bats, crickets, mosquitoes and mites.  My research has focused primarily on the population dynamics, genetics, and evolutionary biology of insects that affect the health of humans and other animals.  I am currently investigating the genetic differentiation and ecology of malaria mosquitoes in Bolivia under a grant from the National Institutes of Health.  Another aspect of my research program examines sociobiological questions in yellowjackets and fire ants.   For example, my students and I recently completed two studies that examine genetic relatedness and reproduction in yellowjacket nests with single or multiple queens.  

Dr. Karen Gaines Dr. Gaines’ research interests primarily focus on wildlife toxicology at the landscape level. Most of her work involves developing spatial models that predict how different wildlife species may be exposed to contaminants such as radionuclides, metals and organics and how that may impact environmental health. Her work also focuses on spatially explicit biokinetic models for a variety of wildlife species. To accomplish this, she uses stable isotopes (primarily 15N/14N and 13C/12C) to study energy flow within different environmental systems. Dr. Gaines applies her research by developing tools within a Geographic Information System (GIS) framework to aid in ecological risk assessments. She works closely with and has been funded by the Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), as well as other national and international organizations. Graduate students who are interested in working with Dr. Gaines should have a general background in wildlife ecology and interests in learning GIS techniques to explore questions regarding environmental health.  

Dr. Jeff Laursen Dr. Laursen's research interests are snail/trematode interactions at the ecological and cellular levels. He is interested in the effects of trematode larvae on snails and the potential to use parasite assemblages as indicators of habitat quality. He is also interested in larval trematode development, specifically using snail cell cultures to support larval trematode development and differentiation in vitro.  

Dr. Zhiwei Liu My primary research interests surround the phylogenetics, systematics, and evolution of cynipoid wasps (Insecta, Hymenoptera, Cynipoidea). My earlier research focused on phylogeny and historical biogeography of the “macrocynipoid” wasps (Hymenoptera, Cynipoidea) parasitizing wood-boring insects using morphology characters to reconstruct phylogeny. My systematic work also includes taxonomical studies, including revisions and description of new species. My coauthors and I have described 90 new species of the liopterid genus Paramblynotus in a recent systematic treatment of the genus.

In recent years, my research interests have expanded to include related fields under the umbrella theme of evolution, including mating pattern and population structure of the American beaver, population genetics and conservation of red squirrels in Eastern Illinois, phenotypic plasticity and adaptation of grasshoppers, and diversity and evolution of Wolbachia associated with cynipid gall communities, and host plant mediated speciation in Cynipidae. 

Dr. Scott J. Meiners Dr. Meiners' research focuses on the dynamics of plant communities, particularly the regeneration of woody species.  Specific interests include understanding  the consequences of habitat fragmentation, seed predation, and plant-animal interactions at a community level.  His current research examines the relationship between diversity and exotic plant invasions in abandoned agricultural land.

Dr. Michael Menze Broadly, I am interested in the adaptations of extremotolerant animals to environmental insults such as desiccation, freezing and hypoxia. My goal is to elucidate biological principles at the molecular, organelle, cellular and whole animal levels that enable extremotolerant animals to survive environmental insults. It is becoming clear that adaptations on all levels of biological organization are important for establishing the physical conditions required for cellular protection in eukaryotic extremophiles. What is not understood at all is how these adaptations work together to provide the remarkable tolerance to environmental stress. Understanding the principles that govern life under extreme conditions will likely improve our capabilities of preserving mammalian cells and tissues.   

Dr. Stephen Mullin Dr. Mullin's research focuses on two concepts:     1) The ecological influence of physical structure on interspecific interactions.     2) The environmental and developmental cues which stimulate the expression of behavior.   Subtle changes in the structural complexity of a microhabitat may influence not only the expression of animal behavior, but also regulate patterns of habitat selection. Predator-prey systems that include snakes are typically examined in addressing these topics.  

Dr. Britto Nathan Dr. Nathan's research centers around neuroscience with special interest in neurological diseases. His current research is aimed at understanding the pathological pathways that lead to death of brain cells in aging humans, and predisposes them to dementia such as Alzheimer's disease. A wide range of molecular, biochemical and cellular techniques are used in his laboratory.  

Dr. Jim Novak Dr. Novak's primary research interests are in the field of ecological genetics. He uses wildlife species as his focal organisms for study. Since ecological genetics involves the interaction of organisms with their environment he also utilizes the effects of anthropogenic stressors to look at genotoxic effects on wildlife populations. Currently he is working on the evolution of organismal form (size, shape and symmetry) and the use of form components as tools for the management of wildlife populations and as effects biomarkers in ecotoxicological studies.   Students wishing to work with Dr. Novak should either have, or have a desire to develop, skills in statistical analysis and population or quantitative genetics and the desire to learn the application of genetic techniques, such as DNA strand breakage assays, to problems in ecotoxicology.

Dr. Charles Pederson While Dr. Pederson's primary teaching and research interests are in algal ecology and physiology, he also has considerable expertise in the areas of water quality and ecotoxicology. His research is in the field of aquatic ecology with emphasis on lake restoration and the use of algae as biological monitors of pollution.  

Dr. Paul Switzer Dr. Switzer's interests are in animal behavior and behavioral ecology. Currently, he is investigating (1) aggressive and territorial behavior; (2) the choice of roosting, foraging, and breeding habitat and (3) mating behavior under scramble competition. In particular, he is interested in how an individual's previous experience affects these aspects of its behavior. Although he works mostly with arthropods, he has studied a wide variety of taxa.  

Dr. Gordon Tucker Dr. Tucker is a specialist on the grass and sedge families.  Currently projects include studies of the sedge genera Cyperus, Kyllinga, Lipocarpha and Cladium for the Flora of North America and a revision of Jones' Flora of Illinois, a reference for the identification of Illinois vascular plants.