zebra stripe    

  Tyler Kartzinel  
  Tyler Kartzinel  
  Megan McSherry  
  Megan McSherry  
  Andrew S. Gersick  
  Andy Gersick  
  Jacqueline Kariithi  
  Kaia Tombak  
  Kaia Tombak  
  Qing Cao  
  Qing Cao  
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Princeton University

Link to 'Former Team Members'

Tyler Kartzinel, Postdoctoral Research Associate. My research focuses on how and why species interact in different ways at different times. I combine large-scale field experiments with molecular tools to uncover general evolutionary and ecological processes that are otherwise difficult to observe. Working with the Pringle and Rubenstein labs at Princeton, and with The Nature Conservancy, one of my goals is to understand how diverse assemblages of large herbivores—wild and domestic, endangered and abundant—can coexist in a world of limited resources. You can find more information at my website: http://www.princeton.edu/~tylerk/
Megan McSherry, Postdoctoral Research Associate
My research interests center around the conservation of coupled human-natural systems, with a focus on grasslands and the people and biodiversity they support. As a NatureNet Fellow, my postdoctoral research explores how different grazing management practices affect the storage or loss of carbon in grassland soils. While studies suggest that grazer effects on soil carbon are highly context-dependent, an interesting finding from my previous work showed that these effects are influenced, in part, by an interaction between the dominant grass type of the system and the level of grazing intensity imposed on it. Building off of this finding, I am comparing management strategies and grazer effects on soil carbon across two different grassland types, in northern Kenya and in the Patagonia region of Argentina, in order to hopefully provide initial evidence to determine the future potential for large scale carbon credit projects in these regions. Click here for my personal website.
Andrew S. Gersick, Postdoctoral Research Associate
I study the impacts of social and physical environments on the evolution of animal communication systems. In the Rubenstein Lab I will be investigating the role of multimodal signals in competitive and affiliative relationships among zebras and other equids. In my fieldwork with spotted hyenas (with Drs Dorothy Cheney, Kay Holekamp and Robert Seyfarth in the Masai Mara, Kenya), I found that long-distance “whoop” vocalizations help hyenas coordinate collective responses to threats from lions, despite a fission-fusion social system that disperses hyena clans over territories that can be up to 1000 km2. In aviary work with brown-headed cowbirds (with Dr. David White), I studied how males’ courtship strategies and courtship songs respond to changes in the social complexity of flocks and the intensity of male-male competition. Ultimately I’m interested in how the survival strategies, social structures and communication systems of different species (including humans) all shape one another over evolutionary time.

Jacqueline KariithiPostdoctoral Research Associate
I am an environmental scientist passionate about conservation, tourism and development issues. My research interests focus on developing strategies for reconciling livelihood patterns in protected area landscapes. The current postdoctoral research explores the linkages between cultural heritage, biodiversity conservation and their impact on livelihoods. I will be investigating the role of the connectivity of livelihoods and land use practices in relation the cultural and biophysical landscape. The study will consist of a detailed case study research on various stakeholder groups in the Mount Elgon in Western Kenya together with a comparative analysis of their land use activities such as agriculture, tourism and foraging culture. The Mount Elgon landscape serves as one of the five water towers in Kenya which faces several conflicting issues, anthropogenic pressures and ecological threats. As I investigate issues regarding integrating divergent livelihoods in a multi-functional landscape one of the key questions  to  emerge is how to sustainably manage the competing interests of communities with variable ethno-cultural compositions, different livelihood activities, limited access or ownership of natural resources. This research may help us to understand how we can sustainably manage landscapes in and around protected areas to achieve social, economic, and environmental objectives in areas where productive land uses compete with environmental and biodiversity goals.

Graduate Students
Kaia Tombak, Graduate student. Considering the escalating changes in climate, habitat, and ecological communities occurring at a global scale, behavioural plasticity is likely to be important for the long-term persistence of a species. Social species can adjust their group size and social structure to survive environmental changes such as fluctuating resource availability or predation risk. I study the extent of flexibility in social behaviour in a highly generalist and gregarious taxon: the equids. We know that a single equid species can endure an exceptionally wide array of environmental conditions because the ranges they occupy (or occupied until recently) are among the most extensive of all terrestrial herbivores. But how does an individual, group, or population adjust their social behaviour to cope with varying levels of rainfall, predation, competition, and human land use changes? I hope to tackle this question by studying two equids with fundamentally different social systems. My thesis work compares the flexibility in social structure across groups of Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) and plains zebra (Equus burchelli) in multiple sites where they coexist. This research may help us to understand how we can manage land in and around wildlife reserves to allow a diversity of species to survive in the long term. It will also help to elucidate why some species (like the Grévy’s zebra) are endangered, while others (like the plains zebra) are faring well. Finally, my work seeks to determine how the social behaviour of a species feeds back into the ecosystem by affecting its interactions with other species, shaping its ecological niche.
Qing Cao, Graduate student. I am interested in the animal behavioral ecology and community ecology in the savanna-steppe ecosystem. In particular, my current research focuses on the resource use and niche differentiation of two sympatric equids (horse-like species) in Asia, the released Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) and the indigenous Asiatic wild ass (E. hemionus). The niche differentiation driven by present competition is very rare and has been difficult to observe, especially in large mammals. Reintroducing once extinct species back to its original habitat may provide a good chance to examine how its realized niches form from the interspecific competition with another species with the similar resource requirements. My colleagues and I are working in Kalamaili Nature Reserve, using automatic camera traps and satellite telemetry in combine with observations to look at: 1) what are the fundamental and realized niches of the two equids, especially in food and water use, 2) how does the competition drive their resource use patterns, and 3) what kind of niche differentiations could allow the coexistence of the two species? For more information, please contact me at qcao 'at' princeton [dot] edu.

Visit Former Team Members page.

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   Updated: May 19th, 2015