A grant has been awarded to Dr. Roger McPherson at Clarion University of Pennsylvania to purchase genetic technology crucial to several important research projects and the training of undergraduate and Master's degree students in ecology and systematics. The equipment purchased is a Genetic Analyzer with gene sequencing, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) product sizing software, and quantitation software. This system allows faculty and student researchers at Clarion University to carry out gene sequencing activities and to use genetic markers that can determine the genetic profile, or "genetic fingerprint," of individuals and populations on a small geographic scale with a high degree of resolution. The instrumentation will support the efforts of four-research groups led by ecology faculty at Clarion University. One project, led by the Project Director, R. McPherson, will use genetic markers to indirectly measure the dispersal of coldwater fishes in watersheds having various degrees of fragmentation. These indirect measures of movement and more traditional direct measures will be used to test hypotheses of among stream movement of coldwater fishes. A second research group led by Dr. Andrew Turner (Co-PD) will use genetic analyses to examine the relationship of gene flow and behavioral variation among freshwater snail populations. Snail populations vary in the extent to which they shift habitat use in the presence of predators. Studies of gene flow will lead to a better understanding of local adaptation in freshwater snails. A third group directed by Dr. Charles Williams (Co-PD) would use the instrumentation to investigate population structure, gene flow, and dynamics of woody plants in a chronically browsed landscape. Many plant species have diminished greatly in abundance due to heavy browsing. However, little is known about how the loss of key understory plants has influenced forest function and structure. This research-group will be using genetic analyses to gain an understanding of this relationship. A fourth research-group under the guidance of Dr. Steven Harris (Co-PD) will use DNA sequence variation to resolve genetic relationships in Neotropical caddisflies, a highly diverse invertebrate group. Their larval stages are aquatic and along with the mayflies and stoneflies are often utilized by ecologists as indicators of streams possessing good water quality. In North America, the biodiversity of this group is fairly well known, but in the neotropics, such is not the case. Dr. Harris and his students have reached somewhat of an impasse using morphological characters, but have not yet looked at genetic analyses as a means of resolving taxonomic relationships. They will compare genetic sequences to study the biological diversity of these important stream organisms. Each of these projects will use state-of- the-art genetic technology to address fundamental questions in ecology and systematics. The broad implications of the award include the strengthening of the research infrastructure at Clarion University. Additionally, the presence of this instrumentation will expand the scope of the research training for undergraduate and Master of Science students in systematics and ecology. It will allow the students, collaborating with faculty, hands-on experience with the latest genetic techniques as these techniques apply to important issues in environmental biology and systematics. With the expansion of the capabilities in the use of these techniques a greater number of students (including female and minority undergraduates) will be afforded the opportunity to gain valuable research training.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Mark A. Farmer
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Clarion University of Pennsylvania
United States
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