Undergraduate Research and Mentoring
Biological Sciences

Faculty Mentors -- Areas of Interest

Marguerite Butler

The Butler lab studies phylogenetics and adaptive radiation in the native microhylid frogs of Papua New Guinea. There are over 240 species, but we don't know their species pedigree or phylogeny. Having the phylogeny will allow us to study very interesting questions such as whether species multiply in concert with geologic events? or why species evolve different lifestyles such as tree-climbing, burrowing, or leaf-litter habits. Additionally, the Butler lab studies functional morphology, or how to build a fast-running lizard versus a very cryptic lizard. What is the function of the different ways that the leg musculature are designed? Another project studies the visual system of the very colorful native Hawaiian damselflies of the genus Megalagrion. We are interested in how the insect eye is able to accommodate extremely different habitats such as the dark waterfalls versus sunny ponds. The Butler lab is also interested in sexual dimorphism, or differences between the sexes and why they evolve. Is it to allow better competition for mates? Or are the morphological differences a result of different roles in reproduction? We are studying the costs of reproduction for locomotion in the diminutive Anolis lizards as well as the large green iguana, Iguana iguana.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.hawaii.edu/zoology/faculty/butler.html

Abby Collier

Our lab studies the metabolism and pharmacokinetics of endobiotics and xenobiotics (especially drugs) with particular emphasis on Phase II conjugative enzymes. This includes aspects of environmental exposures and how inhibition or induction of the biotransforming enzymes affect physiology and disease processes.

Ongoing projects include:

Contact Info
URL: http://www2.jabsom.hawaii.edu/collier/

Curt Daehler

My research focuses on the ecology of invasive species. Invasive species are organisms that spread extensively after being introduced to a new geographic region. Over the past century, humans have intentionally and unintentionally transported species around the world at on unprecedented rate. Most introduced species never become established, but a few spread successfully and cause major economic and ecological harm. I am interested in factors and processes that influence the success and failure of invasions. Pacific Islands appear to be especially susceptible to invasive species problems, making them an ideal setting for this research.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/faculty/daehler

Megan J. Donahue

The He'eia fishpond (Loko I'a O He'eia) is one of a few functional fishponds that remain of the hundreds that were established by native Hawaiians before western contact. Fishponds, which typically enclose a part of the nearshore reef environment with a rock wall, were a critical resource in the native Hawaiian ahupua'a land management system, providing a continual source of fish protein throughout seasonal fluctuations in food availability in the nearshore environment. The fishpond itself is a dynamic estuarine system in which salinity, sedimentation, and nutrient availability depend on freshwater inputs from He'eia stream and tidal fluctuations. Since western contact, land-use change and introduced species have radically affected the fishpond foodweb, challenging traditional management practices. In collaboration with other UH researchers and community groups, our lab is studying the function of this new foodweb to understand (i) how spatial and temporal environmental variation within the fishpond influences foodweb structure and function, and (ii) how today's fishpond managers can use this information to more effectively manage the fishpond today.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.hawaii.edu/HIMB/Faculty/donahue.html

Gail Grabowsky

My research has been "all over the board" since I became a professor at Chaminade University. We don't have the large, super high-tech laboratories that larger Universities have, so I tend to conduct research that is done mainly in the field and requires little lab space. In recent years I have studied albatross mating behavior and have designed research aimed at decreasing the incidental catch of albatrosses in loneline fishing gear. I have also done terrestrial restoration ecology work with my students in for The Nature Conservancy and the Ala Wai Mauka Watershed Restoration Project. I more recently investigated whether certain species of sea urchin will eat some of Hawaii's invasive alien algae species and am gathering data on the periodicity of box jellyfish strandings on Oahu's shores.

My past research investigated marine invertebrate morphological evolution and the role of development in creating new morphological variations - the raw material for evolution. I have also participated in molecular population genetic studies of tropical pacific sea urchins. In the future, I would like to conduct salt-water aquarium fish aquaculture research, as I feel this kind of applied research will help to protect wild reef fish. I welcome any student who enjoys fieldwork and has an interest related to any of my previous or future work. If you work with me, you must enjoy fieldwork!

Contact Info
URL: http://www.chaminade.edu/faculty/profiles/index.php?pg=gGrabowsky.html

Michael Hadfield

Researchers in my lab have long had as their core theme the processes that occur when planktonic larvae of diverse marine invertebrate animals settle to the benthos and undergo the complex developmental processes of metamorphosis. Larvae of different species are known to respond to either dissolved or surface-bound cues to settlement and metamorphosis. These cues are investigated in terms of the developmental processes that they actually induce; the stimulatory cues are thus investigated as chemical ligands with specific receptors on the outer surfaces of larvae. Binding of ligand with receptors produces a cascade of behavioral and morphogenetic processes, which result in the profound morphological and physiological alterations that are summarized as metamorphosis.

