March: Young Ha Suh

I am interested in why behavioral variation exists among individuals and how environmental change plays a role in its maintenance. My current research focuses on the variation of dispersal behavior in the Florida Scrub-Jay, a species that inhabits a dynamic habitat altered by frequent fires. Using field observations and modeling approaches, I am looking at the causes and consequences of different dispersal decisions in relation to the surrounding social and physical environment.

Outside my research, I am passionate about public outreach and education that promotes inclusion, and I have been involved through writing popular science articles and creating art. When I’m not running around in the field or staring at my computer, I enjoy drawing, hiking, knitting, and playing video games.

Recruitment Weekend

Last weekend, we welcomed 17 prospective grad students to our department! As always, our weekend was jam-packed with faculty interviews, dinners with faculty and grad students, tours, and awesome research and student life talks. Good luck to all the applicants, we hope to see you back in the Fall!


February: Erin Larson

I’m a 5th year PhD candidate in Alex Flecker’s lab. I combine observational and experimental approaches to study how communities respond to disturbance. My dissertation work has taken me to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and the Ecuadorian Andes, where I work with collaborators to understand how the functional and taxonomic composition of stream insect communities changes following extreme flooding and landslides. In some respects, my research is the ecological equivalent of being an ambulance-chaser, as I take advantage of natural disturbance events as opportunities to understand mechanisms driving community responses. In addition to my research, I am passionate about teaching and outreach and co-host a podcast called “Making Waves” for the Society for Freshwater Science.

When I’m not in the field, lab, classroom or office, you can most often find me out on the trails running, mountain biking, or cross-country skiing. I tweet at @ernlarson

January 2018: Natalie Hofmeister


I’m a third-year PhD candidate in Irby Lovette’s lab, and I use comparative and population genomic approaches to study bird evolution. Currently, I’m focusing on local adaptation across the global range of the European starling. I compare whole genomes of starling populations in their native range (Europe) with two concurrent introductions in North America and Australia. In North America alone, starlings spread from New York City to southern Alaska within only ten or so generations of starling evolution. Ultimately, I’m interested in how demographic and selective processes interact to shape evolutionary patterns.

When I’m not thinking about bird evolution, you can find me talking about community, practicing yoga, trying out a new craft and binging podcasts. I tweet at @nathofme.



EEB Symposium 2017

We hosted our 2017 GSA symposium this past week! Graduate students and faculty in the department presented on their most recent work to their peers in Corson Hall. A day and a half of 15-20 minute conference-style talks were followed by a workshop on Bayesian statistics (thank you, CSCU!), a poster session by undergraduates and visitors, and drinks and awards. Here’s just a taste of the research topics we covered: speciation, developmental genomics, parasitism, herbivory, ecosystem function, disease ecology, phylogeography, and coexistence theory. Thanks to everyone who attended, and congratulations to the award-winning talks! The Book Award went to first-years Kara Andres and Maria Akopyan, and the Whittaker Award went to Erin Larson and Henry Kunerth for their amazing presentations.

December Holiday Party

Graduate students, faculty, post-docs and family filled Corson Hall this past weekend for our annual holiday celebration. The Holiday Party committee (Kelsey Jensen, Kara Andres, Christoper Tarango, and Maria Akopyan) decked out Corson with lights and decorations, arranged our main courses, and organized a highly competitive science and pop culture trivia session. The committee also brought in our first-ever photo booth, which made for some excellent impromptu lab photos.

Graduate students cooked a range of delicious veggie and meat dishes, and baked incredible sweets for our annual dessert competition. After stuffing ourselves, we sat back and watched the cohort-bonding video made by the first years. This year, students raised the bar by creating TWO videos. The first was titled “The Grinch Who Stole SNEEB,” documenting the efforts of a grumpy new student to thwart our beloved weekly social hour. The second was an impressive animation that described research in “Eco Evo” in a somewhat-well-timed recording of the first years singing to the tune of Despacito.

Thanks to everyone who made this another great Holiday Party!

December: Lily Twining

I study how the nutritional content of food resources can create the potential for mismatches between what’s available and what animals require based on their physiological needs. In my thesis, I’ve studied insectivorous riparian bird requirements for highly unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids and how freshwater insect subsidies can provide them with these ecologically essential resources. In the future I plan to continue studying how local resource composition, trophic ecology, phylogeny, and life history influence animal nutritional requirements, including their susceptibility to phenological nutritional mismatch.

I’m also passionate about educational outreach and teaching, mentoring undergraduates and early grad students, and making academia more inclusive for all.

My husband, Ryan Shipley, is also a 6th year PhD candidate in EEB.  It was a match made in the 2012 EEB core course!

November: Collin Edwards

I’m a sixth year PhD candidate in the Ellner lab, studying plant-insect interactions and phenology. My approach to research is to develop theoretical models that are closely tied to empirical systems to answer questions that both fascinate me and are important to furthering our understanding of ecology and evolutionary biology. Where it’s most efficient to work with existing data, I do so; otherwise I carry out targeted experiments to inform, parameterize, or test my models.

