Current Students

Maya Almaraz

Advisors: Stephen Porder and Chris Neill
Start: Summer 2011
B.S. Conservation and Resource Studies, University of California, Berkeley
B.A. Public Health, University of California, Berkeley

I am a first year graduate student in the Brown/MBL program, working under the direction of Dr. Stephen Porder and Dr. Christopher Neill. I am interested in carbon and nitrogen cycling related to land use and climate change. This summer I went to Puerto Rico and worked on a project looking at net nitrogen mineralization on a topographic gradient on two different types of soil. For my dissertation I plan to work on the PIRE project in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mainly, what are the environmental consequences of the Green Revolution in Africa and how can we best manage the land to provide sufficient calories to those who need them while preserving the environment? I spent the last two years working in Dr. Whendee Silver’s lab at UC Berkeley where I participated primarily in projects looking at carbon sequestration in rangelands, greenhouse gas dynamics in response to a hurricane simulation, and redox dynamics in tropical forests. As an undergraduate I worked as a research assistant in plant ecology and entomology.

Angus Angermeyer

B.S. University of Washington (Microbiology), 2008.

I study the ecology of microbial communities and how the diversity of microbes varies over geographic distance. My research has two main themes: 1) Using DNA sequencing and fingerprinting methods, I track the allelic variation of sulfate reducing enzymes within and between east coast salt marshes. 2) I study the biofilm structures of hydrothermal vent bacteria and their methods of communication and dispersal.

David Boerma

Advisor: Sharon Swartz
Start: Fall 2013

Bats are agile, robust fliers, occupying ecological niches in which they swiftly pursue small insects, dart through dense foliage, migrate hundreds of miles, and navigate billowing clouds of conspecifics. Moreover, bats accomplish this using massive, complex wings; each with over 20 degrees of freedom. My current research interests are rooted in understanding the structure and function of bat wings within the context of maneuverability, stability, and neuromechanical control of flight.

Nikole Bonacorsi

Advisor: Andrew Leslie
Start: Fall 2015

I am interested in plant structure and function. For my graduate work, I plan to study the evolution and mechanics of active spore release in the genus Selaginella.

Bianca Brown

Advisor: David Rand
Start: Fall 2015

I am interested in how species respond to environmental stress.  Some of my research goals are to figure out what genes are responsible for certain plastic traits, and how are some species better able to adapt in high stress environment than others. How species respond to temperature is of particular interest to me. My current projects are investigating the role of host-microbiome interaction in the homeostasis of the host during thermal stress and exploring the effects of temperature on mito-nuclear interactions.

John Capano

Advisor: Beth Brainerd
Start: Fall 2015

I am broadly interested in comparative physiology, functional morphology and biomechanics within an evolutionary context. I am more specifically interested in the effects of intercostal musculature and rib kinematics on lung ventilation. I aim to focus on the biomechanics of breathing in snakes, and the co-evolution of their musculature and mechanics for feeding, breathing, and locomotion.

Ryan Carney

Advisor: Stephen Gatesy
Start: Fall 2010
B.A. Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley, 2003 (Honors)
B.A. Art Practice, UC Berkeley, 2003
M.B.A., Yale University, 2010
M.P.H., Yale University, 2010

I am interested in the evolution and biomechanics of flight in dinosaurs, with particular emphasis on the iconic “missing link” between dinosaurs and birds, Archaeopteryx. Methods include 3D x-ray imaging of fossil and living animals, XROMM, and Maya computer animation. Other research interests include reconstructing the original coloration of extinct animals (such as Archaeopteryx and marine reptiles), and developing GIS-based early warning systems that accurately predict epidemics of mosquito-borne diseases (such as dengue and West Nile virus). For more information and publications please visit my website at: www.ryancarney.com

KC Cushman

Advisor: Jim Kellner
Start: Fall 2014

My research involves the structure and function of tropical forests, and the response of tropical trees to short-term climate variation and long-term climate change. I am interested in studying forests at the level of entire landscapes, combining ground measurements and remote sensing tools to measure relevant processes over large scales.

Alex Damian-Serrano

Advisor: Casey Dunn
Start: Fall 2015

I am interested in studying the evolution of predatory specialization in siphonophores. To do this, I plan on compiling traits of their ecology and functional morphology, especially regarding the tentacles, from the literature and experimental data. I expect to yield results from the relationships
between these traits and their distribution across the phylogeny.

Terry Dial

Advisor: Beth Brainerd
Start: Fall 2011
B.S. Loyola Marymount University (2007)
M.S. University of Utah (2010)

I am interested in the developmental trade-offs associated with animal form and function. Young vertebrates enter the world at many different levels of morphological maturity (e.g., humans vs. horses) and display an array of developmental strategies taking them into adulthood. I would like to understand how developmental strategy influences locomotor performance of both juvenile and adult forms. In the past I've primarily worked on developing birds (mallard ducks and chukar partridge), but am now branching out to the ectothermic world, which arguably exhibits the most interesting morphological and life-history variation.

