Meet the UnO Scholars!


Spring 2012

Fall 2007
Fall 2010
Fall 2008
Spring 2011
Fall 2009
Fall 2011

Alyssa Begay
Personal Web Page: Coming Soon!

Project Title: Relationship of gordiids from an international biodiversity hotspot, the Madrean Pine-Oak Woodland Sky Islands.

Project Description: Ben and I hare working on nematamorphs, so far i have been able to work in the lab and in the field. Currently we are conccentrating on identifying the different worms collected. We have yet to begin the paper, but currently we are obtaining data for the paper. We are also working on a publication, I will be contributing information and data gathered since I began working with my mentor. We are looking into species found at the Santa Fe Ski Area, and focusing on the behaviors of the worms. Right now, our priority is to finish this project before further collections and projects.

Awards: Nominated to apply for the Udall Scholarship

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Fall 2013

Interests in biology or career choice: I will be studying the horse hairworm, I have not yet decided what my focus of the study will be. My interests in biology are broad, but parasites have always been intriguing. Although the focus of the program is Biology the career I wish to pursue is in Medicine as an Emergency Room Doctor. In addition to becoming an ER Doctor I hope to incorporate my Native language and herbal remedies in my practice in attempt to conserve the Navajo culture. As far apart as the two may be parasites and trauma have caught my undivided attention and will continue to be until I have extensive knowledge of both.

Mentor: Dr. Ben Hanelt

Lab: Dr. Ben Hanelt

Andrea Jackson

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: The Effects of Large Migratory Herbivores on Annual Net Primary Productivity and Nutrient Availability Along Botswana’s Chobe-Linyanti-Zambezi Wetland

Project Description: Coming Soon!

Awards: New Mexico Lottery Scholarship, SIMES certificate, and African American Undergraduate Success Certificate

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Spring 2012

Interests in biology or career choice: When it comes to biology, I find marine biology and animal conservation to be very interesting. I've always wanted to help out with endangered species or animals that have been affected by spontaneous changes in their environments. Upon graduation, I would like to attend graduate school near the east coast to pursue a Master's degree in marine biology. While attending graduate school, my goal is to work alongside other graduates partaking in research and conservation projects involving aquatic life, such as dolphins, porpoises, whales, and everything in between.

Mentor: Kina Murphy

Lab: Dr. Scott Collins

Donavan Jackson

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: Ground squirrel phylogenetics

Project Description: Coming Soon!

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Spring 2013

Interests in biology or career choiceStudying biology and enjoying it as much as I do today a passion I acquired relatively recently.  In college I truly began to enjoy and love learning about why and how organisms function as they do taking a particular interest in the ecology aspect of science.  Looking at nature at having and having sense of why organisms in a given area interact and cooperate as they do has certainly helped to deepen my appreciation of life.

Mentor:   Bryan McLean

Lab: Dr. Joe Cook

Randle McCain

Personal Web Page: Coming Soon!

Project Title: Parasitology

Previous Project: Building an archival observatory for a federally endangered species, the Mexican Grey Wolf
The Mexican grey wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) has suffered marked declines over the last century largely due to human persecution and eradication efforts. Few representatives of these organisms were historically archived in museums. Consequently, much of the critical information regarding natural history, taxonomic affinities, and fundamental biology were poorly recorded and preserved. I am working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to process all materials associated with reintroduction efforts, curate available archival materials, and summarize the research involving these specimen over the past century. Further, I am developing examples of how appropriately archived material would facilitate management goals. Natural history records provide essential baseline information for understanding spatial and temporal changes in the biology of endangered and non-endangered organisms as exemplified by Mexican grey wolves.

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Fall 2012

Interests in biology or career choice:  My current focus is in mammalogy, moreover studies of the Mexican grey wolf, its evolutionary history and the current conservation problems facing the species.   I am researching the archive of specimens of this species in natural history museums, and how that may contribute to conservation efforts.  Although I enjoy research, I am looking in to going into education for graduate school. I would like to be a biology teacher and ultimately I would like to teach mammalogy.

Mentor:   Sara Brant

Lab:  Dr. ES Loker

Angelica Swanson

Personal Web Page: Coming Soon!

Project Title: Molecular evolution of freeze tolerance in amphibians

Project Description: Coming Soon!

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Spring 2013

Interests in biology or career choice: For me, biology is an exciting exploration of the unknown. I love the fact that any student of biology has the potential to discover something new about our vast planet, or beyond, and I plan to be one of those students, one day. I'm interested in the system, how the pieces fit together, either in an organism or in an ecological system.

Mentor: Jolene Rearick

Lab: Dr. Joe Cook

UnO Alumni:  

David Banks-Richardson

Project Title: Historical Changes in Diatom and Ostracod Community Composition in Bitter Lake, New Mexico Related to Changes in Hydrological Management.

Graduate from UNM: Summer 2010

Interests in biology or career choice: I am interested in studying the interactions between different species within the ecosystems they inhabit. I hope to better understand these interactions. I hope to study the pathways that nutrients use to move through Polar or Marine ecosystems. Ultimately I plan to use the information that I gain from these studies to help conserve these ecosystems.

