Division of
Natural and Applied Sciences

Master’s positions in insect-plant ecology at UTexas Permian Basin 

The Hembry Lab in the Department of Biology at the University of Texas Permian Basin is recruiting three (3) masters students to fill paid research positions in the evolutionary ecology of insect-plant interactions, supported by an NSF BRC-BIO grant to Dr. David Hembry. I am expecting to fill 1-2 positions in Fall 2024 and the remaining positions in Spring 2025 and/or Fall 2025.  Research in the Hembry Lab (https://hembrylab.com) primarily focuses on the evolution and ecology of species interactions, with particular focus on brood pollination symbioses between leafflower plants (family Phyllanthaceae) and leafflower moths (genus Epicephala). This relationship is usually mutualistic, with the moths pollinating their host plants and the moths caterpillars eating a subset of the hosts seeds. However, this mutualism has also repeatedly evolved to become parasitic, in which the moths cease to pollinate their host plants. All three open masters positions concern the biology of this mutualism-parasitism transition, and especially focus on the biology of parasitic leafflower moths found in the United States.  
 
– Two MS students will conduct research on the population genomics and phylogeography of leafflower moths and their host plants in the southern United States. One student will focus on cophylogeography of a widely distributed species pair (the leafflower Nellica polygonoides and its undescribed moth species) in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The other student will examine host-associated population divergence of an undescribed leafflower moth species on its three host plants (native leafflowers Phyllanthus evanescens and Moeroris abnormis and the recently introduced Moeroris fraternus) in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Both students will have training visits to the laboratory of Dr. Katrina Dlugosch (University of Arizona). These projects will involve a roughly equal mixture of fieldwork, labwork, and computer-based analyses.  
 
– One MS student will conduct research on the bacterial microbiomes of leafflower moths, examining variation in microbiomes among host plant genera and across the mutualism-parasitism transition. This student will be co-advised by Dr. David Hembry and Dr. Athenia Oldham (Department of Biology, UT Permian Basin), and will have a training visit to the laboratory of Dr. Gordon Bennett (University of California, Merced). This project will primarily consist of labwork and computer-based analyses, with some fieldwork.  
 
Each of the three masters projects is designed to result in a single first-authored peer-reviewed manuscript for the student.  These are paid positions for which recruited applicants will receive four semesters of stipend, two years of summer salary, and have four semesters of tuition and fees covered. Costs associated with fieldwork, labwork, and the training visits to larger institutions for each student are also covered by the grant. Each student will also have the opportunity to mentor a UTPB undergraduate for at least one summer in research.  
 
Desired qualifications:  
-Interest in evolution, ecology, species interactions, symbiosis, or coevolution  
-Undergraduate degree (received or expected) in biology or a related field  
-Prior research experience, especially in biology (fieldwork or labwork) or another natural science  
-Knowledge of statistics or programming (especially R or Python) is fantastic but neither expected nor required.  
 
These are good positions for students interested in:  
-Evolutionary ecology, species interactions, coevolution, mutualism, parasitism, and evolution  
-Insects and/or native plants  
-Fieldwork in the south central and southeastern United States  
-Pursuing a masters degree in evolution or ecology in advance of applying to a PhD program  
-Learning about bioinformatic methods and the use of next-generation sequence data in the lab and on the computer  
-Mentoring of first-generation undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds in research  
 
To apply, please send Dr. David Hembry (hembry_d@utpb.edu) the following via e-mail:  
(1) a short statement (1-2 paragraphs) explaining past research experiences and reasons for interest in the position;  
(2) an up-to-date academic CV or resume; and  
(3) names and e-mail addresses of two references who are prior mentors in biology or other natural sciences. 
For full consideration, please send these materials by November 30, 2023. Informal inquiries before applying are welcomed, and very strongly encouraged. I am very happy to chat on Zoom with prospective applicants. Please write to Dr. David Hembry at hembry_d@utpb.edu to express interest and to ask questions.