The Plant Ecology and Molecular Ecology Laboratories at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center conduct an extensive research program on a wide range of topics related to plant ecology.  Most of the projects are based at SERC, which offers a variety of terrestrial and wetlands habitat types to study plant ecological issues. Plant and Molecular Ecology projects typically involve a range of approaches from data gathering from published materials to designing and conducting field and laboratory projects.  Fieldwork typically involves sampling soil, individual plants or setting up plots in which data on plants is collected.  Laboratory experiments typically involve DNA extraction and subsequent archiving.  Plant and soil samples that are collected in the field are typically freeze dried and prepared for molecular analysis. Laboratory techniques typically involve DNA extraction, quantification, PCR amplification, and subsequent analysis using electrophoresis gels, microsatellite analysis, or DNA sequencing. In all cases, careful notes on field and laboratory activities are required.


Internship Project

This specific internship project focuses on understanding the microbial ecology of a drastically declining population of Corallorhiza odontorhiza orchids in a SERC research forest using molecular analyses of plant and soil samples. Some life history strategies of these orchids are still unknown, and this project is mainly aimed at understanding the relationship between the declining populations and soil pathogens. The intern will collect soil and plant samples from previously identified plots, examine structures of underground plant parts, and perform molecular analyses using the collected plant and soil samples. The main objective is to determine whether there is a direct relationship between the population decline and any potential soil pathogen, and to study the fate of underground plant structures that deteriorate with the time. The intern will also have the opportunity to be involved with other related research projects. We anticipate that the intern will divide their time approximately equally between the field and laboratory analysis components.


Learning Objectives of the Internship

The intern will be a primary researcher involved in all phases of the components described above.  The intern will interact with technicians, postdocs, and senior scientists.

  • The intern will be trained in techniques related to their internship project including study design, field sample and data collection, data entry, data verification, and analysis.
  • The intern will also have the opportunity to be trained in laboratory techniques for DNA extraction and analysis.
  • The intern will be expected to summarize his/her accomplishments in a seminar at the end of the project period under the supervision of lab scientists.
  • The intern will also be expected to gain professional development by attending seminars and journal clubs and interacting with other scientists.


Please apply online using the web portal:


Proposed start date of Feb/March to May 2022

Application deadline is December 15th


For any questions about internship, please contact Dr. Melissa McCormick ( or Dr. Eranga Wettewa (

For questions about application submission, please contact Dan Gustafson (