University of Vermont

Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory

Rubenstein Lab REU overview National Science Foundation logo

REU Program Overview:
Interdisciplinary Research on Human Impacts in the Lake Champlain Ecosystem

The focus of our proposed REU site is to develop students’ intellectual capacity and skill sets to address complex, interdisciplinary research questions about human impacts on ecosystems. Increasing demands on resources, alteration in land and water use patterns, reliance on fossil fuels and globalization are just several ways in which humans are influencing the biosphere at unprecedented temporal and spatial scales (Sala et al. 2000, MEA 2005, Doney 2010).

Examples of Human Impacts and Scientists' Role

Nutrient over-enrichment and eutrophication are global problems (Smith 2003, Paerl and Huisman 2009). Cyanobacteria blooms, a common consequence of eutrophication (Fogg 1969), pose many ecological, socio-economic, and health challenges (Dodds et al. 2009). External nutrient loading is a primary driver of eutrophication and cyanobacteria blooms (Brookes and Carey 2011) and is increasing in aquatic systems as a result of land use practices (Smith et al. 1999, Elliott 2010) despite decades of phosphorus control programs (Wagner and Adrian 2009, Michalak et al. 2013). Climate change may exacerbate the impacts and prevalence of cyanobacteria blooms by facilitating conditions under which cyanobacteria are known to outcompete other phytoplankton species (Paerl and Huisman 2008, Jöhnk et al. 2008).

Relatedly, the accelerated rise in invasive species is a result of our increasing globalization and degraded habitats (Mooney and Drake 1986, Ricciardi 2006, Kilpatrick 2011), causing severe ecological and economic impacts (Center 1994, Khalanski 1997, Pimentel et al. 2005). For example, in the Great Lakes the impacts of invasive mussels (Dreissena spp.) are fundamentally altering energetic pathways (Mills et al. 2003, Hecky et al. 2004) while placing high economic burdens on industry (O’Neill 1997, GAO 2000).

Understanding and mitigating human impacts are no longer simple matters of phosphorus reduction in the case of eutrophication (Wagner and Adrian 2009, Michalak et al. 2013) or eradication programs in the case of invasive species (Kilpatrick 2011). Science is conducted within a landscape of social, economic, and ultimately political realities, making it increasingly important to understand that our environmental challenges go beyond "simply" understanding ecology. The scientists of tomorrow will require interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to understand and address the increasing complexity of how humans interact with and influence their environment.

Program Overview

During the 10-week long summer program, REU students will:

  • Participate in our “Think Like A Scientist” program, which consists of short learning modules designed to develop a foundation on which students can build their capacity for research, develop professional skills, and prepare for a career in science. Some examples of modules include critical reading, scientific writing, giving presentations to scientific and lay audiences, and publishing research.
  • Participate in a weekly journal club on interdisciplinary approaches to research.
  • Attend an “after dinner” seminar each week when a different REU mentor will informally discuss his/her career path with students.
  • Conduct an independent research project, supported by faculty mentor(s) and their post-docs, graduate students, and/or technicians.
  • Serve as an assistant to a fellow REU student to facilitate cross-discipline skills and problem solving.
  • Present their proposed research project to the REU community in the third week of the program to receive feedback to improve their project.
  • Present their results at our REU research summit during the last week of the program.
  • Submit a manuscript to their mentor and the REU principal investigator within two weeks after the summer program ends.

Additionally, we encourage all REU students to work with their mentors to present their research at a national conference. Information on funding to support travel to research conferences can be found at For students with publishable results, the mentor(s) and REU principal investigator will work with the student(s) to develop a manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.


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Center T.D. (ed.). 1994. Biological control of weeds: water hyacinth and water lettuce. Intercept, Andover.

Dodds, W.K., W.W. Bouska, J.L. Eitzmann, T.J. Pilger, K.L. Pitts, A.J. Riley, J.T. Schloesser, and D.J. Thornbrugh. 2009. Eutrophication of US freshwaters: analysis of potential economic damages. Environmental Science & Technology 43:12-19.

Doney, S.C. 2010. The growing human footprint on coastal and open-ocean biogeochemistry. Science 328:1512-1516.

Elliott, J.A. 2010. The seasonal sensitivity of Cyanobacteria and other phytoplankton to changes in flushing rate and water temperature. Global Change Biology 16:864-876.

Fogg, G.E. 1969. The physiology of an algal nuisance. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 173: 175–189.

GAO. 2000. Invasive species: Federal and selected state funding to address harmful, nonnative species. GAO/RCED-00-219. U.S. General Accounting Office, Washington, D.C.

Hecky, R.E., R.E.H. Smith, D.R. Barton, S.J. Guildford, W.D. Taylor, M.N. Charlton, and T. Howell. 2004. The nearshore phosphorus shunt: a consequence of ecosystem engineering by dreissenids in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 61:1285–1293.

Jöhnk, K.D., J. Huisman, J. Sharples, B. Sommeijer, P.M. Visser, and J.M. Stroom. 2008. Summer heat waves promote blooms of harmful cyanobacteria. Global Change Biology 14:495-512. Khalanski, M., 1997. Industrial and ecological consequences of the introduction of new species in continental aquatic ecosystems: the zebra mussel and other invasive species. Bulletin Francais de la Peche et de la Pisciculture 344–445, 385–404.

Kilpatrick, A.M. 2011. Globalization, land use, and the invasion of West Nile virus. Science 334:323-327.

Michalak, A.M., plus 28 co-authors. 2013. Record-setting algal bloom in Lake Erie caused by agricultural and meteorological trends consistent with expected future conditions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110:6448-6452.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA). 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Biodiversity Synthesis. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.

Mills, E.L., and 17 co-authors. 2003. Lake Ontario: food web dynamics in a changing ecosystem (1970-2000). Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 60:471–490.

Mooney, H.A., and J.A. Drake (eds.). 1986. Ecology of biological invasions of North America and Hawaii. Ecological Studies 58. Springer-Verlag, New York.

O'Neill Jr, C.R., 1997. Economic impact of zebra mussels: results of the 1995 National Zebra Mussel Information Clearinghouse study. Great Lakes Research Review 3:35-42.

Paerl, H.W., and J. Huisman. 2008. Blooms like it hot. Science 320:57-58.

Paerl, H.W., and J. Huisman. 2009. Climate change: a catalyst for global expansion of harmful cyanobacterial blooms. Environmental Microbiology Reports 1:27–37.

Pimentel, D., R. Zuniga, and D. Morrison. 2005. Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States. Ecol. Econ. 52:273–288.

Ricciardi, A. 2006. Patterns of invasion in the Laurentian Great Lakes in relation to changes in vector activity. Diversity and Distributions 12:425–433.

Sala, O. E., and 18 co-authors. 2000. Biodiversity—global biodiversity scenarios for the year 2100. Science 287:1770–1774.

Smith, V.H. 2003. Eutrophication of freshwater and coastal marine ecosystems – a global problem. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 10:126-139.

Smith, V.H., G.D. Tilman, and J.C. Nekola. 1999. Eutrophication: impacts of excess nutrient inputs on freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems. Environmental Pollution 100:179-196.

Wagner, C., and R. Adrian. 2009. Cyanobacteria dominance: Quantifying the effects of climate change. Limnology and Oceanography 54:2460–2468.

Last modified December 15 2014 12:34 PM