2022 REU opportunities at the Virginia Coast Reserve LTER

Applications are due noon ET on February 8th.

National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) positions are available with the Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Ecological Research (VCR-LTER) program for summer 2022. VCR-LTER researchers study patterns and mechanisms of ecosystem function, connectivity, and state changes in the coastal barrier system – from mainland marshes to intertidal and subtidal bay habitats and barrier islands. Along with focusing on one of the specific projects listed below, REUs also help collect data for ongoing long-term field projects.

REUs spend the summer in a thriving research community; the VCR-LTER is based in the small town of Oyster on Virginia’s Eastern Shore – one of the last coastal wildernesses on the east coast. The 10-week program begins the first full week of June. REUs are provided a stipend ($4,500) plus on-site lodging and research support administered through the University of Virginia. More information about VCR-LTER research initiatives and potential advisers can be found in Research Highlights at www.vcrlter.virginia.edu. Applicants seeking more information about specific projects may contact potential mentors directly. Program and application questions can be directed to Dr. Cora Baird, the program coordinator, at coraj@virginia.edu. Applications are due February 8th and offers will be extended beginning March 1st.

Please read through the project opportunities below. All projects are based at UVA’s Coastal Research Center on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

To apply, complete the application available here: https://virginia.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5Aq0S1vgtMkcC1w.

  • Application elements you should be prepared to provide:
    • Information about you, your education, your grad school interests or preparation
    • Describe your existing research experience
    • Briefly describe your interest in each of up to 2 projects, including information about relevant coursework or experience that has prepared you for this research, and how participation would advance your academic and career goals. (500 words max per project)
    • Upload a resume or CV (include your last name in the file name)
    • Contact information for one reference
    • (Optional) upload transcripts; unofficial are fine
    • Describe how you have handled failure, responded to pressures, or learned from mistakes. (500 words max)
    • Share anything else we should know when considering your application

If you belong to an institution that is a member of the VA-NC Alliance for Minority Participation, you may also apply through the Alliance here: https://lsamp.virginia.edu/current-opportunities .


Projects available for summer 2022

Coastal Forest & Marsh Ecology – Dr. Keryn Gedan, GWU

*2 positions available*

Coastal forest trees are being killed by storm surge and groundwater salinization. As trees die off and marsh species move in, dead tree snags remain as a ghost forest. Scientists at the VCR are studying this process and the proximal controls on vegetation change in the marsh-forest boundary, in preparation for a large-scale forest disturbance experiment. We are looking for assistance in gathering baseline data on coastal forest plots that are experiencing these changes. We expect to see pine regeneration cease and adult tree stress and mortality across a gradient in saltwater exposure. As trees die, we believe that light availability changes and becomes sufficient first for shrubs, followed by marsh grasses. We are also interested in colonization and spread of the invasive species Phragmites australis within this transition zone. The student researcher will assist with data collection on measures of forest health, including tree and shrub censuses, vegetation monitoring plots, and litter trap sampling. By collaborating with several PIs involved in the experiment (Gedan, Kirwan, Fagherazzi, Johnson), the student will gain exposure to and skills in plant community ecology, insect ecology, geomorphology, and hydrology during the summer. Student will be supervised by Keryn Gedan. Must be able to stay through the first week or two of August, when the last round of plant community data will be collected.

Good to know: REUs on this project will work as a team to complete regular sampling and processing between major project initiatives. Study sites are accessed by hiking through coastal forest, where conditions can be hot and buggy. The field team will help ensure that everyone has what they need to be prepared to work safely and effectively.

Shorebird reproductive success in a rapidly changing ecosystem – Dr. Sarah Karpanty, VTech

The Virginia barrier island system along the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula provides an ideal setting for studying the response of coastal systems to climate-driven large-scale events, such as storms, and long-term trends, such as sea-level rise. The system is highly dynamic—it experiences high rates of sea-level rise and shoreline erosion that affect the elevation and structure of the dunes on the islands. These physical changes to the environment ultimately affect the vegetation and animal communities on the island, including shorebirds and their predators. This coastal system is a regional hotspot for breeding piping plovers (Charadrius melodus), the northern extent of breeding Wilson’s Plovers (Charadrius wilsonia), and supports the largest breeding population of American oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus) on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Studies of these species in the context of other long term monitoring conducted in the VCR LTER project provides the unique opportunity to investigate how shorebird demography may signal ecosystem change and inform resilient coastal management. Our project aims to quantify how shorebird populations respond to this rapid, climate-driven ecosystem change by relating shorebird habitat use and breeding success to changing dune structure, vegetation communities, and predator populations. It also specifically investigates the drivers of American Oystercatcher reproductive success on Metompkin Island, the most important breeding location for the species on the Atlantic and Gulf and a site where reproductive success once thrived but has recently declined.

