Opportunities for Graduate Study in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas seeks applications from highly qualified and motivated graduate students. KU-EEB includes 40 faculty members and about 80 graduate students whose research focuses on three broad domains: Biodiversity and Macroevolution, Ecology and Global Change Biology, and Evolutionary Mechanisms.

Facilities to support graduate education and research include world-class collections in our museums, equipment and expertise in molecular biology including DNA sequencing, growth chambers and greenhouses, and extensive field station land holds for establishing controlled experimental plots or for investigating non-manipulated systems.

Successful applicants to our graduate program receive a financial support package that includes a stipend and tuition sponsorship. Doctoral students receive a five-year package, and master’s students receive a two-year package. The department provides support for travel to present results at national and international professional meetings. Funds to support graduate student research are also available through departmental endowment funds.

Applications from all qualified students will be given serious consideration; however, we specifically seek students whose interests match the descriptions below. Students who wish to pursue research in these areas are encouraged to contact prospective faculty mentors to introduce themselves and describe their academic goals and research experiences and interests.

Click here to learn how to submit an application for admission.

Faculty members currently seeking new graduates students include those listed below:

Brian Atkinson

Research in the Atkinson lab primarily focuses on reconstructing the early evolution of flowering plants and Mesozoic gymnosperms, but other plant groups are free game as well. Our work involves recovering and characterizing plant fossils from all around the world as well as directly incorporating them into evolutionary analyses to understand their impacts on phylogenetic inference. This often involves collecting primary (phenotypic) data, constructing morphological matrices, and using various phylogenetic methods. Members of the Atkinson lab have the advantage of having access to a variety of paleobtanical preparation equipment, literature resources, and our world class fossil plant collections.​

Fola B. Agusto

Agusto's research focuses on the ecology and epidemiology of some emerging and re-emerging human and zoonotic disease of public health importance using mathematical and statistical modeling approaches to gain insight into quantitative properties of the resulting models. Current research interests with emphasis on vector borne diseases include: (1) The effect of climate change on vector borne diseases; (2) Immuno-epidemiological model involving multi-host single-pathogen system; (3) Multi-clonal disease dynamics on multiple time scales. These studies will examine (i) The effect of environmental variation on pathogen dynamics. (ii) The impact of multi-clonal pathogen competition, maintenance and fitness landscape on the host-pathogen system. (iii) Use phylogenetic data to capture pathogen evolution at both within-host and between-host scales.

Chris Beard

Research in the Beard lab investigates the phylogeny and paleobiology of early Cenozoic mammals, particularly primates. Research projects are frequently driven by field work in Asia, North Africa, and the western USA. Beard’s students are typically based in the Vertebrate Paleontology Division of KU’s Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. 

Jim Bever 

The Bever lab works on the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of plants, microbes and their interactions.  Major areas of foci include the dynamics and consequences of the plant microbiome, plant-soil feedbacks and the role of soil microbes in plant community dynamics, the evolutionary dynamics of microbial mutualists and pathogens, and the role of microbes in plant invasions and the restoration of native plant communities.   Individuals in the lab work in prairies, forests, and agricultural ecosystems.

Sharon Billings 

The Billings lab explores how global change perturbations such as rising atmospheric CO2, land use change, rising temperatures, and changing water availability influence fluxes of key elements into and through forests and grasslands. There is a particular emphasis on stable isotope ecology as a tool for soil and tree ecophysiological studies, as well as microbial ecology.  We are especially interested in understanding how plant and microbial life influences Earth’s skin and, in so doing, drives the development of terrestrial ecosystems.  We use a combination of flux measurements (e.g. gas, water, and biomass) and chemical analyses to understand these phenomena.

Justin Blumenstiel

The Blumenstiel lab investigates evolutionary arms races, selfish genes and epigenetics. Using approaches that include population genetics, molecular evolution, next-gen sequencing and molecular biology, the lab’s aim is to characterize evolutionary conflict in the battleground of the germline.

Rafe Brown

The Brown lab studies biogeography and evolutionary processes of diversification in island archipelagos. We use phylogenetic methods and genomic data to study the biodiversity of amphibians and reptiles, with a particular empirical focus in Southeast Asian, Australasian and Melanesian archipelagos. As part of the KU Biodiversity Institute's Herpetology Division, Brown and students are located in he Natural History Museum where research opportunities abound for EEB students interested in the evolutionary biology of amphibians and reptiles (see highlights at the Division's website).

Amy Burgin

My research integrates across the fields of microbial ecology, biogeochemistry and ecosystem ecology. Microbial community composition and biogeochemical cycling regulate ecosystem functions such as primary productivity, nutrient availability, and carbon flux; thus, the three fields are closely intertwined. This interdisciplinary research draws on skills in analytical chemistry, microbiological assays, and molecular techniques to better understand how microbes control ecosystem-level nutrient fluxes. My work increases our understanding of how microbes interact with their environment to affect biogeochemical cycles. My research also has valuable connections to environmental concerns including global change, the effects of land-use change on aquatic ecosystems and aquatic eutrophication. Visit http://burginlab.weebly.com/join.html for contact information during my transition to the University of Kansas.

Paulyn Cartwright

The Cartwright Lab investigates medusozoan evolution using developmental, genomic and phylogenetic approaches. More recently, the lab has been focusing on investigating the evolution of the parasitic group Myxozoa through phylogenomics and characterization of genomes and transcriptomes. 

Michael Engel

Engel's research focuses on the systematics, biology, evolution, and classification of bees.  Phylogenetic methods based on morphological data are used to explore bee diversity throughout the world.  Engel and his students are located in the Natural History Museum's west campus facility where the collections of the Division of Entomology are housed, representing a tremendous resource for the comparative study of Hymenoptera.