My dissertation focuses on answering two questions:

(1) Why do plants invest in multiple defense traits, and why are the combinations of traits non-random? Unlike most animals, plants are unable to escape from predators by moving – instead they have a number of defense traits, from thorns and hairs to deadly toxins. Most plant species have several defense traits at once, and previous work has shown that plants tend to fall into several separate combinations of defense traits called “Defense Syndromes”. For example, most milkweed species have high levels of toxins or high levels of latex and defensive hairs, but not both. I’ve been carrying out experiments with monarch butterflies and swamp milkweed beetles to understand why milkweed plants invest in multiple defense traits, and why different species fall into specific defense syndromes. I’m also constructing a mechanistic mathematical model to generalize my understanding to other plant taxa.

(2) How can strategies for using environmental cues evolve in different climates, and how does that evolution influence how species respond to climate change? This work focuses on phenology – specifically, on how plants and animals use environmental cues like temperature, moisture, and photoperiod to decide when to germinate or hatch in the spring. Come out too early, and they might freeze from a late frost. Come out too late, and they’ve missed the peak growing season. In collaboration with Louie Yang at UC Davis, I’ve developed a simulation model that uses real climate data to understand how strategies of cue use might vary across North America.

When I’m not working on my research projects, I teach middle school students about plants, insects, soils, and ecology (last year students constructed their own flowering plants to match specific herbivores and pollinators – the results were awesome!). I’m also dedicated to helping graduate and undergraduate students develop their quantitative skills, and have helped teach classes and workshops on various math and programming tools. I tweet about science (mostly) at @edwards_evoeco, and write about science, math, and and science tools on my website,

In my spare time, I’m an avid martial artist and an unabashed nerd (books, board games, video games, random programming projects). In a past life (before grad school) I taught classes in traditional blacksmithing, and I’m hoping to find time for that again soon.


October: Jacob Berv

Broadly, I am interested in the interface between micro and macroevolution, and how microevolutionary processes generate macroevolutionary patterns. I don’t believe micro and macroevolution are different phenomena. Rather, I believe that they are different manifestations of the same underlying process. As such, I am interested in whether or not there are ‘universal laws’ that govern connect and govern evolutionary processes at multiple scales, through time and space. Some of the questions that guide my research include: How do the actions of individual organisms and/or the characters of species propagate through evolutionary scales to generate phylogenetic patterns? Likewise, how might phylogeny constrain evolutionary potential? What are the roles of evolutionary contingency and convergence in generating patterns of biodiversity?

One of the manifestations of this set of questions is a pronounced heterogeneity in the rate of evolution across the tree of life. Rather than proceeding in a clock-like manner, the dominating signal of evolution at deep phylogenetic scales seems to be one of spurts of change interspersed with periods of (relative) stasis. Such patterns are captured both in phenotypes (in the fossil record), and in the genomes of living taxa. In birds, I recently documented  that heterogeneity in rate of molecular evolution across birds may be particularly extreme; the fastest evolving bird lineages (at least in terms of DNA sequences) seem to be evolving almost twenty times faster than lineages evolving at the slowest rates. It turns out that the rate of molecular evolution in birds is highly correlated to life history evolution.

In addition to my research, I’m very interested in how best to teach macroevolutionary thinking. While at Cornell, I’ve designed and taught my own curriculum in three macroevolution-focused ‘writing in the majors’ seminars. Over the last few years, I’ve also given a number of public outreach lectures to try to directly connect with non-academics and to explain where some of their tax dollars are going. Working with the Laboratory of Ornithology also empowers me to communicate the results of my work to the public through various media outlets. I recently had an opportunity to consult on the reboot of ’The Magic School Bus,’ which is now on Netflix. Going forward I am excited about the possibility of contributing to other educational programs as well.

In the time I’m not thinking about evolution, I can often be find on various social media platforms (@jakeberv), or consuming all kinds of movies, TV, art and music. I also used to be pretty into photography and am now rediscovering it as a creative outlet—hopefully will get back into sharing stuff on the web soon.



September: Lina M. Arcila Hernandez

I am a PhD student in the Agrawal lab studying local adaptation in insect-plant interactions. As a biologist, I enjoy looking for patterns in nature! I am obsessed with the variation of behavioral patterns that I find among populations of insects and how that relates to geographic gradients and the relationship with their host plants. Currently I am working on understanding whether behavioral traits in specialized insects are locally adapted and the consequences for population divergence in coevolved systems.

Milkweeds and the community of insects they support are a great system to work on the topic of local adaptation because the plants and insects have adapted to each other: milkweed plants produce latex and cardenolides, secondary metabolites that are really toxic, and the specialized insects that feed on them have physiological and behavioral traits to counteract these toxins. If a milkweed population becomes more or less toxic, it might determine what type of insects can survive on that population.

I spend my summers looking for milkweed patches, hunting for milkweed stem weevils in the Northeast and Midatlantic regions, and performing behavioral assays in the greenhouse or in common gardens in the field. I am also starting to use landscape genetic tools to understand the demography and evolutionary history of these weevils, so ask me a bit more about that in a few months.

To learn more about the distribution of milkweed stem weevils, I started a citizen science project that you can get involved with! Check it out here:

When I am not working on my research projects, I work on increasing and maintaining diversity in the sciences, learn and hopefully apply different teaching methodologies to improve STEM education. In my free time, I do all the things that Stepfanie does in her free time. Except for the dog part because I have a cute cat instead. Stepfanie we should talk more!  I guess I also spend a big part of my days reading news about Colombia, Canada, and the USA, and daydreaming about bats and rafting.