Good to know: This project does involve some very long field days and irregular work hours depending on the animals’ behaviors (early mornings, work on weekends). You must be willing and capable of working outside daily under sometimes rigorous conditions (heat, humidity, biting insects) and walking up to 10 miles per day over sand while carrying research equipment (~ 20 lbs. maximum). Details will be discussed with the field team before the start of the season.

Dune plant ecology and barrier island geomorphology – Drs. Julie Zinnert (VCU) & Natasha Woods (Moravian College)

To accurately predict barrier island response to sea-level rise and storm disturbance, the relationship between dune building/erosion and interior island vegetation dynamics needs to be understood. Expansion of a woody shrub into the island interior has affected long-term sediment movement inland, a process necessary for islands to maintain elevation with sea-level rise. Over short time scales (days to months), storms cause island erosion (the loss of sediment needed to sustain the island) and salinity exposure and physical disturbance of waves affect above and belowground vegetation in dunes and areas behind the dune. The REU student will assist with understanding how vegetation is impacted by disturbance in the dune and interior island environment. This student will assist in field measurements and laboratory analysis of above and belowground vegetation composition, biomass, and environmental characterization (e.g. soil salinity, water content, organic matter).

Good to know: Our projects are run as a team and students will always work with others in the field. Field work may involve 6-8 hour days with breaks (weather dependent) on a barrier island. Site access requires a 1.5 mile walk along the beach.

Assessing legacy Blue Carbon in a restored seagrass meadow – Drs. Peter Berg & Karen McGlathery, UVA

Seagrass meadows sequester and store large amounts of carbon, and in doing so, are one of nature’s solutions for mitigating climate change. This ‘blue carbon’ can stay locked up for decades to centuries as sediments accumulate over time and because decomposition is slow in these anoxic sediments. Seagrass meadows that once carpeted the seafloor of the Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) lagoons were lost in the 1930’s due to a pandemic disease and the impact of a large hurricane. The discovery of a small patch of seagrass in the late 1990’s spurred a large-scale restoration effort that continues to this day. This is now widely considered the world’s largest seagrass restoration project and research at the VCR LTER is the first to show the value of seagrass restoration in reinstating blue carbon stocks. This REU project will focus on determining if we can discover carbon stocks from the original seagrass meadows (pre-1930’s) that are buried deep in the sediments. Cores will be collected down to at least 1 meter, sectioned, and analyzed for organic matter and carbon content. The results will be important to our assessment of long-term carbon sequestration by seagrass. If we can find carbon deep in the sediment from the original seagrass meadows, we will know that despite widespread meadow loss, some buried carbon can remain stored. If we don’t not find carbon deep in the sediment, that suggests seagrass meadow loss also results in loss of carbon that had been sequestered and buried over decades. These results are highly relevant to current global efforts to issue carbon offset credits for seagrass restoration. In addition to this project, the REU student will work closely with a team of graduate student researchers working on various aspects of seagrass ecology at the VCR LTER.

Good to know: Our seagrass research is conducted at low tide, in waters typically waist deep or shallower, which do not require diving equipment or training. We work in teams from small boats and can provide instruction on working safely and effectively in these conditions.

From time lapse to investigations: creating a data extraction workflow that takes community science into the classroom – Kinsey Tedford (Castorani Lab, UVA) & Serina Wittyngham (Johnston Lab, VIMS)

In 2021, VCR LTER launched its first community-based science initiative, using photo stations to collect images from the community to build sequences of coastal change over time (Chronolog at VCR). We are seeking a student to establish the second phase of this project, in which data from the images is extracted for use in K-12+ classrooms, making remote coastal areas more accessible for student investigations. The overarching project goals are to: 1) determine the logistics for downloading time lapse imagery generated through the Chronolog repeat photography stations; 2) establish a work-flow for processing and generating data from these images; 3) create a well-defined, repeatable protocol for the continued processing of these images; and 4) visit the five stations to collect metadata including elevation and bearing. This REU position presents an exciting opportunity for a student to work at the intersection of community science and research, contributing a unique dataset to monitor long-term change in dynamic coastal ecosystems.

