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Apply for an Undergraduate Research Fellowship

February 2019 UPDATE: Our program’s commitment to train the next generation of tree scientists has been recognized by our nation’s top science and engineering funding agency, the National Science Foundation (NSF). We are now an official Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site, which elevates the status of our program and provides additional funds to continue our mission. The title of our summer course is now “REU site at The Morton Arboretum: Integrated tree science in the Anthropocene” and we have extended the application deadline to March 1st.

Students in our program spend 10 weeks at The Morton Arboretum conducting independent research under the mentorship of our Research Scientists and Research Associates. A list of potential projects and mentors is provided at the bottom of this page.


Applying for the Fellowship Program

The 2019 program dates are June 3 through August 9. Successful applicants receive a stipend, an opportunity for housing, and a nominal budget for research. Applications are accepted from January 1 through March 1 (extended). Graduating seniors and recent graduates may not apply.

To apply, submit the following 5 items (items 1-3 via online application, items 4-5 via email):

1. Complete the online application, found here: https://careers.hireology.com/themortonarboretum/256145/description*You must attach the cover letter and CV on the first page of the online application

2. Cover letter (one page maximum), describing: why you would like to participate in the CTS-URF program; your career goals and how this program will help you meet them; prior research experience (if any); and your preferred mentor and project.  A list of potential mentors and projects is provided at the bottom of this page.  

3. Curriculum vitae or resume.

Via email to ctsurf@mortonarb.org

4. Letter of reference should be sent by an instructor or advisor from your academic institution.

5. Official or unofficial transcript from your academic institution, sent by you or your university.

Please note: All of the above documents must be received in order to be considered for a fellowship position.


The Morton Arboretum is a champion of diversity, supporting a culture of inclusion that attracts, inspires, and engages people to achieve success. The Center for Tree Science - Undergraduate Research Fellowship (CTS-URF) is particularly interested in increasing the numbers of women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and veterans of the U.S. Armed Services in research. CTS-URF projects are strongly encouraged to involve students who are members of these groups, as well as first-year and second-year undergraduates who are at earlier stages in their college experience. 

Please contact ctsurf@mortonarb.org with questions.


Potential Projects and Mentors for 2019 URF

Project Title: Utilizing biodiversity data to assess threat status of tree species and determine appropriate conservation actions

Mentors: Murphy Westwood, Emily Beckman, Christina Carrero
Area of Expertise: Global Tree Conservation
Global Tree Conservation profiles: https://www.mortonarb.org/science-conservation/global-tree-conservation/people

Summary: Currently, over 10,000 tree species globally are threatened with extinction. However, two-thirds of tree species are still in need of a formal assessment of extinction risk. This project will focus on using scientific research, literature review, and computational analytical methods to further our understanding of threats facing native U.S. tree species with the goal of facilitating strategic conservation actions. Students will compile biodiversity data to contribute to IUCN Red List threat assessments and conservation gap analyses, conduct spatial analyses of threatened species (e.g. ArcGIS mapping), and recommend conservation activities.

Required qualifications: This project will be primarily computer based, focusing on improving skills in data mining and analysis, including GIS and programming. Student should be proficient in Microsoft Excel, and preferably familiar with Microsoft Access and GIS.

Project Title: Exploring tree neighboring effects after chronic fertilization in a tropical rainforest in Costa Rica

Mentors: Silvia Alvarez-Clare & Richard Condit
Area of Expertise: Tropical Ecosystems Ecology/Tree Conservation Ecology
Silvia: http://www.mortonarb.org/science-conservation/scientists-and-staff/silvia-alvarez-clare
Richard: http://www.richardcondit.org/main/

Summary: Tropical forests sequester huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere each year through photosynthesis, which they store as leaves, stems, roots, and reproductive tissues. However, to do so they compete with their neighbors for light and soil nutrients. This project will combine long-term tree growth data in a forest fertilization experiment in the lowlands of Costa Rica with spatially explicit light and “neighborhood” information to explore how trees grow and behave under different environmental conditions. This project will include an initial 1 week trip to Costa Rica  to gather data followed by extensive computer-based analysis.

Required qualifications: Student should have an interest in plant ecology, a valid passport, desire to travel to the field in Costa Rica and conduct intense fieldwork for 1 week (tentative dates for trip are June 16th to 22nd), willingness to learn the software R, and conduct spatially-explicit modelling.

Project Title: Conservation genetics of rare species

Mentor: Sean Hoban
Area of Expertise: Tree Conservation Biology
Sean: http://www.mortonarb.org/science-conservation/scientists-and-staff/sean-hoban

Summary: Some rare species often have low population size and may suffer inbreeding or loss of diversity. Other rare species may be threatened by genetic swamping or hybridization with more common species. Genetic analysis can reveal whether a given species is experiencing one or both of these threats. We are recruiting a student to help generate and analyze data for two threatened species: an extremely rare sage and a keystone but declining desert oak. This data will be used to make conclusions and recommendations for managing these species in the future. The student may also participate in genetic modeling to determine how best to safeguard these species in botanic gardens.