Laura Garrison

B.A. 2000, U.C. Berkeley, Comparative Literature (magna cum laude)
M.S. 2007, San Francisco State University, Ecology & Systematic Biology

My interests include biodiversity conservation, plant systematics, desert floras, and the effects of rapid environmental change on ecosystems. I am especially interested in how phylogenetic information can help predict plant responses to climate change. In my dissertation work, I am studying the relationship between phenology and climate in Viburnum at the Arnold Arboretum.

Chris Graves

B.S. Biological Sciences, University of Vermont

I study adaptations to unpredictable environments that are continually changing, thereby causing the fitness of a trait to vary through time. I address this problem with a combination of analytical and computational modeling as well as experimental evolution in fast evolving microbial organisms. Current projects of mine include applying the theory of selection in varying environments to problems in infectious disease evolution and experimentally evolving laboratory populations of yeast in an unpredictable environment.

Lillian Hancock

Advisor: Erika Edwards
Start: Fall 2012

I am interested in the origin, evolution, and assembly of complex character traits in plants. My research investigates the evolution of Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM), a complex character trait that improves the efficiency of C3 photosynthesis – the pathway used by most photosynthetic organisms - under hot, dry conditions.

Emily Hollenbeck

Advisor: Dov Sax
Start: Fall 2012

Many species have been observed moving up in elevation as well as latitude in response to warmer climates. I am interested in altitudinal range shifts occurring under current and future climate change. Steep mountains provide a spatially rapid gradient of environmental conditions and community assemblages, which could potentially mean much shorter (and easier) shifts in order for species to reach an ideal climate. However, climate change in many locations is more complex than a simple rise in temperature, and both biotic and abiotic mismatches may impact species’ fitness in a new location. I hope to explore the fitness consequences of range shifts from various angles, including population genetics, local adaptation, and physiological ecology.

Yordano Jimenez

Advisor: Beth Brainerd
Start: Fall 2015

I study the functional morphology of feeding in fishes. I am especially interested in how bony fishes capture, bite, and process their food.

Kealohanuiopuna Kinney

Advisor: Jim Kellner
Start: Fall 2013

My research addresses how fire regimes affect the long-term development of dryland ecosystems. I use airborne remote sensing and field biogeochemistry to investigate how dryland Hawaiian ecosystems vary over time in response to nutrient availability and disturbance from fire.

Robert Lamb

Advisor: Jon Witman
Start: Fall 2013

Through their ability to consume the very organisms that comprise the foundation of their ecosystems (such as algae, corals, and barnacles), consumers such as urchins and fishes play key roles in shaping marine communities. I am interested in the role that environmental stress gradients play in governing the relative dominance of different consumer guilds, and the plastic nature of food web interactions across multiple spatial scales. On the local scale, I am studying how wave turbulence interacts with consumer mobility to determine which herbivores are capable of foraging at a given location. On the global scale, I am studying patterns of herbivorous fish diversity and fish/urchin herbivore dominance in response to temperature, latitude, and evolutionary history.

Yinghong Lan

Advisor: Dan Weinreich
Start: Fall 2012

Catherine Luria

B.S. Iowa State University, 2005
M.S. Virginia Commonwealth University, 2010

I am interested in the forces that shape natural microbial communities and how these in turn impact ecosystem function. My current research focuses on the marine microbial communities of the Western Antarctic Peninsula, a region that undergoes extreme light-driven seasonal transitions. I plan to examine how these transitions, especially spring sea-ice melt and phytoplankton blooms, drive changes in bacterial diversity and activity.

Morgan Moeglein

Advisor: Erika Edwards
Start: Fall 2014

I am interested in the relationship between ecologically relevant traits and their underlying genetic basis. For my graduate work, I am studying the environmental and genetic factors governing leaf shape variation in the genus Viburnum.

Catriona Munro

Advisor: Casey Dunn
Start: Fall 2013

I am interested in the genetic changes that are associated with evolutionary shifts in
functional specialization. In particular, I am interested in differential gene expression and the evolution of functional specialization in siphonophores (a colonial hydrozoan), and in the molecular mechanisms that underlie their colony-level development.

Chelsea Nagy

Advisors: Stephen Porder and Chris Neill
Start: Fall 2010
B.Phil., Environmental Science, Miami University
M.S., Forestry, Auburn University

My research will focus on nutrient limitation and productivity in two areas of Brazil with very different land use histories: the Atlantic Forest and the Amazon. The former has a much longer history including multiple periods of use and abandonment, while the latter has experienced rapid, widespread change in the last several decades. I am particularly interested in the biogeochemical cycles of secondary forests and how these cycles have been influenced by the duration and intensity of past land use.

For my Master’s thesis, I examined the effects of urbanization on carbon storage in soils and vegetation near Apalachicola Florida using a combination of field sampling, GIS, and remote sensing. Other recent projects have explored how changes in forest cover in the southeast US alter stream water quality and hydrology.

Priyanka Nakka

Advisor: Sohini Ramachandran
Start: Fall 2013

I am broadly interested in understanding the genetic basis of predisposition to complex diseases, particularly cancer. I am currently working on characterizing the evolutionary history of SNP loci associated with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and on identifying genes underlying complex diseases using common genomic variants.