Good to know: The goal of this project is to create a workflow and protocol, not necessarily to collect data. Independence and self-motivation are priorities in this computer-based position. Regular planning and feedback sessions will be established, but in-person supervision may be limited. As with all REU position at VCR LTER, this REU will have opportunities to participate in field work on all long-term studies and other student projects.

Call for Writers of the Eastern Shore!

Do you have a story to tell?

Are you from here? Come here? Baysider? Seasider?

Writers from all literary fields and experience levels are invited to participate in a Coastal Writing Workshop that will provide an opportunity to express and support varied experiences of our coast. The workshop will use literature to bring forward underrepresented voices in discussions on coastal change. Community members with various professional, personal, and ancestral relationships to the Eastern shore (like watermen, policymakers, artists, tribal members, researchers, and residents) are all invited to contribute their written voices to the coastal conversation.

The weekend workshop will bring writers together for a shared coastal experience, workshop time with genre-based guidance and supported revision, a keynote presentation, and an opportunity to contribute to a collective publication. Meals are provided. The keynote event on Saturday and reading of participant works on Sunday will be open to the public.

April 25-26th (optional welcome reception on Friday the 24th)

UVA’s Coastal Research Center in Oyster, VA


Interested in joining the workshop?

By March 7th (deadline extended from the 1st!), please provide to Cora Johnston (coraj@virginia.edu or 757-620-7016)

  • Your name and contact information
  • A brief statement of interest (approximately 1 paragraph)
  • A selection of your writing (optional)
  • Identification of genre preference (i.e. fiction, poetry, songwriting, creative nonfiction)
  • Your relationship to the Shore, briefly stated.
  • Will you need housing at the Coastal Research Center in Oyster? If so, indicate which nights.

Selected writers will be notified by March 20th.

Sponsored by VCR LTER, UVA, and The Coastal Conservatory

Call for Artists

Artists are sought to join regional scientists to learn about and provide their artistic interpretations of the ghost forests that form along our coastlines. Participants will receive a stipend and have artwork displayed in a juried group show hosted and promoted by University of Virginia’s Coastal Research Center.

Help discover ghost forests of the Eastern Shore by joining the Ghost Forest Coastal Change Collective.

May – October 2020, Eastern Shore of Virginia

All media and art forms are welcome.

Detail from Miriam Riggs wall mural (Barrier Islands Center)

Interested artists should submit

  1. A one-paragraph statement of interest and motivation for joining the ghost forest initiative.
  2. Confirmed availability for the key dates of the Collective.
  3. A portfolio or two (2) examples of artwork.
  4. Contact information.

Submissions are due Friday February 28th

Send to coraj@virginia.edu or UVA/LTER, 6364 Cliffs Rd, Cape Charles, VA 23310

Part botany lesson, part field study, part revelation… the ghost forest collective is designed to be an experience that brings a new subject to coastal art and to the community conscious.

Context

As artists and scientists, we work daily to capture and share a vision of the coast. All along the Eastern Seaboard, the silver trunks of dead trees stand as sentinels at the marsh edge, but signs of coastal change emerge long before the big trees die. Ghost forests surround us when we learn to see them. Their formation is an old phenomenon that is now happening faster, like the melting of glaciers. The Chesapeake and Delmarva regions, which have one of the world’s highest rates of sea level rise, are “a window into the future for the rest of the world.” Ghost forests tell the story of our changing coast.

Scientists of the Virginia Coast Reserve Long Term Ecological Research (VCR LTER) program are documenting the formation of ghost forests; artists are sought to explore and envision ghost forests, bringing them into view for the communities who live among them. Join a collaboration of coastal scientists and local artists to learn to “read the forest” along our changing coasts. Through a field excursion into the ghost forest and continuing dialogue, we will share ways of seeing “the invisible flood” that is changing the landscape at our peninsula’s edges. A group art show in October will bring the resulting art to the public.

Expectations for artists

  • Attend the initial day of forest discovery (Thursday May 7th) at Brownsville Preserve, Nassawadox, VA.
  • Participate in continuing discussion, especially via monthly webinars (supported at the CRC).
  • Display works in a show organized, curated, and promoted by VCR LTER, UVA’s Coastal Research Center, + local partners.
    • Contribute three (3) works of art inspired by or derived from ghost forests (with corresponding map of forests visited) + an artist’s statement on the experience.
    • Retain the rights to sell all art produced (removed at conclusion of show).
  • Receive a $250 honorarium.

