LUMCON’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program:
Interdisciplinary Research Experiences in Changing Coastal Environments

2017 LUMCON REU Mentors and Project Opportunities

Mentors and mentor teams will be selected from LUMCON faculty members, their post-docs and graduate students, and visiting scientists who have active research programs addressing basic and applied research questions in and around the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers, their deltas, adjacent wetlands, and nearby shallow coastal or deep ocean waters.

In the summer 2017, REU opportunities are available in several research areas, including:

  • invertebrate richness of deep-sea woodfalls, seeps, sediments, and shipwrecks
  • microbial responses to stressful environmental conditions
  • effects of environmental stressors on the physiological ecology of coastal invertebrates and fishes
  • behavioral and collective responses of fishes to environmental stressors
  • and impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on wetland biogeochemistry and ecology, plant ecology, microbial ecology, sediment microalgae and/or benthos

The following mentors at LUMCON are accepting students for the 2017 LUMCON REU program (this list will change yearly).

Dr. Craig McClain ( is LUMCON’s executive director. His research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow focusing often on the deep sea. The McClain deep-sea and ecology lab is seeking active participants in the sorting, identification and enumeration of invertebrate infauna from several locations in the deep Gulf of Mexico.  In May of 2017 over 200 wood packages will be deployed in the deep (2,000 meters) Gulf of Mexico during that same time our lab will collect large invertebrates, video footage, and sediment samples from several experimental sites.  Using data collected from the cruise, we will characterize the local habitats of the wood fall sites by determining the invertebrate composition of macro- and megafauna communities.  We will also be conducting shallow water investigations of wood-fall associated communities in coastal Louisiana.  Students will learn or hone skills in invertebrate taxonomy and anatomy, benthic sample collection and processing, body size analysis, and other marine biological field work.  Work will be conducted in the lab, within the bays, bayous, and barrier islands of southern Louisiana with frequent boat trips to sampling locations.

Dr. Abigail Bockus and her laboratory use comparative physiology to examine species-specific adaptations to environmental parameters and how these interactions affect metabolic performance, distribution and ecosystem stability. Their work encompasses analyses from the biochemical to the whole-organism level and provides insight into the physiological mechanisms driving biological oceanography. Research in this laboratory addresses adaptations to a number of abiotic variables, including temperature, salinity, hypoxia, acidification and hydrostatic pressure. Projects rely on field and laboratory studies and focus on a variety of marine organisms such as sharks, coastal and pelagic invertebrates, and fishes. Recently, the need to ensure fisheries success in a future of changing oceanic conditions and exacerbated global food shortages has expanded the laboratory’s focus to include the physiological optimization of nutrient requirements and environmental conditions for finfish fisheries/aquaculture production. Potential REU projects include: characterizing the impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on coastal invertebrate viability and metabolic performance by conducting a multivariate experiment examining the effect of oil exposure and environmental variability (e.g. salinity, hypoxia) on physiological state; determining the effect of environmental variability and/or oil exposure on development; describing the influence of anthropogenically-induced environmental stress on species’ physiological threshold limits and assessing associated ecological disturbances.

Dr. Marshall Bowles is broadly interested in biotic and abiotic influences on prokaryotic cycling of C, N, and S in the marine environment. His research program aims to advance our understanding of microorganisms in the coastal and marine environment, from how they operate (pathways and rates) to how they are influenced by their physical and chemical environment. Bigger picture questions including the prokaryotic (e.g. phytoplankton) mediation of elemental fluxes on a global scale and what factors ultimately limit microbial life will be explored. This summer he is interesting in mentoring students on projects focused on microbial responses to stressful environmental conditions.  Examples of these project areas include: Toxicity: How much sulfide can microorganisms deal with? Pure cultures of sulfate reducing bacteria will be exposed to a range of sulfide concentration. Is tolerance based on thermodynamics or molecular damage? Pure cultures of denitrifiers will be explored as well. This project will be extensive in culture techniques and experimental design. Basic chemical measurements will also be made using a spectrophotometer. Starvation, Part 1: How do microbial cells change their composition as rates of microbial processes are slowed? Pure cultures of sulfate reducing bacteria will be starved of substrate (e.g. acetate) and rates will be measured generating something like a Michaelis-Menten response and understanding thermodynamic or energy constraints. Composition of major elements in cells will be determined, possibly other macro-molecules. This project will be extensive in culture techniques and experimental design. Basic chemical measurements will also be made using a spectrophotometer and element analyzer. Starvation, Part 2: What happens in the environment as microbial processes slow? Field samples will be taken and rates of microbial sulfate reduction will be modeled based on geochemical gradients. Cells will be analyzed with epiflourescence microscopy and/ or flow cytometry. Rates will be compared to observations of cell numbers.