Kimberly Neil

Advisor: Kate Smith
Start: Fall 2013

I'm broadly interested in disease ecology, conservation medicine, and wildlife biology. For my dissertation research I am investigating parasite/pathogen dynamics of New England's threatened and invasive rabbits, the New England cottontail and the Eastern cottontail.

Joaquin Nunez

Advisor: David Rand
Start: Fall 2015

My main research goal is to understand how natural populations evolve and adapt in highly heterogeneous environments. I use tools from genomics and next-generation sequencing to address these questions on the system S. balanoides (The northern accord barnacle). S. balanoides is a robust system to address these questions: it has a well-studied ecology and a life cycle characterized by a swimming larval stage with high dispersal followed by the commitment to a sessile habitat in the intertidal. The resulting contrast of high gene flow and strong selection at the microhabitat level favors adaptation to environmental heterogeneity. Ultimately, my project seeks to expand our understanding of the genome-by-environment interactions involved in adaptations to highly heterogeneous environments.

Brooke Osborne

Advisor: Stephen Porder
Start: Fall 2013

Kara Pellowe-Wagstaff

Advisor: Heather Leslie
Start: Fall 2013

I am interested in how ecosystem dynamics, together with the behavior of humans who are part of these systems, affect the benefits provided by natural systems. I am interested in uncovering the biological and social mechanisms of resilience in the Mexican chocolate clam fishery, in order to better understand how the services provided by this system (e.g. food provision, sense of place, water clarity) can be sustained over time.

Apollonya Porcelli (Open Sc.M.)

Jeremy Rehm

Advisor: Sharon Swartz
Start: Fall 2014

My research interests fundamentally focus on maneuverability in bat flight. Questions of interest relate to how bats modulate flight behavior and maneuverability across different ecological contexts, and what anatomical features of the wing enable them to accomplish such modulations. These questions further raise interesting topics relating to animal performance with respect to its environment, ecology, and anatomy, and may have implications for how selective pressures enable organisms to perform “smartly” rather than “maximally."

Stephen Rong

Advisor: Sohini Ramachandran
Start: Fall 2014

I work on mathematical, statistical, and computational theory and models of evolutionary processes and population genetics. Currently, I am interested in developing methods to separate the effects of selection from demographic history on patterns of genetic variation. For example, both selective forces and demographic events shaped patterns of genetic variation in human populations as humans expanded out of Africa. I hope to apply my methods to humans and the organisms most affected by human activities and historical human movement.

Andrea Rummel

Advisor: Sharon Swartz
Start: Fall 2015

I am broadly interested in bat ecomorphology and functional morphology. I would like to understand the constraints that flight and flight-based ecologies impose on wing structure, function, and the behavior of bats.

Victor Schmidt

Advisors: Kate Smith and Linda Amaral-Zettler
Start: Fall 2011
B.S. Biology, 2006. St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY.
M.S. Marine Biology, 2009. University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

I study microbial ecology in the context of environment-microbe-host dynamics in fish. In addition to its inherent 'coolness', I am also interested in the practical applications of this research to the ornamental and food fish industries.

Julie Sheard

Advisor: Dov Sax
Start: Fall 2015

I am broadly interested in conservation and invasion biology, with specific regards to species adaptations to climate change. My Bachelor and Master theses took a practical and theoretical approach to managing invasive species and predicting invasive species distributions. At Brown, I have begun work exploring the factors that limit the geographic distributions of plants, using naturalized distributions as a novel source of insight on the importance of climate in setting range boundaries.

Carlos Silva

Advisor: Jim Kellner
Start: Fall 2013

David Sleboda

Advisor: Tom Roberts
Start: Fall 2013

I’m broadly interested in the relationship between form and function in biology.  Currently, I’m studying the arrangement of the intramuscular connective tissues present within skeletal muscles, and the effect of constraining skeletal muscle shape changes during contraction. My graduate work focuses heavily on simple physical and computer models of muscles. From these we draw hypotheses that can be tested on real, isolated bullfrog muscle preparations.

Adam Spierer

Advisor: David Rand
Start: Fall 2013

Kristin Stover

Advisor: Beth Brainerd
Start: Fall 2012

I am interested in the effects of domestication on locomotion and its implications for morphological changes, gait dynamics and muscle performance. Artificial selection has lead to faster growth in order to decrease time to market and large increases in muscle mass in some domestic species. I am using the turkey to examine the effects of this dramatic increase in mass by comparing wild and commercial strains.

Amy Teller (Open Sc.M.)

Morgan Turner

Advisor: Stephen Gatesy
Start: Fall 2015

My research lies at the intersection of paleontology, experimental biology, and visual design. I am largely interested in understanding functional trends in the evolution of posture and locomotion of archosaurs. By working with fossil specimens and living relatives, in conjunction with XROMM, CT scanning, and Maya computer animation, I will work towards exploring new
ways to quantify and visualize motion and evolutionary trends—bringing this lineage back to life. More research and art at my personal website: www.thebrokentusk.com