"...one builds science with facts, as (one builds) a house with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house."
-Jules Henri Poiuncare (Science and Hypothesis, 1908)
Science is an endeavor, an endeavor driven by unanswered questions. Research is what we do to find answers to those questions. Thus research is the basis of science. However, the science classroom provides little opportunity to actually do science, to address those questions that are currently unanswered.
Because of this, we encourage undergraduate and graduate students who are serious about science to be active participants in our research program. Whether your interests are in biotechnology, evolutionary genetics, ecology, behavioral ecology, wildlife biology, conservation biology, aquatic or marine biology, field botany, or plant biology we can provide you with an opportunity to participate in the process of scientific discovery.
Below are descriptions of current faculty research programs. For more information, contact the faculty member whose research interests you most.
Most of my research focuses on freshwater ecosystems, with particular interest in streams and rivers. My research combines experimental and observational approaches to answering questions of ecological origin. In addition, most of my research is quantitative in nature and viewed from an evolutionary perspective. Currently, there are three foci to my research: (1) Behavioral ecology - I am interested in the decisions animals make and how their decisions affect population and community dynamics; (2) Community Ecology - I am interested in understanding the biotic and abiotic interactions that lead to coexistence among a suite of species and using this understanding to formulate predictive models of community assembly; and (3)Macroecology - I am interested in uncovering broad-scale patterns of community structure and elucidating the underlying mechanisms that give rise to those patterns.
Student Research Opportunities in Aquatic Ecology. Opportunities are available for graduate and undergraduate student research in freshwater and marine ecology under the direction of Dr. Donald E. Keith. Dr. Keith's general research interests are in marine and freshwater ecology. Past research includes benthic ecological studies, systematics and zoogeography of Caribbean brachyuran crabs, systematics and zoography of Caribbean octocorals, and bioassay using metabolic responses of aquatic organisms to toxicants. Current research is being directed toward studies of the reproductive physiology and ecology of the estuarine mud crab Rhithropanopeus harrisii that has recently been discovered in several Texas lakes. Graduate and undergraduate students are currently involved in research on the mud crab. Attempts are being made to hatch and culture larvae to establish minimum salinities for reproduction and development of the crabs. These crabs are reportedly unable to reproduce at salinities below about 2.5 psu, but it is evident that they are reproducing in freshwater lakes with salinities considerably lower that 2.5 psu. The source of the introduction of these crabs is not certain but they appear to have adapted to reproduce in freshwater habitats. They have already posed some fouling problems by clogging intakes of PVC pipes used by lakeside residents for water supplies. Because they are exotics (not natural to lakes in which they occur) there is danger of upsetting the natural ecology of the lakes. For example, they may exclude other crustaceans such as crayfish that share a similar niche. Undergraduate as well as graduate students are invited to become involved in this project.
My research interests are in biodiversity, plant systematics and evolution. My laboratory is active in working on the floristics of the Coastal Bend and Cross Timbers regions of Texas. We have also completed studies that have examined the ecology and biodiversity of plants and mammals of the Cross Timbers region of Texas. Systematic studies of the genera Arachis (peanuts), Chelone (wild snapdragons endemic to eastern North America), Castilleja (paintbrushes), and Nothochelone (a wild snapdragon endemic to western North America) are also ongoing. Most of these investigations center around the evolutionary processes of hybridization, polyploidy, and rapid speciation as well as genetic diversity within and among taxa.
My research interests are in population and evolutionary genetics, particularly at the population-species interface. My current research efforts are focused on studying the amount of genetic diversity and divergence among populations of several mammalian species, although my interests are not limited to mammals. The goal is to better understand how demography and geography have influenced organisms over time. I combine field work with laboratory techniques such as DNA sequencing and DNA fingerprinting. There are many opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students to participate in these studies.
My research interests are to utilize biochemistry and molecular biology to improve agricultural crops against insect predation or drought stress. One project involves identifying plant compounds that inhibit insect growth, another project allows students to develop a purification scheme of a insect growth inhibiting molecule, while the last one dealing with insects is to develop a baculovirus that can kill insects sooner. A project has recently been developed to identify drought tolerant genes in peanuts. Each project has made good progress with undergraduate and graduate students.
My research focuses on mechanisms by which circulating factors or hormones modulate neural regulation of arterial blood pressure. The peptide, angiotensin II, while playing a very important role in fluid and electrolyte balance, is also implicated in the pathogenesis of several forms of experimental and clinical hypertension. At least part of the hypertensive actions of angiotensin II result from central neural actions that increase sympathetic neural outflow to the periphery.
It has been observed that the incidence of hypertension is lower in premenopausal women compared to age-matched men. This observation suggests that female reproductive hormones such as estrogen are "protective" against the development of hypertension. Studies are currently underway in my laboratory to determine if estrogen "protects" against the development of angiotensin II-dependent hypertension by acting on the brain to decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, thereby decreasing arterial blood pressure.
I have several ongoing projects within my lab that could involve undergraduate researchers. One involves using various genetic techniques to assist with the captive breeding program for the endangered Attwater's Prairie Chicken. This research involves looking at the genetic relatedness between individuals utilizing microsatellite DNA markers; testing individuals for the presence of the REV virus; and using genetic techniques to determine the sex of chicks. A second long-term project is aimed at gaining a better understanding of the inter- and intraspecific genetics of pocket gophers within the genus Geomys. I also have two projects underway using DNA sequencing data to differentiate between morphologically indistinguishable species of shrews.