Using a widely distributed tropical marine slug, Phestilla sibogae, and a common warm-water fouling organism, the tube worm Hydroides elegans, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers have helped study the nature of the external cues, the site of their perception, the nature of receptor mechanisms, the role of the nervous system in promulgating the morphogenetic signal, and, most recently, the molecular events of metamorphic activation.

Other projects under investigation include the mechanisms of invasion of a barnacle species, native to the Caribbean Sea, that first appeared in Hawaii in the last 10-20 years. The role played by larval recruitment and survival in successful marine invasions is a particular focus of this work. Additionally, in collaboration with Dr. Celia Smith of the U.H. Botany Department, some research in the Hadfield labs has sought a better understanding of the mechanisms by which most tropical marine algae avoid the recruitment of sessile invertebrates to their surfaces, Drs. Hadfield and Smith also collaborate with U.S. Naval scientists in testing, in a tropical marine setting, the latest generation of marine coatings in resisting firm attachment by marine fouling organisms such as the barnacles and tube worms mentioned above.

Another interest of Professor Hadfield is the conservation biology of a large group of tree snails unique to Hawaii. This work is described on another web site.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.kewalo.hawaii.edu/labs/hadfield

David Haymer

My research program focuses on the analysis of genetic variation at the DNA level in populations. The work we do begins with extracting DNA from individual specimens and using the polymerase chain reaction to make large numbers of copies of target DNA sequences from the genome. The target DNA sequences we work with are primarily derived from mitochondrial genes, including the cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene commonly used in DNA barcoding studies, although we often use nuclear genes as well. After obtaining the DNA sequences of these target genes, we use a variety of population genetic methods for analysis of the data. Most of the work we have done involves the analysis of populations of insect species that are agricultural and medical pests, although the same methods and principles apply to the analysis of genetic variation in populations of virtually all organisms, including humans.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.hawaii.edu/eecb/FacultyPgs/davidhaymer.html

Brenden Holland

My lab has several general focal areas of research:

I am also involved in ongoing biogeographic collaborations with a number of researchers at UH and elsewhere on species including Jackson's chameleons, Hawaiian box jellyfish, Hawaiian opihi, succineid land snails, and invasive insects, so there are some diverse options in terms of potential project topics.

Contact Info
URL: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~trsnlab/index.html

Stephen Karl

My main interests are in evolution, population genetics, and conservation biology. I use molecular techniques (mainly the analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA) to evaluate processes operating within and among natural populations. My goal is to provide information on the evolution and ecology of animals that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to obtain by classical methodology. My research is based in the philosophy that much insight into the secret lives of animals can be gained by combining ecology, genetics and molecular biology.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.hawaii.edu/HIMB/Faculty/karl.html

Cliff Morden

The Morden Lab examines genetic variation found among native plants among various Hawaiian plant communities. Some species may be ecosystem dominants and it is unclear what the relationship is among the populations from one mountain range to another or from one island to another. Other species may be rare and endangered species with populations that are under constant threat from various human-induced factors, and it is important to investigate these species so that a proper management strategy can be determined to aid in their recovery. We utilize a variety of population-based genetic techniques to collect and examine data that will provide the answers to questions related the species biogeography, gene flow, inbreeding, and potential growth in natural settings. Interns will learn procedures including DNA extraction, gel electrophoresis, PCR analysis, and population statistics in evaluating these species.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/facultypages/cliff_morden.htm

Tom Ranker

Dr. Tom Ranker investigates systematics, phylogenetics, populations genetics, biogeography, and evolution of terrestrial plants, especially ferns.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/facultypages/tom_ranker.htm

Robert Richmond

My research interests are in the areas of reproductive biology, larval ecology, conservation biology, ecotoxicology and evolutionary biology of tropical marine invertebrates, especially corals and related coral reef organisms. My research programs include studies of coral spawning, focusing on fertilization mechanisms and barriers, hybridization and speciation events, recruitment of corals, and the effects of environmental quality on reproduction and recruitment success. My research uses both field and laboratory experimentation, involving electrophoresis, DNA analyses, studies of molecular biomarkers, ecotoxicology and biochemistry. I try to strike a balance between basic and applied research, looking for ways to use research results towards management and preservation of tropical marine resources and marine biodiversity. I work closely with marine resource managers and community-based organizations in an attempt to translate science into policy through public education.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.kewalo.hawaii.edu/labs/richmond/index.html

Steve Robinow

The ABC transporter superfamily of efflux pumps is ubiquitous, large, diverse, and has been conserved through evolution. Historically, these transporters have received the most attention in mammalian systems because of their role in human health. While these transporters are now being recognized for providing protection against environmental toxins, a thorough understanding of their role in animal development and physiology has been largely neglected. The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster is an excellent organism in which to ask questions about the developmental and physiological role of these transporters. Three of the 51 Drosophila genes that encode ABC transporters may be required for viability, CG8799, CG1494, and CG1703. Since they are required for viability, these genes each clearly provide an important function. The short-term goals of this project are to confirm these observations and to isolate and characterize mutant alleles of these genes. Students will be exposed to classical and molecular genetics. Students will learn to purify DNA, prepare and run agarose gel electrophoresis, perform PCR, design primers, and analyze DNA sequences.

