In the Canopy with Wheelchairs & Tardigrades

May 29 – Aug. 9, 2017 | Baker University | Baldwin City, Kansas

We are looking for a few students who have the confidence to climb into the tops of trees and explore. Students who can ask questions that do not yet have answers. Students who want to learn from the unknown.

National Science Foundation Research Opportunity

3D Invertebrate Herbivory and Biodiversity in Deciduous North American Forest Canopies: Inspiring Students with Physical Disabilities to Pursue Field Biology

8 Positions: 4 for students in wheelchairs

Opportunity for Students with Ambulatory Disabilities

This canopy-based REU project offers students of all abilities equal opportunity to explore and learn. Students can discover new species, new ecologies and new limits and reach new heights.

Designed for eight students, four with ambulatory disabilities and four without, this project is based on the idea that a wheelchair is not a limit to good field biology. To explore the canopy we climb ropes not trees, and in the lab we use microscopes, computers and minds, which have no limits.


  1. United States citizen or permeant resident
  2. Undergraduate before and after program
  3. Minimum GPA of 3.0
  4. Online application along with two letters of recommendation and one-page explanation of why you are applying

Apply by Sunday, March 12, 2017.


Program Schedule 2017

Week 1 | May 29-June 3

Training: Climbing, research, chemistry, tardigrades, GIS

Week 2 | June 4-10

Baker Prairie and Blackjack Battle Field

Week 3 | June 11-17

KU field station: NEON site

Week 4 | June 18-24

Andrews Experimental Forest (Blue River, Oregon): LTER site

Week 5 | July 2-8

KU Field Station: Rice Woods

Week 6 | July 9-15

KSU-Konza LTER and NEON site and tree islands

Week 7 | July 16-22

Water bear hunt at the Overland Park Arboretum

Week 8 | July 23-29

Specimen processing

Week 9 | July 30-August 5

Presentation prep and data analysis

Week 10 | August 6-12

Water bear hunt and presentations at California Academy of Sciences

The Research Project

This is a three-dimensional research project to define the taxonomy and distribution of tardigrades (water bears) in the canopy and the herbivory of insects on a North American deciduous forest.The project is a fast-paced, tree-climbing, data-collecting, rapid-analysis and results-oriented internship. It is not for the timid. The plan is to climb and collect in the cooler mornings and spend the hotter afternoons and evenings processing specimens in the labs. Weekends include visits to local cultural sites and water bear hunts.

Students will be professionally trained to ascend into the canopy. There they will measure the impact of micro and macro invertebrates on the habitat and establish a baseline from which change can be measured. This is the cutting edge of ecological analysis in a world affected by climate change. Students will learn to use remote sensing, GIS, HPLC, GC-MS, and an EA scanning electron microscope to document the microenvironment.

Students will be employed for the summer. They will collaborate with the principle investigators to prepare their data for presentation and publication. They will also meet and network with the scientists and graduate students at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, University of Kansas Microscopy and Analytical Imaging Lab, Kansas State University long-term environmental research site, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Students may attend a regional, national, or international meeting and present their results.

Students will be part of a small team of young scientists who are defining and establishing a base line for the condition of the temperate forests before global warming completely exerts pressure for the forests and canopy to change.

The Hypothesis

Unlike in the tropics, there are no differences in the animals or plants that live at different levels of deciduous trees in temperate forests.

To test this hypothesis students will conduct vertical transects at multiple sites on various species of trees. Field collections will be moss, lichen and leaves.

Based at the new Boyd Center at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan., the project will explore the canopy of the transition zone between the eastern deciduous forest and the tall grass prairie biomes.

In the lab, students will extract, identify and quantize the animals (water bears) found in each sample and learn to create scanning electron microscope images.

Students will analyze the chemistry of the habitat (moss/lichen) with GC, Mass, spec, and HPLC for its influence on the interstitial aquatic environment in which the animals live. The leaves of the trees will be analyzed for insect herbivory.

The data will be mapped with GIS to predict other places where similar populations might exist. The data will establish a baseline from which change caused by global warming can be measured in the future.

Students will use professional tools such as PowerPoint to present their findings at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and regional meetings. They will also have the opportunity to produce manuscripts for publication.


These microscopic animals are little known, little studied, and easy to work with. They provide the opportunity for students to quickly get to the edge of knowledge and embark on true taxonomic and ecologic exploration and discovery.


The measure of insect usage in temperate deciduous forests is totally under documented and offers the opportunity of putting students on the cutting edge of discovery.


The chemistry of the interstitial aquatic habitat found between leaves of mosses and the thali of lichens is also under recorded and we will explore the variation relative to the height in the trees.

A Water Bear Hunt

Public outreach, especially to kids who may one day decide to become scientists, is a critical part of the learning process for our students. Our water bear hunts will blend the charisma of tardigrades and the adventure of tree climbing into a public presentation.

