This collaborative International Research Experience for Students (IRES) award will support 15 U.S. undergraduate students and one graduate student, under the direction of Drs. Romi Burks from Southwestern University and Kenneth Hayes from University of Hawaii, to carry out collaborative research in Brazil and Uruguay for three years. The program is co-organized by Dr. Silvano Thiengo from the Instituto Oswaldo Cruz in Brazil and Dr. Mariana Meerhoff from the Universidad de la Republica in Uruguay. The goal of the project is to create an Ampullariidae model for a group of aquatic snails commonly called apple snails using phylogeography, laboratory integration, and field inquiry. Brazil harbors the greatest number of ampullariid species and genera and provides the largest latitudinal span (~37º) of any country in South America. Additionally, the original Guaraní, word "Uruguay" translated into Spanish as "river of the snails." Study of the phylogeny of these snails can be used to investigate important evolutionary processes, particularly those associated with major habitat transitions (e.g. marine to freshwater to terrestrial). Students' research will focus on quantifying genetic variation in this understudied group of aquatic snails, identifying patterns of speciation, investigating traits that promote invasiveness, and determining reproductive potential. This IRES award brings together a diverse community of researchers and students from the United States, Brazil, and Uruguay. In addition to working directly with the host scientists, U.S. students will blog about their international research experience and work closely with other undergraduate and graduate students from the host country. Participating students will also develop educational materials that can be used locally in their host countries. Upon return to their home institution, students will disseminate their results through professional meetings, scientific publications, and social media networks. The research also has important societal benefits as apple snails are highly invasive species and vectors of parasitic nematodes that can cause illness in mammals, including humans. Insights into how the trophic roles that these snails inhabit in native habitats may lend insight into how to deal with their presence in invaded wetland ecosystems such as the Florida Everglades.

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University of Hawaii
United States
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