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

David spent his first year in the Swartz Lab absorbing wisdom from his lab-mates and mentors, exploring motion of the wing skeleton using XROMM, and traveling to Belize to uncover variations in landing strategies between local bat species. His current and future work seeks to better understand robust flight in bats through analyzing how they recover from aerial stumbles and navigate complex, unsteady flows.

Kimberly Cohen

Ariel Camp

B.S. Hofstra University 2009

My current research focuses on how fish power suction feeding, the dominant feeding mode among the over 25,000 species of ray-finned fish. Suction feeding relies on explosive expansion of the mouth cavity to accelerate water and prey into the mouth. The power required for this expansion may be produced largely by axial body muscles. To measure axial muscle strain and skeletal kinematics during suction feeding, I am using XROMM (X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology) of feeding in Largemouth Bass. These data will allow me to investigate how this diverse group of vertebrates uses skeletal kinematics and muscular power to expand the mouth during suction feeding.

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:

Jorn Cheney

Advisor: Sharon Swartz
Start: Fall 2008
B.A., Lewis & Clark College (Portland, OR), 2007

Jorn's work involves the functional morphology of the wing membrane of bats, which contains both passive structural elements as well as active muscular elements. He is interested in modeling the behavior of these elements on the mechanical properties of the wing membrane in an effort to better understand how they shape the wing in flight.

Sarah Corman Crosby

Advisors: Heather Leslie and Linda Deegan
Start: Fall 2009
B.A., Biology, Tufts University, 2006 M.S.
Biological Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, 2009

(Thesis title: "Salt Marsh Mosquito Ditches on Fire Island, NY: Sedimentation Rate, Nekton Community and Implications for Restoration")

I am interested in how salt marshes will respond to global climate change. My dissertation research is focused on growth and phenology in Spartina alterniflora in marshes along a the east coast from Massachusetts to South Carolina.

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.

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

Rebecca Helm

Advisor: Casey Dunn
Start: Summer 2009

In both developmental biology and evolutionary theory scientists aim to understand how life changes through time. I am interested in understanding the dynamic between evolution and development. How is development shaped by evolution and vice versa? How tightly linked are specific developmental processes with phenotypic outcomes? How do developmental and evolutionary transitions occur? To this end, I am focusing on a group of organisms called cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, siphonophores, Hydra). This group represents an excellent opportunity to address these questions due to its incredible developmental and phenotypic diversity. I use molecular and embryological techniques to explore developmental dynamics and evolution within this fascinating lineage.

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.

Robert Kambic

Advisor: Stephen Gatesy
Start: Fall 2008
B.S., Biology, University of Maryland, College Park 2003
M.S., Earth Sciences, Montana State University 2008

I am generally interested in the biomechanics and evolutionary history of terrestrial locomotion in vertebrates. I concentrate particularly on theropod dinosaur and avian locomotion. Currently I am working on a project involving kinematics and kinetics of guineafowl locomotion as well as a series of projects investigating joint construction and diversity within birds and theropods. My previous work was in morphometrics and multivariate methods for correlating locomotor habits and foot morphology.

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.

Phil Lai (Fifth-Year Sc.M.)

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

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 hope to study the environmental and genetic factors governing leaf shape in the genus Viburnum.

Catriona Munro

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

Brooke Osborne

Kara Pellowe

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

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.

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.

David Sleboda

Advisor: Tom Roberts
Start: Fall 2013

My primary interest in biology is the relationship of structure and function, whether at the cell, organ, or organismal level. My current work explores emergent properties in skeletal muscles that arise from the interaction of muscle fibers with intra- and extramuscular connective tissues.   

Adam Spierer

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.)