Contact Info

Alison Sherwood

Hawaiian streams and taro fields are unique and special habitats that contain species of algae that are not yet well described. These algal species also play important ecological roles - they are the primary producers, and thus support life at higher trophic levels. My lab is excited to work with a URM student to monitor and characterize these species. This opportunity will include substantial time in the field, as well as in the lab, and has the potential to be developed into a longer term study. The exact nature of the project will be decided upon with the student.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/facultypages/alison_sherwood.htm

Celia Smith

I am interested in the physiological ecology of reef algae and corals with related issues in marine ecology. In particular these areas are (1) development and use of non-invasive methods to characterize photosynthetic, photoprotective pigments and growth of reef algae and corals, (2) physiological ecology of adults, motile and non-motile stages in algal life histories, (3) settlement strategies by algae, and (4) physiological strategies employed by alien or invasive native species to allow for ecological success.

A unifying theme in most of my research is to understand the functional significance of physiological and morphological features of plants. For example, How can reef algae that are essentially shade-loving plants live in one of the highest quantum flux environments in the world? or How do many alien or invasive native reef algae expand distributions so rapidly?

Arriving in Hawai'i years ago, I was impressed by two other aspects of life here - how diverse our Hawaiian marine flora is and how little is known of O'ahu or outer islands from a marine plant view. Large stretches of coastline on all outer islands have never been visited by an algal specialist. As the loss of pristine coastal environments continues, species certainly will be lost. Understanding this diversity, the ecological processes of species extinction and the mechanisms regulating species diversity in island ecosystems are long range goals. Because of my SCUBA interests, I have taken advantage of saturation diving research projects in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Key Largo where we study the ecology of two species of Halimeda along with a team of colleagues from five other institutions. This work gives us great comparative insight into the Hawaiian reef ecosystem.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.botany.hawaii.edu/faculty/cm_smith

Florence Thomas

Researchers in the Thomas lab are interested in how benthic organisms modify their environment and affect nutrient dynamics in shallow coastal systems. The primary project that an intern will work on is examining how an invasive alga modifies the chemistry and food web dynamics in a Hawaiian fishpond. The setting for the work is the He`eia Fishpond in the ahupuaa (watershed) of He`eia. A unique cultural resource, and the largest remaining fishpond on O`ahu, He`eia Fishpond was constructed 600 years ago by the Hawaiian people living within the moku (district) of Ko`olaupoko. Historically, He`eia Fishpond, and fishponds in general, were constructed as food producing resources. We will measure the role of algal canopy structure in mediating abiotic and biotic factors focusing on the invasive alga Gracilaria salicornia. Specifically we will: 1) measure structural aspects of the canopy; 2) quantify and compare understory and benthic infaunal assemblage diversity; 3) measure nutrient delivery and uptake rates under varying conditions above and within algal canopies and 4) compare soil chemistry and temperature beneath native and invasive canopies. This research will provide a student with experience running state of the art research equipment while working in a culturally relevant and exciting environment.

Contact Info
URL: http://www.hawaii.edu/HIMB/Faculty/thomas.html

Robert Toonen

I have a hard time describing my research program in a few sentences. During my research career, I have used a variety of approaches (including individual behavioral assays, ecological experiments in both the field and laboratory, and molecular genetic tools) in an effort to address a variety of interesting biological questions. I don't fit neatly into any traditional niche, but I tend to focus my research interests primarily on marine invertebrates. Projects that I have been involved with over the years include jellyfish feeding behavior, chemical defenses of coral reef sponges, genetic structure and patterns of dispersal in corals, invasion biology, conservation and marine protected area design, cues for larval settlement, population genetics and phylogenetics of marine invertebrates, and marine ornamental culture & aquarium science.

Obviously, with that grocery list of interests, it is not simple to describe the interests of my lab fully in a paragraph here. However, much of my current research focuses on the processes that influence dispersal and recruitment in coastal marine invertebrates, and I am particularly interested in the evolutionary consequences of larval developmental modes among Hawaiian coral reef species. In general, I try to approach my research from an ecological perspective to scale up from genes to individuals to populations, and ultimately to the micro- and macro-evolutionary consequences of the processes being studied.

Contact Info
URL: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~toonen/research.html