Current Lab Members
Péter Molnár – Postdoctoral Research Associate
Péter is interested in the ecological impacts of climate change and other anthropogenic influences, such as habitat loss and habitat restoration. He studies diverse aspects of this topic, from climate change impacts on the structure of arctic host-parasite systems to the impacts of a melting sea ice habitat on polar bear populations. Outside of the Arctic, Péter works with Dr. Claire Standley to study how habitat fragmentation and conservation corridors affect parasite and pathogen transmission in tropical ecosystems, for instance, between domestic dogs and cats, feline mesopredators such as ocelot and margay, and apex predators such as jaguar and puma. Péter’s research blends ecological insight and field data collection with statistical analyses and mathematical modeling to identify and quantify the biological mechanisms by which environmental change affects ecosystems. Common to all of his projects is a focus on conservation biology and an emphasis on applying quantitative models and empirical findings to aid conservation managers in proactive conservation planning.
Yael Artzy-Randrup – Postdoctoral Research Associate
Yael is a theoretical ecologist broadly interested in questions ranging from population dynamics to evolutionary theory. Her work focuses on multi-scale systems, including studies on infectious diseases, theories of speciation, dynamics of structured populations and metapopulation dynamics. Currently she is particularly interested in questions lying at the interface of ecology and evolution, and she has been studying the relationship between parasite genomics and epidemiological dynamics, with special focus on antigenic structuring and parasite diversity of Plasmodium falciparum. The approaches she takes in her work incorporate tools from network theory, nonlinear dynamics and complex systems.
Paul Williams – Postdoctoral Research Associate
Paul is a theoretician interested in evolutionary medicine. His work focuses primarily on modeling the evolution of virulence in microparasites, the epidemiological and evolutionary effects of disease intervention strategies, and the evolution of aging. A main goal of his research is to understand how phenotypic variation among hosts influences the dynamics and evolution of infectious diseases. Presently he is working on integrating theory and data in order to gain a more complete understanding of the factors (e.g. host immunity, virulence-transmission tradeoff) underlying virulence evolution in ecologically realistic host-pathogen systems. Ultimately, the goal of this work is to provide policy makers with new conceptual tools in the pursuit of enduring solutions to the problem of treatment-driven pathogen evolution.
Anieke van Leeuwen – Postdoctoral Research Associate
As theoretical ecologist, Anieke is fascinated by the complexity of ecosystems and community dynamics. The question of what processes structure ecosystems, is at the core of her research. Anieke studies how accounting for population structure and for differences between individual characteristics affects ecosystem processes. The effect of human interference with ecosystems is another part of her research interests. Human interference with ecological processes often shapes a dominant interaction in communities be it the impact of fisheries on top-predator species or the large-scale deforestations in agricultural areas. Such interference has direct as well as indirect effects, often visible at many different trophic levels. Anieke’s research focuses on the causes of population collapses, lack of species recoveries, and regime shifts. For this focus a mechanistic approach is used, to understand the processes underlying observed patterns, and leading to explanations of emerging population and community dynamics. Anieke makes use of physiologically structured population models and stage-structured biomass models, and both numerical and analytical techniques for analysis.
Nitin Sekar – 5th year graduate student
Nitin Sekar is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate interested in the functional ecology of endangered species, the relationship between ecosystem services and poverty, and policy related to wildlife conservation and equitable development in the Global South. The aim of his dissertation is to shed light on whether Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are ecologically unique or redundant as seed dispersers in a disturbed, forested landscape typical of much of India. To understand this, Nitin is collecting data to identify the main alternative dispersers to elephants and to quantitatively compare the contributions of each of these animal species to the dispersal of seeds of three mammal-dispersed fruiting species in Buxa Tiger Reserve, India.
Additionally, Nitin is pursuing a certificate in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP) with the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Woodrow Wilson School. His policy work will look at whether the Indian government's voluntary village relocation scheme is likely to achieve its stated ecological and equitable development objectives, as well as whether voluntary village relocation is a cost-effective intervention. Nitin's work is made possible by a collaboration with Dr. R. Sukumar of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and by support from Dr. Henry Horn, Dr. David Wilcove, Dr. Dan Rubenstein, and Dr. Atul Kohli. His work is funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the World Wildlife Fund Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS) Program, and the Princeton Environmental Institute STEP Program.
Sebastián Muñoz - 4th year graduate student
Sebastián Muñoz is searching for ecological patterns in parasite communities among a wide range of host species and environments. A native of Chile, with a professional degree in Marine Biology, Sebastián uses diverse techniques to find and understand the rules governing species coexistance within these communities. He was first introduced to parasitology working in marine environments, studying the ecology of fish and mollusk parasites.
At Princeton, he is expanding his research by looking at the influence of species distribution and their interspecific interactions on the structure of the parasite community. Thanks to a summer research grant from his Department at Princeton University and the travel allowance from his Fulbright International Science and Technology Award, he studied the macroparasites of the Tasmanian Devil, an endangered species with very limited parasitological information. This work estimated for the first time the exact abundance of parasites per host, and revealed what appears to be a new nematode species. As the Tasmanian Devil faces extinction due to a novel and contagious form of cancer, documenting their parasite communities could help researchers to better understand their defenses against infection, with important consequences for their conservation. In collaboration with a former Princeton student they carried out a study on how macroparasites may reduce inflammatory immune responses in songbirds. In the long term, his goal is to help to understand the underlying phenomena that drive the observed patterns in these communities.
Jennifer Peterson - 4th year graduate student
Jenni is interested in ecological aspects of global health issues, especially neglected tropical diseases. Her thesis research centers on Chagas disease and its vector, the triatomine bug. She is investigating both theoretically and experimentally if trypanosome coinfection can regulate populations of triatomines to the point where Chagas disease transmission is altered. She does her experimental research in Medellin, Colombia and theoretical work in Princeton.
Christina Faust – 3rd year graduate student
With a broad interest in understanding the nexus of human, wildlife and ecosystem health, Christina is using her dissertation to skim the surface of the complex interactions pathogens have with their environments and hosts. She is interested in short-term conservation implications and long-term evolutionary implications of cross-species transmission events associated with land use change. For her dissertation project, Christina is collaborating with some delightful individuals from the Eijkman Institute of Molecular Biology in Jakarta, Indonesia. Through this collaboration, they are examining how heterogeneous landscapes across Indonesia shape vector-borne disease transmission, with a focus on mechanisms for promoting cross-species transmission events. This research has also inspired a broader interest in the theoretical underpinnings of vector-borne disease transmission, which she plans investigate through the lens of various land use change regimes.
Cara Brook- 1st year graduate student
Cara has worked on a variety of past projects exploring the interface of human and wildlife ecosystems, including the influence of human food availability on raven expansion in Yosemite National Park and the impact of human land use on rodent-borne disease risk in central Kenya. She has also interned with World Wildlife Fund as a sustainable development worker in southeastern Madagascar and explored predator-prey interactions between gray wolves and white-tailed deer for the USGS in northern Minnesota. At Princeton, Cara plans to investigate the role of pathogens in the assembly of ecological communities and, in turn, the role that biodiverse communities play in amplifying or diluting the transmission of diseases in various systems. She plans to return to Madagascar to explore these questions.
Tim Treuer- 1st year graduate student
While Tim is broadly interested in the intersection of global change, biodiversity and disease, his research looks to better resolve how land-use change and subsequent biodiversity loss alter mosquito ecology and ultimately the transmission of infectious disease in Southeast Asia. He hopes that by better understanding the mechanistic links between environment and disease burden, communities across the tropics can make more informed land-use decisions to the betterment of human and environmental health.