Key dates

  • February 28th (Friday) – Statements of interest due
  • March 16th (Monday) – Artist selections announced
  • May 7th (Thursday) – One-day forest excursion with artists + scientists to launch the collective
  • May – September – independent working time + monthly webinars to guide deeper exploration of ghost forests
  • September 21st (Monday) – artwork contributions and artist’s statement due for show curation
  • October 24th (Saturday) – Opening reception of show, which runs through Saturday October 31st.

For more information and to submit materials, contact UVA’s Dr. Cora Johnston at coraj@virginia.edu or (757) 620-7016 or visit <abcrc.virginia.edu>.



Read recent Ghost Forest news articles from Time Magazine and the New York Times.

Meet the collaborators: http://www.gedanlab.com/ and https://www.vims.edu/research/units/labgroups/coastal_geomorphology/index.php

Read about their work in Nature Climate Change.

See more great ghost forest art in Gordon Campbell’s work: https://www.ataltitudegallery.com/Virginia/Seaside/55


2020 Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates available on the Eastern Shore of Virginia (VCR LTER)!

Photo: C Johnston

Applications are due February 10th.

National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) positions are available with the Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Ecological Research (VCR-LTER) program for summer 2020. VCR-LTER researchers study patterns and mechanisms of ecosystem function, connectivity, and state changes in the coastal barrier system – from mainland marshes to intertidal and subtidal bay habitats and barrier islands. Along with focusing on one of the specific projects listed below, REUs also help collect data for ongoing long-term field projects.

REUs spend the summer in a thriving research community; the VCR-LTER is based in the village of Oyster on Virginia’s Eastern Shore – one of the last coastal wildernesses on the east coast. The 10-week program begins the first week of June. REUs are provided a stipend ($4,500) plus on-site lodging and research support administered through the University of Virginia. More information about VCR-LTER research initiatives and potential advisers can be found in Research Highlights at www.vcrlter.virginia.edu. Applicants may contact potential mentors directly. Questions can be directed to Dr. Cora Johnston, the program coordinator, at coraj@virginia.edu. Applications are due February 10th and offers will be extended beginning March 1st.

Please read through the project opportunities below. All projects are based at UVA’s Coastal Research Center on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

To apply, complete the application available here: https://virginia.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_esvMWqVALJf4db7.

If you belong to an institution that is a member of the VA-NC Alliance for Minority Participation, you may also apply through the Alliance here: https://lsamp.virginia.edu/current-opportunities .


Projects available for summer 2020:

Seagrass productivity + blue carbon (Berg Lab, UVA)

VCR-LTER is the site of the largest and most successful seagrass restoration project in the world. The Berg lab (https://berg.evsc.virginia.edu/) uses front-of-the-field technologies to measure oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases in seagrass meadows, and how they relate to seagrass productivity and biogeochemical cycling. By measuring gas quantities and these different processes, we aim to develop a better understanding of how coastal systems such as seagrasses can help mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration. The selected REU candidate will develop and implement their own project in the VCR-LTER seagrass meadows with direct mentoring from two graduate students at the field site and advising from Dr. Peter Berg. Possible projects are available working on primary production, epiphytes, trace gases, new methods for quantifying bubbles, or anything else that fits into the framework of current projects. The REU will not only gain invaluable experience, but also have the opportunity to work with new and innovative technologies. The candidate must be comfortable on boats and working in shallow waters.


Oyster reef hydrology + ecology (Reidenbach Lab, UVA)

The REU will participate in quantifying the dual benefits of oyster growth and wave attenuation across various designs of artificial oyster reefs near Short Prong Marsh. The study will investigate which design best enhances restoration for these two purposes, with elevation as the primary independent variable of interest. Tasks will largely include deployment of wave gauges and data analysis.

The REU will also help to monitor the effects of oyster restoration on the sediment and infauna community surrounding the Short Prong oyster reefs. The REU will gain experience in collecting infauna and sediment cores, IDing infauna, and processing sediment to quantify organic matter. This data will add to 3 previous years of data, to analyze change from before construction and as the reefs develop.

There is also potential to survey various marsh edges throughout the VCR to record differences in edge morphology and relate them to the hydrodynamic environment. Tasks would include setting up edge markers and measuring retreat for marshes affronted with oysters and not. Change in marsh edge location and slope profiles would also require use of Trimble RTK GPS equipment. Independent REU investigations related to these topics are also welcome for advisement by the Reidenbach lab group.

Applicants should have taken introductory courses in ecology and/or hydrology; experience or an interest in GIS is preferred.


