Undergraduate research

Project 1: All Laboulbeniales Biodiversity Inventory at Boston Harbor Islands

Working with collaborators at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) we are finding new species and records of ectoparasitic laboulbenialean fungi in the Massachusetts area. This project has two emphases. First, working at the MCZ entomology collections, the student will screen potential hosts for Laboulbeniales and construct a preliminary host list for the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area, in the context of the All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory that is being conducted under supervision of Dr. Brian Farrell. Second, the student will explore changes in the diversity of Laboulbeniales fungi present at the Boston Harbor Islands, by comparing historical literature (published between 1896 and 1931) with data from his/her own-screened recently collected insects from the MCZ. This project will involve producing good illustrations of the morphological characters of the species of Laboulbeniales under study. Strong illustration skills and an interest in historical ecology would be a plus.

Project 2: A new species of Diphymyces, or are there two?

Our previous data from the island of Borneo (South-East Asia) have shown that species in the Leiodidae family (Coleoptera) are parasitized by one (or two?) species of Laboulbeniales. Because of the limited number of collections available it is difficult to circumscribe this taxon.  Is this one species exhibiting strong morphological plasticity, with different morphs on the host’s body? Or does more than one species of Laboulbeniales parasitize these beetles? What are the species boundaries in Laboulbeniales? This student’s project will focus on the phenomena of position specificity, whereby parasitizing species occupy very restricted areas of the host’s exoskeleton, and polymorphism, the occurrence of different morphological variations (morphs) of one species of Laboulbeniales on a single host insect. Researchers have found similar patterns of parasites occurances in studying other host groups and it is exciting to generalize this pattern for the Laboulbeniales as a whole. If additional funding can be obtained (undergraduate students are encouraged to apply for own research funding!)  we will incorporate more fieldwork into this research. This is a project for a student interested in evolutionary biology and ecology.

The results from these projects have high potential to be presented at a mycological conference or published in peer-reviewed journals. A first manuscript about the Boston Harbor Islands work is currently being written, with as co-authors all undergraduate and high school students that were involved in this part of the research.

If you are interested in applying to work with me in the Pfister Lab on either of these projects, feel free to contact me at dhaelewaters[at]fas.harvard.edu.