Past Undergraduate Training Grant Awardees

View successfully funded awardees from past years!



Pilar Herrera
Biological Sciences / Botany
Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (Lima, Peru)
Makishi Lab

Host Institution: State University of New York, Oswego
Host Lab: Bachelier Lab

Orthopterygium is a monotypic genus which is highly endemic of the Andean western slopes  of  Peru  (Leon et  al. 2013). Like its  Mexican  sister  genus  Amphipterygium (Schlechtendal  1843),  it  is  dioecious and  has strongly  dimorphic  reproductive  structures with similar lax male inflorescences referred to as “catkins”, and unique cupular winged female inflorescences which are so unusual that the two genera were first placed in their own  family,  Julianiaceae  (Hemsl,  1906). Little  is  known  about  the  reproductive  structures,  biology,  and  ecology  of  this  rare and threatened genus. Therefore, a small project designed by my professors to promote its  conservation  was  recently  submitted  and  funded.  With  the  support  of  the  microMORPH  grant,  I  hope  to  contribute  to  this  project  by  studying  the  development  and morphology of reproductive structures in Orthopterygium, in collaboration with Dr. Julien Bachelier at SUNY Oswego, NY.

The proposed research will examine the structure of male and female inflorescences and flowers of Orthopterygium huaucui from populations in the vicinity of Lima. Most  populations  of O.  huaucui  (A.  Gray)  Hemsl.  known  to  date  are  located  in adjacent valleys of Lima and seem to be extremely affected by urban expansion, mining and  livestock  activity,  as  well  as  a  changing  climate  with  prolonged  droughts. Unfortunately,  like  other  endemic  species  in  Peru, Orthopterygoum has  not  yet  been registered  to  date  within  Peru's  system  of  protected  areas  (Leon  &  Monsalve  2006). Orthopterygium huaucui may also be of biomedical relevance.



Leila Fletcher, Undergraduate

Biology Department
Barnard College
Callahan Lab

Host Institution: University of California, Los Angeles
Host Lab: Schmitt Lab

I propose to quantify leaf characteristics for a wide range of Ceanothus species (at least 10 species, for three individuals of each species grown in a common garden at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden). In particular, I will investigate traits important to the response to drought, including xylem and mesophyll anatomy, and hydraulic, stomatal and photosynthetic responses to leaf dehydration. This theme is especially relevant in Southern California now, which is experiencing a record drought. My research will enable elucidation of how the leaves of native plants have evolved to tolerate harsh conditions. My work would integrate different fields of biology by studying the morphology of a native species evolved in response to changes in its habitat. I will analyze my data using phylogenetic methods to test the tempo and patterns of trait evolution in this lineage.


Anne Beulke, Undergraduate Student
University of Minnesota
Cavender-Bares Lab

Host institution: University of Notre-Dame
Host Lab: Romero-Severson Lab

The live oaks in series Virentes of the genus Quercus, though a small clade on the oak Tree of Life, spark the interest of researchers in multiple fields. The species in Virentes span the tropical- temperate divide, a region where climate shifts may have driven fundamental changes in adaptive responses. I will be studying the diversification of four live oak species across Central America to understand the physiological and genetic adaptations that occurred in response to climate conditions. In the field I will participate in research focusing on oak fitness at various life stages in relation to water availability at two sites in Costa Rica that differ in seasonal precipitation patterns. In the lab I will sequence candidate genes in the four oak species to look for evidence of microevolution of drought tolerance across a hydrological gradient in Central America. The fitness component measurements of oaks in common garden plots subject to different levels of water stress and the DNA sequence data from the same oaks will enable me to compare the response to water stress with changes in DNA sequences.


Gracie Benson-Martin, Undergraduate Student
University of California, Berkeley
Specht Lab

Host institution: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Host Lab: Kress Lab

As an undergraduate researcher I have been working as part of a larger, NSF funded study in Heliconia for over a year. Dr. Specht's research is broadly focused on the evolutionary ecology, phylogeny, and the genetic programs underlying floral development in the Zingiberales. My experience in the Specht Lab has introduced me to the practical tools and theory of molecular phylogenetics as well as those of molecular developmental biology. At the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History I will be working under principal investigator and curator Dr. John Kress, a systematist and expert in Heliconiaceae. This collaboration brings together my background in molecular genetics and evolutionary ecology with the expertise in systematics and morphology of Dr. Kress. Completing this internship will give provide the singular opportunity to work alongside a world-renowned research scientist in an unmatched research setting.