In visitors centers of various facilities we will set up a table equipped with our microscopes and live water bears for the public to take a look at. Flanked by SEM images, posters and signage, we will attract the patrons of the museum or arboretum to ask questions and learn about our animals and National Science Federation project.

Where possible we will take visitors into the canopy to actually collect tardigrades from the tree tops.

We know from experience that both kids and their parents want to learn more about the animal that has recently survived exposure to true outer space. This element alone raises many questions about extreme survival, global warming, evolution and the fragility of life on earth.


Students will be provided a shared apartment in University housing with individual bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen (refrigerator, stove and dishwasher), laundry, air conditioning and ceiling fans, wireless Internet, ADA compatibility, cable availability and close parking. Apartments are one block from the research labs in the new Ivan L. Boyd Center for Collaborative Science Education.


Interns will receive a stipend of $525 per week for the 10-week project, paid bi-weekly. Students will also receive an allowance for food. Travel cost to and from home to the project is included, as is internal project travel.

Principal Investigators

William R. Miller, Ph.D.

Baker University | Tardigrade Taxonomist & Ecologist

Director of student research at Baker, Miller has been the principle investigator on two major NSF RUI grants about tardigrades. He has published more than 70 popular and scientific papers and described more than a dozen new species. He has more than a dozen years of canopy experience and presented data at the second, third and fifth International Canopy Conferences.

Meg D. Lowman, Ph.D.

California Academy of Sciences | Canopy Pioneer, Conservationist & Author

Director of global initiatives at the California Academy of Sciences and called the “Einstein of the treetops” by the Wall Street Journal, Lowman has published more than 120 popular books and scientific canopy articles. She can be seen in National Geographic’s “Hero’s of the High Frontier” video, was a leader in the canopy segment of the Jason Project and is an advocate for conservation. Lowman’s research interest is herbivory, the use of canopy vegetation by insects. She has been instrumental in the design and construction of several canopy walkways that include ADA accessibility in the design.

Study Environments

Baker Wetlands
Located on the south edge of Lawrence, the Baker Wetlands is more than 900 acres of restored habitat. The Baker Wetlands is one of the most diverse habitats in Douglas County, home to many birds, flowers, plants and insects.
Ivan L. Boyd Center for Collaborative Science Education
Completely renovated and expanded with new labs, classrooms and offices in 2012, the Boyd Center houses a dedicated tardigrade research lab in addition to new ecology and chemistry labs to be used by the project. ADA accessible, the building is a showcase of practical and usable science teaching and research spaces. Our REU will be the first summer program to use the new facilities.
University of Kansas Field Station, National Ecological Observatory Network Site
The 3,400-acre KU Field Station is a NEON site and is only 15 miles from Baker and offers diverse mature native oak and hickory forest adjacent to tall grass prairie. A maintained trail system provides access to many examples of the proposed research trees. The station facilities with will allow us to use remote sensing.
Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
The 300-acre Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens was founded to keep the city at the forefront of environmental and ecological issues. The team will conduct both basic research in tall trees and hold a water bear hunt for the patrons of the arboretum.
KSU, KONZA Prairie, Long-Term Environmental Research & National Ecological Observatory Network Site
The Konza Prairie is 8,613 acres of native tall grass prairie with islands of tall trees near water and along streams. These isolated habitats may house unique species of tardigrades. The Konza Prairie LTER and NEON Site has the history of remote sensing data available to be correlated with current collections.
HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, Long-Term Environmental Research Site
The team will travel to Blue River, Oregon, near Eugene and the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest to explore the old-growth Douglas fir, cedar, and hemlock forest of the Cascade Mountains, looking for tardigrades in the canopy. Andrews is an NSF long-term ecological research (LTER) site. The station comprises 16,000 acres of temperate rain forest and will provide great contrast in forest types.
Tree Climbing Kansas City
Tree Climbing Kansas City is staffed by professional tree climbers with more than 50 years of tree-climbing and teaching experience. They will train the students in SRT and double rope climbing techniques. Tree Climbing Kansas City will train and qualify our students to climb safely and make good decisions as part of the program.
KU Microscopy & Analytic Imaging Lab
Students will spend a week learning SEM, TEM and elemental analysis at the KU Microscopy and Analytical Imagery Lab. They will produce images and data for analysis and their presentations and publications.
California Academy of Sciences
The CAS offers both interactions with the public and professional research into the biodiversity of the planet. Based on their collections and exhibits, the academy reaches out to people from all walks of life to educate and inform. In addition to a water bear hunt, the students will present the results of their research to the science staff and the public.


William R. Miller
Tardigrade Taxonomist & Ecologist
Baker University

Meg D. Lowman
Canopy Pioneer, Conservationist, & Author
California Academy of Sciences