MS Assistantship Available
University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana
An assessment of aquatic invasive plants in the Illinois River: water hyacinth surveillance, mapping, persistence, and potential seed dispersal
Project Description: Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_hyacinth) can form dense mats of surface vegetation restricting commercial and recreational traffic, outcompeting native plants, and affecting biogeochemical cycles. Regular reoccurrence of water hyacinth represents a significant threat to the recreation, fisheries, and wildlife resources of both the Great Lakes and the Illinois & Mississippi Rivers. We seek one MS student to use a combination of boating and aerial techniques to conduct mapping and surveillance of water hyacinth and other aquatic plants in the Illinois River. This project is best suited for someone interested in learning a wide range of field surveillance and mapping techniques (GPS/GIS, small aircraft, boats, seed identification, fish stomach analysis, and electrofishing) while pursuing the following objectives as components of their MS thesis:
1) Documenting the current distribution of water hyacinth plants in the upper Illinois River/Chicago Area Water corridor and comparing with historical records and sightings.
2) Comparing seed densities and frequencies in seed banks and dispersal vectors (e.g., water column, fish) in areas where dense colonies of water hyacinth occur and non-occupied areas (i.e., control) of the Illinois River channel and associated backwaters.
3) Concurrently assessing the temporal and spatial overlap between recurring stands of water hyacinth and the presence of seeds in underlying seed bank.
4) Developing and evaluating a rapid aerial survey technique to detect and map locations of water hyacinth along a portion of the upper Illinois River.
Qualifications: Applicants should have a Bachelors degree in ecology, wildlife biology, or a related field before 1 June 2013; demonstrated writing ability; GPA > 3.25 and GRE > 70%. Preferred candidates should have previous experience in wetland and/or large river systems and a strong interest in invasive species, plant biology, fisheries or wetland ecology, or a closely related field. Field experience with wetland plants, large rivers, fish, and electroshocking are strongly preferred. Previous experience using ArcGIS, conducting aerial surveys, operating boats, and analyzing data are preferred. The candidate also must have a strong work ethic and be able to endure the physical demands of field work. The individual must be able to supervise technicians and work effectively within a team and independently. Self-motivation and a passion for research are personality traits critical for successful completion of this project. Note:This project will require the student to spend many hours in a small aircraft and separately in a boat collecting data. Motion sickness is not an acceptable reason to change the project. The student will be required to complete coursework at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, but field and lab work will be conducted out of the Forbes and Illinois River Biological Stations in Havana, IL (http://wwx.inhs.illinois.edu/fieldstations/).
Salary and Appointment: 50% Research Assistantship of approximately $19K/yr plus benefits (http://www.si.uiuc.edu/) and a tuition waiver from June 2013 to June 2016 through the Illinois Natural History Survey (http://wwx.inhs.illinois.edu/organization) with courses and degree through the Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (http://nres.illinois.edu/future_grad/apply). Please contact potential thesis supervisors Dr. Andrew Casper (http://www.inhs.uiuc.edu/staff/index.php?action=list&user_name=afcasper) or Dr. Heath Hagy (http://wwx.inhs.illinois.edu/fieldstations/forbes/staff/hagy/) for additional information.