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Sex-based differences in physiology

Project Full Title:

Understanding sex-based differences in physiology of a native sex-switching understory maple tree

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Project Description:

Sex differences in physiology are common in animals. We know that there are differences by sex in average height in humans, in mean weight of mature elephant seals, or in song production in many birds. We know far less about sex-based differences in plants. Unlike animals, in most plants, sexes are combined into a single individual. In approximately 6-7% of species, sexes are found on separate individuals. Using a native sex-switching understory tree, we’ll be collecting data on differences in functioning between males and females. This project will involve substantial amounts of time spent in the woods to collect data. We’ll be establishing field sites in northern Michigan and perhaps the Upper Peninsula. We’ll collect data on flowering, health, and photosynthetic rates and use these data to understand in what ways sex affects how an individual functions. Students will participate in hypothesis formation, experimental design, data acquisition, and analysis. They will routinely read and discuss scientific literature, and will develop skills for writing scientific papers and delivering scientific presentations. Note that this study involves a substantial field-based component. When in the field, working hours are daylight hours (and sometimes pre-dawn hours). Trees don’t follow 8-5 hour days or know about weekends. Overall time period of employment will be adjusted for this fact. For example, two 60-hr work weeks will count for 3 summer research weeks. Overnight accommodations will consist primarily of camping. Field work requires stamina and the ability to persist in the midst of heat, rain, and bugs. Some strength is also required, with the ability to carry packs and equipment weighing up to 50 lbs. Field work is also fun, with opportunities to get to know local flora and fauna and hike in the area. For more information about the lab or previous research on this species, please see the lab webpage.

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