UC Riverside's Natural Reserve System Summer Internship 2023
The mission of the UC Natural Reserve System is to preserve natural and wild places for research and education. Most of our visitors are researchers, graduate students, or undergraduates enrolled in field course. In order to make the reserves more accessible to undergraduates, the UC Riverside NRS Summer Internship provides inclusive field-based research experiences. Inclusivity here refers to a diversity of student identities, backgrounds, career levels, majors, and perspectives. We hope to introduce undergraduates to many possible areas of study and careers in natural areas while building a supportive mentoring network.
This is a 10-week summer internship that pairs undergraduates with faculty or staff working at the UCR Natural Reserves. Students will contribute to scientific research with a mentor, graduate students, and/or associates at a lab and field station at UCR. No previous field experience required.
Internship dates June 19th - August 25th 2023
Funding Available: $6,000 stipend
Other expenses will be considered on a case-by-case basis
40 hours/ week with flexible hours depending on the project
Travel to UCR campus and reserves is expected
May require overnight stays on a reserve
Undergraduates who are over 18 years old and currently enrolled in an undergraduate program at an accredited institution local to UCR, and working towards an associates or bachelors degree at the time of application. Students will be responsible for their own housing. Experience doing field work is not required.
Applications are due April 10th, and awards will be announced early May 2023.
Look through the great projects we have listed below! If you are applying for the internship we will ask you to rank them on the application (button above).
A. Biodiversity Survey of Heteroptera and Parasitic Hymenoptera at UC Reserves
Mentors: Dr. Christiane Weirauch and Dr. John Heraty (UCR)
Insects are the most diverse group of eukaryotic organisms. Our UC Reserves cover a wide range of ecosystems across the California Floristic Province biodiversity hotspot. However, the insect fauna of these reserves is still severely understudied. This is particularly true for insect groups where individuals are small and where many species are still unknown to science. We are looking for interns that would help to sample and curate two very diverse groups, the Heteroptera (true bugs) and Hymenoptera (specifically parasitoid wasps). This project will use a variety of collecting techniques (Malaise traps, yellow pan traps, sweeping vegetation, etc.) at multiple reserves (Granite Mountains, James Reserve, Emerson Oaks, Motte Rimrock) to survey these insects. Specimens will be sorted to morphospecies and imaged at UCR to become part of a large barcoding initiative for insects across all of California. A goal of this project is to get an initial assessment of species richness at each of the four sites. Interns will gain experience in the recognition of insect families, collecting techniques, curation of insect material, databasing and the basics of molecular sequencing.
B. Bumblebees of the UC Natural Reserve System
Mentor: Dr. Hollis Woodard (UCR)
Bumble bees are important pollinators in many natural and agricultural systems, but many species within the group are declining and face potential extinction. Improving our understanding of where they are found and patterns of genetic diversity within species are both critical to conserving bumble bees. This project will examine bumble bees of the UC Natural Reserve System. After participating in a remote training workshop to learn about bumble bee identification and field methodology, the student will travel to UC Reserves to carry out surveys and perform targeted bee collections that will be used for genome sequencing. This internship will support (1) the new California Bumble Bee Atlas Project (www.cabumblebeeatlas.org), which is a partnership between the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and (2) the California Conservation Genomics Consortium http://www.ccgproject.org, a state-funded consortium of 100+ conservation scientists from across the state of California working to generate genome sequences for rare and threatened species. Time will also be spent working in the Woodard lab at UC Riverside, assisting with bumble bee experiments. The intern will receive training in field research methods and safety, bee identification, conservation biology, genomics, and experimental biology.
C. Cooperation and Exploitation in California’s Mountain Ants
Mentors: Dr. Alan Brelsford and Dr. Jessica Purcell (UCR)
Ants have often been in the scientific spotlight for their complex societies that have allowed them to become among the most successful organisms in the world. For decades, the ant society has been praised for being one of nature's clearest examples of altruism, where nestmates cooperate for the good of the colony, often at the expense of the single individual. However, this picture of altruism and sociability is not always true, and several ant species are known to selfishly exploit the resources of other ant colonies. These so-called social parasites rely on the altruistic behavior of other non-parasitic ants to start their colonies and raise their offspring. Some social parasites have lost the abilities typical of the ants such as foraging, feeding themselves, and taking care of the brood and queens, but also acquired novel traits, such as performing raids. These socially parasitic ants raid other ant colonies to steal the brood, which once in the parasitic colony will start serving their kidnappers and fulfilling all tasks that the parasitic species is no longer capable of performing. Other social parasites, on the other hand, live forever within the host colony, where they chemically camouflage themselves with the host's odor in order not to be recognized. Little is known about these fascinating parasite-host associations beyond a few anecdotal observations. Therefore, our aim is to draw a clear picture of social parasites in California, looking at which species they parasitize and which parasitic strategies they use. Working with postdoc Giulia Scarparo and professors Jessica Purcell and Alan Brelsford, the undergraduate student who decides to work on this project will learn to find and collect ants from colonies with both host and parasite workers at field stations in the San Jacinto and Sierra Nevada mountains.
