Graduate Openings

Graduate Student Positions:
Graduate students interested in the following ongoing research projects in the Moeller Lab are particularly encouraged to apply:

1. The ecology and evolution of chloroplast theft in aquatic protists. This project is developing the Mesodinium genus of ciliates as a model system for understanding how heterotrophic organisms incorporate photosynthetic machinery from other species into their metabolic repertoire (i.e., take the first steps down the endosymbiosis pathway). Mesodinium ciliates vary in their ability to steal chloroplasts (called “kleptoplastids”) from algal prey and retain them for different amounts of time. Our current focus is on understanding the ecological implications of this ability for niche partitioning among different Mesodinium lineages using a combination of laboratory studies and mathematical models. Students working on this project also have the opportunity to collaborate on projects sequencing and analyzing the genomes of the ciliates and their prey and quantifying movement behavior.

2. Mathematical models for multispecies mutualisms. This project uses a variety of mathematical approaches to explore the mechanisms by which interactions between guilds of different species evolve and are maintained as mutualisms over evolutionary timescales. Study systems include plant-microbial interactions (i.e., tree-ectomycorrhizal symbioses and legume-rhizobial mutualisms) and coral-animal mutualisms, but can be expanded to other systems of interest. We use a combination of optimal control theory and adaptive dynamics to assess the impacts of different host control strategies. Students working on this project are also welcome to conduct experimental and observational studies in concert with their mathematical modeling.

3. Bet-hedging in tree-ectomycorrhizal symbioses. This project explores the role that environmental heterogeneity (e.g., spatial and temporal variation in the availability of key resources such as nutrients and water) plays in maintaining functional, and as a consequence, species, diversity in tree-fungal mutualisms. Work involves a combination of field surveys, greenhouse bioassays, and mathematical models to understand how fungal biodiversity facilitates seedling establishment and enhances adult tree fitness. Students working on this project have the opportunity to collaborate with other faculty and students in the EEMB department who share our interest in plant-microbial interactions.

4. The role of epibionts and parasites in kelp senescence. This project leverages the local Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, which studies the effects of giant kelp on local food web structure and carbon cycling. An open question is the role that epibionts (i.e., organisms that attach to the surface of kelp blades) and parasites (i.e., fungal and bacterial pathogens) play in driving the senescence of kelp blades and priming this organic matter for decomposition. We use a combination of field surveys, experimental manipulations, next-generation sequencing, and mathematical models to quantify the presence of these organisms, understand the effects of kelp density on their abundance and diversity, and track their effects on the carbon cycle.

Please note: As a graduate student, you will be expected to get involved in the lab’s mathematical modeling. Not every thesis chapter has to include a model, but quantitative approaches are de rigueur. Students with backgrounds in applied mathematics, physics, etc., are especially encouraged to apply.

Applicants should write to Dr. Moeller at Please include:

  • A brief description of your research interests and, in particular, how they overlap with the lab’s focus;
  • A summary of your mathematical background and relevant research experience;
  • A CV which includes your GPA, professional references, and GRE scores; and
  • Whether or not you are eligible to apply for an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (deadline Oct. 23). I ask all prospective graduate students who are eligible to apply; I’m happy to discuss research ideas, comment on application drafts, etc.

Also, consult the entry requirements and deadlines for the two UCSB graduate programs through which the lab accepts applicants: the Department of Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology (deadline Dec. 15), and the Interdepartmental Graduate Program in Marine Science (deadline Dec. 15).