Required qualifications: Prior hands-on experience in a laboratory setting outside of the classroom- ideally in genetics or molecular biology, but any laboratory work experience demonstrating very strong organization skills, attention to detail, and use of specialized equipment such as micropipettes. An interest in genetics and conservation is preferred. Experience in or willingness to learn basic computer programming is preferred.

Project Title: Belowground frontiers: fine roots and functional variation across diverse tree species

Mentor: Luke McCormack
Area of Expertise: Root Biology
Luke: http://www.mortonarb.org/science-conservation/scientists-and-staff/luke-mccormack

Summary: Fine roots are responsible for capturing growth-limiting nutrients and water from the soil. Due to their hidden nature belowground, the tremendous range of root sizes and shapes is often unappreciated, yet differences in how and when roots are constructed can determine how plants grow, compete, and survive in different environments. The Root Lab at The Morton Arboretum is engaged in multiple projects that seek to understand how and when roots grow, how roots respond to their local environment, and how basic root strategies differ among trees. We are recruiting students for two projects at the moment, 1) Evolution of fine-root traits within the gymnosperm lineage, and 2) fine-root phenology and responses to environmental stress.

Required qualifications: Must be interested in plant or soil ecology and have completed at least one college-level course relevant to the study of plants. Students must also be willing to discuss and develop research questions, conduct fieldwork and laboratory analyses, and perform statistical analysis with data interpretation. Experience with the statistical software R is preferred. 

Project Title: Fine root and soil nitrogen effects on tree nitrogen uptake rates

Mentors: Ray Dybzinski & Meghan Midgley
Areas of Expertise: Applied plant biology/Soil ecology
Ray: https://www.luc.edu/sustainability/about/staff/dybzinskiray.shtml
Meghan: http://www.mortonarb.org/science-conservation/scientists-and-staff/meghan-midgley

Summary: Soil nitrogen frequently limits tree growth in young northern soils, such as those found in the upper Midwest. Despite the fact that trees acquire nitrogen via their roots, the relationship between roots and soil nitrogen is unclear. One possibility is that trees produce roots in order to access soil nitrogen. As such, the amount of nitrogen a tree takes up is related to its fine root biomass. An alternative possibility is that trees take up all nitrogen available to them (since it is limiting). In this scenario, the amount of nitrogen a tree takes up is not related to its fine root biomass. While both of these are logical hypotheses, they have not been tested in the field. Furthermore, these assumptions are commonly applied to Terrestrial Biosphere Models, with disparate outcomes for carbon sequestration projections. In this project, the fellow will use single-species tree monocultures at The Morton Arboretum to collect and analyze data and evaluate these two alternative hypotheses.

Required qualifications: Must be interested in plant or soil ecology and have completed at least one college-level course relevant to the study of plants. Students must also be willing to discuss and develop research questions, conduct fieldwork and laboratory analyses, and perform statistical analysis with data interpretation. Experience with the statistical software R is preferred.

Project Title: Comparing climate effects on tree growth

Mentor: Christy Rollinson
Area of Expertise: Forest Ecology
Christy: http://www.mortonarb.org/science-conservation/scientists-and-staff/christine-rollinson

Summary: Trees from around the world are grown in a common environment at The Morton Arboretum. By analyzing the growth patterns found in tree rings, we can compare climate responses of species grown at the Arboretum to each other as well as their climate responses in their natural habitats. This summer we will focus on analyzing the variability of climate responses within select species from some of the earliest plantings at the Arboretum. Although the student will primarily be responsible for generation of growth data, opportunities to collaborate with soil and root ecology labs will be available.

Required qualifications: The project will include field and lab work. Students must have taken at least one college-level course related to the study of plants.

Project Title: Tree Physiology and Soil Amendments in Highway Environments

Mentor: Allyson Salisbury, Jake Miesbauer
Area of Expertise: Environmental science, plant-soil interactions, urban ecology/Arboriculture

Allyson: http://www.mortonarb.org/allyson-salisbury

Jake: http://www.mortonarb.org/science-conservation/scientists-and-staff/jason-w-miesbauer-0

Summary: Highway corridors are difficult environments for trees to grow, however these areas provide important opportunities for communities to increase forest cover. In partnership with the Illinois Tollway Authority, we are studying how to improve tree growth and survival alongside highways. This project will examine the relationship between soil conditions and plant physiology in the highway environment. The research will be conducted outside at tree planting sites as well as inside in a laboratory and on the computer. We will be assessing leaf level gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, and leaf water potential, as well as standard soil physical-chemical lab analyses. Prior experience working with this type of research is not necessary, but a foundational knowledge of plant biology and/or soils is helpful.

Required qualifications:
The applicant should have a strong interest in soil, plants and/or urban forestry. A substantial portion of this project will involve fieldwork. Applicants should be comfortable working outdoors in summer weather as well as lifting up to 30 lbs. (assisted). Attention to detail, organization, and the ability to work independently are also critical for a successful project both in the field and lab.