D. Ecology of Desert Tortoises in the Southern Coachella Valley
Mentors: Dr. Jeff Lovich (USGS), Dr. Bill Hoese (CSU Fullerton), Dr. Chris Tracy (UCR Deep Canyon Reserve)
Desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) are an iconic species that live throughout the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. The burrows of this federally threatened species provide shelter for a wide range of species, including birds, mammals, and other reptiles. The population of desert tortoises south of the Coachella Valley is isolated from the rest of the species range and occurs both at the edge of the species range and lower elevations than are typical for the species. However, no published studies are available for these tortoises. Because low desert elevations tend to be relatively hotter and drier, tortoises in this area may provide insights into how tortoises elsewhere will have to cope with climate change. This ongoing project will involve monitoring activity at tortoise burrows in the Boyd Deep Canyon Reserve (near Palm Desert) and may involve a number of techniques and collaborators. Camera traps have been set at several known burrows to monitor tortoise activity and burrow use by other species, and radio transmitters have been attached to some tortoises to monitor their movements and other behaviors. The intern will have opportunities to develop wildlife skills that may open doors for future jobs in conservation biology. The project will involve maintaining camera traps, viewing videos from the traps and extracting data from them, other data analysis, radio tracking of tortoises, finding new burrows, and observing tortoise behaviors in the wild. The project will involve several trips to the Deep Canyon Reserve that might include overnight stays. It will require hiking in rough desert terrain during the summer, when temperatures will often be over 100°F. The intern will be working primarily at the Deep Canyon Reserve with researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, UCR, and Cal. State Fullerton to help understand tortoise behaviors in this understudied population, as well as use of tortoise burrows by tortoises and other species.
E. Forest Dynamics
Mentor: Marko Spasojevic (UCR)
Forests play key roles in biodiversity maintenance and climate regulation. Globally, forests support over half of all described species and provide many valuable ecosystem functions and services such as timber, clear air, clean water, and carbon storage. However, forests worldwide are being threatened by habitat loss, drought, and changing fire regimes, which have all resulted in losses to biodiversity and alterations to key ecosystem functions and services. Understanding and predicting how forests will respond to ongoing and pervasive changes to the environment is critical for biodiversity conservation and for the management and maintenance of ecosystem services. To address this, the Spasojevic Ecology lab at UC-Riverside has established a 4ha Forest Dynamics Plot (FDP) adjacent to the James Reserve. Briefly, within the FDP every free-standing woody stem (live or dead) greater than 1cm in diameter has been identified to species, mapped, measured, and tagged for long term monitoring. In establishing this plot, we have observed that many of the Conifers are dead or dying and that there are few Conifers recruiting into this forest. On the other hand, very few Oaks have died and there are many Oaks recruiting into the forest. These patterns suggest a potential shift in the composition of the forest from a mixed Oak-Conifer Forest to a more Oak dominated system. This change in the composition of the forest can have important ramifications for carbon storage, as Oaks are slower growing than Pines, as well as implications for the rest of the plants and animals that depend on these species. We are seeking an intern that is interested in plant ecology and climate change who is seeking to gain field experience (spending most of their research time in the field).
F. Harvester Ants of Natural Reserves
Mentors: Rebecca Keim and Dr. Rick Redak (UCR)
Harvester ants are important seed dispersers across many arid ecosystems, including the local, endangered coastal sage scrub. One of the major hurdles of conserving coastal sage scrub is invasive plant species. As invasive plant species become a more common problem due to globalization and anthropogenic disturbance, determining how native seed dispersers interact with these plants becomes increasingly important for conservation purposes. At the Motte Rimrock Reserve, we will monitor harvester ant foraging behavior and conduct experiments to determine how the native harvester ants are interacting with invasive plant species’ seeds. Interns will become familiar with the coastal sage scrub community, animal behavior concepts, and will gain experience with designing experiments. While most time will be spent in the field, interns will have the opportunity to learn data analysis.
G. Hybrid Penstemon
Mentor: Dr. Kate Ostevik (UCR)
Hybrids between species are an overlooked but important source of biodiversity. In fact, sometimes hybrids become independent species that are distinct from both of their parents! In this project, the intern will work with the Ostevik lab to explore differences between the hybrid species, Cleveland’s Beardtongue (Penstemon clevelandii), and its parents, scarlet and showy Beardtongue (P. centranthifolius and P. spectabilis). All three of these beautiful plant species are native to the Box Springs Reserve where much of this project will take place. The project will involve a mix of field work, greenhouse work, and data analysis.
H. Understanding Drought Through Rainfall Manipulation Experiments
Mentor: Dr. Pete Homyak (UCR)
Nitrogen emissions from soils (N2, NOx, and N2O) are products/byproducts of biological processes and are often ignored in ecosystem nutrient budgets. However, soil N gas fluxes are an important pathway for ecosystem nutrient loss, particularly in regions with strong seasonality such as California, whose Mediterranean climate produces strong temporal gradients in soil moisture. Furthering understanding of the mechanisms that control soil N emissions is important for modeling N pollution at a global scale since semiarid ecosystems account for 1/3 of the land surface and 25% of global soil NO emissions.
Our lab is quantifying the significance of gaseous N pathways, by linking biological processes with periods of stress to soil microbes (drought), and by understanding how legacies of past precipitation affect N emissions and N cycling.
To understand mechanisms of gaseous N production, we integrate both C and N measurements with isotopic tools in both field and laboratory experiments.