Bryan Foster

Research in the Foster lab explores how biotic interactions, resource availability, and species pools interact to govern the assembly, diversity, and functioning of plant communities. We are also interested in understanding the impacts of management and human-induced global changes on biodiversity and ecosystem function and applying this understanding to the conservation and restoration of native plant communities.

Jennifer Gleason

The Gleason lab studies the evolutionary genetics of behavioral isolation between Drosophila species through analyses of genes influencing courtship behavior.

Rich Glor

Glor investigates diversification of reptiles and amphibians. Glor’s students are typically based in the Herpetology Division of KU's Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. More information about opportunities for graduate study in KU Herpetology are available via the Division's website.

Lena Hileman

Research in the Hileman lab integrates phylogenetic, molecular evolutionary, and molecular developmental approaches to investigate how flowers have evolved such a diversity of form.

Mark Holder

The Holder lab explores phylogenetic methods. In particular lab members are interested in improving the statistical and computational tools used to estimate the genealogical relationships between organisms.

Kirsten Jensen

The Jensen lab studies parasitology with a particular emphasis on the systematics, morphology, biodiversity, and life-cycles of tapeworms. The lab is seeking a Ph.D. student to participate in an NSF-funded Planetary Biodiversity Inventories project to document the diversity of elasmobranch (ray and shark) tapeworms from around the world.

John Kelly

The Kelly lab studies evolution from both experimental and theoretical perspectives.  Specific approaches include population genetics, quantitative genetics, genomics, statistical modeling, and molecular biology.  Our experimental work is primarily on plants.

Bruce Lieberman

The Lieberman lab studies macroevolutionary patterns and processes using the invertebrate fossil record.  Students have used phylogenetics, biogeography, Geographic Information Systems, and Ecological Niche Modeling, to study how climatic and geological changes have influenced patterns of speciation and extinction.  This work has included building large databases using fossils in various museums including the KU Biodiversity Institute.  Students have also studied the tempo and mode of evolution during key episodes in the history of life, and are working to develop the next generation of phylogenetic methods for application to fossil taxa.

Rob Moyle

The Moyle lab studies the diversification of birds.  Projects range from higher-level phylogenetics to phylogeography and speciation, and increasingly use reduced-representation genomic sequencing.  The geographic focus is worldwide, but most of the lab’s current work focuses on SE Asia and the tropical Pacific. 

Maria Orive

The Orive lab explores evolutionary genetic theory, focusing on models of population structure and organisms with complex life histories. Current research in the lab is centered in two areas: (1) the effects of clonal structure on the rate of evolution under environmental change and (2) within- and between-host pathogen and symbiont population dynamics and evolution. For more information, visit the Orive lab website at http://www.orive.faculty.ku.edu/ .

Town Peterson

The Peterson lab is comprised of a large group of graduate and undergraduates students who work on diverse topics in systematics, ecology, disease biology, and biogeography. Particular interests include studies of transmission risk of diseases such as fluviruses, filoviruses, and Chagas disease; phylogeography of bird lineages; and ecological niche modeling.

Dan Reuman

Dan and his team use a combination of mathematical, statistical, and computational methods and field and laboratory data to study topics in population, community, and global change ecology. The current focus of the lab is on large-scale metapopulation and metacommunity dynamics, specifically the phenomena of population synchrony within communities and across space, and its causes and consequences. Dan is happy to be contacted by prospective students from a range of undergraduate backgrounds, including biological, mathematical, and physical sciences.

Benjamin Sikes

Research in the Sikes lab focuses on microbial ecology with special emphasis on soil fungi and their interactions with plants. These microbes are used to address fundamental ecological questions and as tools to utilize in ecosystem conservation and restoration. We use a combination of old school methods including culturing and microscopy combined with next generation sequencing to better understand the form, diversity, and function of these communities.

Leo Smith

Scientists in Smith Lab primarily investigate the evolution and diversification of marine and freshwater fishes.  We often focus on the large-scale phenomena that have shaped the history and evolution of fishes at various scales using a combination of phylogenetic trees, field collections, and focused anatomical and genomic analyses.

Jamie Walters

Major research themes the Walters lab include evolutionary genetics, molecular evolution, and sexual selection.  Particularly appealing are projects where these three areas intersect.  Methodologically, we concentrate on genomic approaches such as next-generation sequencing and shotgun proteomics.  However, our work with these genome-wide data-sets is motivated by fundamental observations about organismal biology.   Taxonomically, our current research tends to focus on insects, with an emphasis on moths and butterflies. We have long-standing projects concerning the evolution of sex chromosomes and dosage compensation, as well as the function and protein composition of dimorphic sperm, but students will find ample opportunity to suggest their own research agendas that mesh well with the lab’s focus and capabilities.

Maggie Wagner

Research in the Wagner lab focuses on understanding (1) how plant genotype affects the composition and function of plant-associated microbiomes, and (2) how plant-associated microbes affect the phenotype, health, and productivity of their host. A secondary focus is understanding the genetic basis and evolution of phenotypic plasticity. We explore these themes using both crop plants and wild plants, and our projects typically involve some combination of fieldwork, greenhouse experiments, wet-lab work, bioinformatics, and quantitative genetic analysis. Our overarching goal is to do research that improves our understanding of how plant-microbiome interactions evolved in nature, and/or makes progress toward incorporating microbiome science into new tools for sustainable agriculture.

Joy Ward

Research in the Ward lab focuses on understanding how global change factors influence the physiology, population structure, and evolution of plant species. More specifically, the lab seeks to understand the effects of global change drivers that alter plant resource availability, such as changing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, changing precipitation regimes, and rising temperatures.

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