Dr. Guillaume Riecau ( is a Marine Biologist and Animal Behaviorist. His research focuses on exploring the role of behavior in structuring fish communities and trophic interactions in marine and estuarine ecosystems at various spatial and temporal scales. Dr. Rieucau is interested in understanding of the fundamental processes that mediate predator-prey interactions, habitat use and aggregative tendencies of schooling organisms in a fluctuating environment. He explores how schools (form forage fish to piscivorous species) form and collectively react as coordinated units to external factors such as predators, environmental conditions, anthropogenic disturbances, fishery activities and habitat structure. He addresses most of these questions by conducting laboratory, mesocosm and in situ behavioral experimentations using advanced technology and computational methods (multi-target computer tracking, video analysis) to quantify fine-scale dynamic behavioral responses in various ecological contexts. He is also using his experience at translating behavioral variations of marine and estuarine shoals to provide important information for conservation and management plans. Potential REU research projects include: 1) Effects of pollutants on behavioral repertoire, anti-predatory collective responses and information transfer of wild-caught schooling fish during controlled laboratory experiments using 3D video animations to simulated social partners and predators. 2) Quantification of coordinated hunting strategies and dynamic social organization of bottle-nosed dolphins in a salt marsh ecosystem using unmanned aerial vehicle surveys and automated image analysis.

Dr. Nancy Rabalais has research interests that include coastal change, eutrophication and hypoxia (, cumulative coastal stressors, historical reconstruction of ecosystem changes from sediments, pelagic and benthic processes in continental shelf hypoxic areas, and coastal ecosystem impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill through the Coastal Waters Consortium (CWC) ( Dr. Rabalais is interested in mentoring a REU student to develop a study which addresses aspects of the larger CWC effort.  She is particularly interested in mentoring students interested in conducting projects focused on oil spill impacts on salt marsh sediment microalgae and/or benthic infauna communities.

Dr. Brian Roberts ( is an ecosystem ecologist and biogeochemist. His research group studies how ecosystems along the freshwater-estuary-ocean continuum process and retain nutrients and energy and how this is altered as a result of human perturbations to the landscape. His research interests also include biogeochemical cycling and greenhouse gas fluxes in wetlands and estuarine pelagic and benthic environments. Current research in the Roberts Lab is broadly focused in three areas: 1) ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry (particularly community-ecosystem linkages), 2) human-induced environmental impacts on ecosystems (including Deepwater Horizon oil spill), and 3) restoration ecology. This research involves field observations and controlled mechanistic experiments conducted both in field and laboratory settings. Dr. Roberts is interested in mentoring REU students with interests in working with a team of researchers to develop studies that address aspects of our larger Coastal Waters Consortium (CWC) collaborative effort ( examining the impacts of the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill on coastal ecosystems.  Our research group’s overall objectives is to 1) improve understanding of temporal and spatial patterns in marsh biogeochemical process rates, associated plant and microbial communities and factors regulating these communities and rates; and 2) evaluate the impact of oil exposure on and recovery of marsh biogeochemical processes and associated plant and microbial communities. This summer we are particularly interested in mentoring students with interests in conducting projects on wetland biogeochemistry and ecology, plant ecology and/or microbial ecology.