Research Opportunities: academic year

Swensen Witherup: Research in Biology

Susan Swensen Witherup  



My research interests center on evolutionary questions about a variety of organisms, but focus primarily on plants and the evolution of plant interactions with other organisms (e.g. bacteria, insects).  Much of my work involves DNA analysis in the lab, including extracting DNA, amplifying genes or regions of interest using PCR, DNA sequencing, computer-based analysis of data, and phylogenetic reconstruction.

I am always open to students who would like to pursue their own research questions, but most of the time, students choose a project that is part of my research.  If you have a specific project you would like to explore, please see me and we can work on your idea for a project.  The following are the projects I have already defined for students: 



Islands comprise less than 5% of the Earth’s land mass, yet, they are estimated to house approximately 20% of all bird, reptile, and plant species on Earth.  Islands represent biodiversity hotspots due to the fact that many island species are endemic (found nowhere else on Earth).  Immigrants to islands, however they arrive, experience a unique evolutionary trajectory, separate from their mainland counterparts, resulting in island endemics. The proportion of such endemics rises with increasing isolation from the mainland, increasing island size and ecosystem complexity.  As an evolutionary biologist, I am intrigued by the capacity of islands to serve as living laboratories to understand the evolutionary process.  As a scientist interested in conservation of biodiversity, islands represent the “front lines” of the extinction crisis.  Because of their high levels of endemism, impacts on island ecosystems have a disproportionately large impact on global biodiversity.  In sum, islands are “where it’s at” if you’re interested in evolutionary biology and biodiversity conservation.  Projects associated with this topic will involve work with species native to Puerto Rico and smaller associated islands in the Lesser Antilles.



Several projects are available (for credit) that focus on a variety of issues relating to sustainability.  In the past, students have worked on projects involving energy use in our building, a pilot green roof for CNS, and a greenhouse gas inventory for Ithaca College.  If research of this type interests you, please make an appointment to see me and we can discuss possible projects.



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