Seagrass biodiversity: epifaunal spatial patterns and collection methods (Castorani Lab, UVA)

A major objective of the VCR LTER is to understand how the restoration of seagrass affects biodiversity at landscape scales. However, collecting mobile animals living within seagrass meadows is challenging and prone to sampling bias. The goals of this REU position are to (1) quantify the biases introduced by different seagrass epifauna sampling methods, and (2) identify landscape-scale spatial patterns of epifaunal biodiversity. The position will involve field work collecting samples and laboratory work identifying and measuring collected animals. The ideal candidate will be excited about biodiversity, dedicated, detail-oriented, and excel in working independently and as part of a team.


Coastal forest disturbance ecology (Gedan Lab, GWU)

Two positions are available on this project.

Coastal forest trees are being killed by storm surge and groundwater salinization. As trees die off and marsh species move in, dead tree snags remain as a ghost forest. Scientists at the VCR are studying this process and the proximal controls on vegetation change in the marsh-forest boundary, in preparation for a large-scale forest disturbance experiment. We are looking for assistance in gathering baseline data on coastal forest plots that are experiencing these changes. We expect to see pine regeneration cease and adult tree stress and mortality across a gradient in saltwater exposure. As trees die, we believe that light availability changes and becomes sufficient first for shrubs, followed by marsh grasses. We are also interested in colonization and spread of the invasive species Phragmites australis within this transition zone. The student researcher will assist with data collection on measures of forest health, including tree and shrub censuses, vegetation monitoring plots, seedling counts, and litter trap sampling. By collaborating with several PIs involved in the experiment (Gedan, Kirwan, Fagherazzi, Johnson), the student will gain exposure to and skills in plant community ecology, insect ecology, geomorphology, and hydrology during the summer. Applicants should have completed a course in introductory biology, have comfort with Excel, and be comfortable being outdoors in summertime conditions. The REU student must be able to stay until early to mid-August, when the last round of plant community data will be collected. Student will be supervised by Keryn Gedan.


Carbon stock variability in seagrass meadows (McGlathery Lab, UVA)

The Virginia Coast Reserve is home to some of the most pristine coastal waters on the Eastern Seaboard and the largest successful seagrass restoration in the world, making it a unique place for studying seagrass ecology. Our research focuses on connectivity, spatial variation, and resilience of seagrass meadows, as well as their role as “blue carbon” ecosystems (i.e. long-term carbon sinks). This REU project will build on our current research investigating the drivers of seagrass carbon stock variability across spatial scales. The successful REU candidate will be mentored by Dr. Karen McGlathery and Dr. Carolyn Ewers Lewis (UVA), and will participate in both field and laboratory work. We are seeking a candidate who is interested in pursuing a career in marine ecology, hardworking, detail-oriented, self-motivated, and can work both independently and as part of a team. The candidate should also be comfortable working on boats, wading in shallow waters, handling marine specimen (e.g. sediments, seagrass plants), and using laboratory equipment (for which we will provide training).


Plant response to overwash burial on barrier islands (Zinnert Lab, VCU)

Because of the tight coupling of island ecological processes and oceanic and atmospheric drivers of disturbance (e.g. hurricanes, nor’easters, sea level rise), barrier islands are at the forefront of global climate change. Barrier islands respond to long term presses, like sea level rise, by “rolling over” (i.e. landward migration of an island) often through sediment transport onto the back-barrier marsh platform via overwash. Overwash occurs during storm events when waves and surge breach the foredune, washing sediment and saltwater into the swales and island interior. Ammophila breviligulata and Spartina patens are the two most common dune-building grasses along the Virginia barrier islands, also occurring in the island interior. Their ability to respond to burial is important in the recovery following overwash. We have established a field experiment in the island interior, where overwash would occur. Plots with equal cover of A. breviligulata and S. patens were established with plants surrounded by 20 L plastic buckets with a 30 cm diameter to contain sand. Treatments consist of five burial levels (0, 15, 30, 45, and 60 cm) in which shoreline sand was applied to replicate a natural burial disturbance from overwash. The REU student will take help with the deconstruction of this experiment. Measurements of aboveground percent cover, stem number, and plant height will be made. All biomass (aboveground, within the sand column, and below the original soil line) will be quantified and partitioned into leaf, stem, roots, rhizomes. These data will be used in a model of barrier island evolution that incorporates species characteristics. Students will work closely with members of the VCU Coastal Plant Ecology Lab (CPEL). The preferred applicant will be capable of and willing to tolerate sometimes challenging field conditions, including biting insects and prolonged exposure to high temperatures and sun.

Photo: D Lee