Lab:  Dr. Becky Bixby

Hiyatsi Bassett

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: Phylogeography of North Pacific Coastal Ermine (Mustela erminea).

Project Description: Mustela erminea (ermine) is a key mammalian predator of the North Pacific Coastal Biome that includes the largest remaining temperate rainforest worldwide. Fossils and preliminary DNA studies indicate that refugial populations of ermine existed north and south of Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets in North America during the Wisconsin glaciation, but ermine also apparently persisted and diverged in a hypothesized unglaciated refuge along the North Pacific Coast. This coastal region shows a high degree of regional endemism for mammals. We are more intensively investigating the validity and spatial extent of these clades and their zones of contact with geographically extensive samples of ermine from throughout the North Pacific Coast. Using approximately 800 basepairs of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, we will refine their distribution. To date, we found that three clades likely represent new species with a complex history of colonization of the North Pacific Coast.

Graduate from UNM: Fall 2011

Interests in biology or career choice: I am interested in studying mammals and I would like to study this
aspect of Biology further with the goal of conducting research within this field. Currently, I do not have a specific research project in place, but I know any project where I am allowed to work with mammals will be rewarding and exciting. I hope to discover the project I will be working on soon and look
forward to working with my mentor.

Mentor: Chris Himes

Lab: Dr. Joe Cook

Raphaelita Bishara

Project Title: Comparison of community structure in a controlled mesocosm experiment and natural freshwater systems in the middle Rio Grande, New Mexico

Graduate from UNM: Spring 2010

Interests in biology or career choice: I am interested in all aspects of biology, it is hard to make a decision but I have become very interested in aquatic ecology and the effects of drying periods on freshwater species that live in rivers and streams such as the Rio Grande. I hope to research this further and to later go to grad school

Mentor:   Dr. Ayesha Burdett

Lab:  Dr. Tom Turner

Natalie Blea

Project Title: A new species of Anolis similar to Anolis polylepis from a region of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica

Graduate from UNM: Spring 2010

Interests in biology or career choice: I am interested in herpetology and the ecology and evolution of species, currently working with the genus Anolis. This well studied group has proven to be very important in studies of sexual selection, ecomorphology, niche partitioning and adaptive radiation all of which are areas which interest me. I envision myself continuing my research and using my knowledge of such aspects of biology to aid in conservation of species diversity. I will be going on to graduate school next fall and am excited to see what type of research my future will hold.

What are they doing now: I work at the Albuquerque Aquarium and Biological Park as a full time aquarist and diver.

Mentor: Mason Ryan

Lab:  Dr. Steven Poe

Nicole Caimi

Personal Web Page:

Project TitleLooking in Cold Dark Places for Geomyces Destructans: The Fungus associated with White Nose Syndrome in Bats

Project Description: For this project we are looking at caves in New Mexico for the fungus G. destructans. White Nose Syndrome has been the culprit for over a million bat deaths in the eastern part of the United States, so we would like to see if it is present here in New Mexico. We are taking soil and culture samples, and we are also taking swab samples from the bats themselves. Then we are doing DNA extractions and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to establish whether G. destructans is present.

Graduate from UNM: Fall 2011.

Interests in biology or career choice: I am interested in all different aspects of Biology, but I am most interested in genetics and cell biology. I find both of those topics extremely interesting and have always enjoyed studying them. My future career choices at the moment would either be going to graduate school for research in genetics or medical research.

Mentor: Dr. Diana Northup

Lab:  Dr. Diana Northup

Carmela Carrasco

Project Title: Diversity of Potential Nitrogen-fixing Microbes Associated with Three Marine Reef Invertebrates (Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef)

Graduate from UNM: Spring 2010

Interests in biology or career choice: I enjoy almost all facets of biology, but am especially interested in paleoenvironmental effects on evolution and their anthropological connections; ultimately I hope to be involved in research on this topic.

What are they doing now: I entered Medical School at the University of New Mexico in Fall 2011.

Mentor: Dr. Ursula Shepherd

Lab:  Dr. Ursula Shepherd

Kate Cauthen

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: In-group versus out-group directed altruism as a function of Perceived Vulnerability to Disease

Project Description: I will be conducting a study to investigate the potential relationship between perceived vulnerability to disease and the allocation of altruism. Previous research has shown that true parasite load and perceived parasite load predict attitudes about and behaviors involving in group and out group members. Individuals under increased, perceived or real, parasite stress tend to avoid out group members who potentially carry pathogens to which they are not immune, and they tend to associate with in group members who are more likely to carry similar pathogens. It is our prediction that parasite stress will also affect the patterns with which individuals allocate altruism.

Awards: Regent's Scholar

Graduate from UNM: Spring 2011

Interests in biology or career choice: Kate is interested in the evolution of human behavior and hopes to pursue a PhD in an interdisciplinary studies program that incorporates the insights of the social sciences from a biological perspective. She is particularly interested in researching the evolution of human values systems and religiosity as evolved adaptation. Her ultimate goal is to conduct research in an academic setting and to teach at the university level.

Mentor:  Dr. Corey Fincher

Lab: Dr. Randy Thornhill

April Chavez

Personal Web Page:

Project Title:   Taming of the Dusky Shrew: An Attempt to Structure a Cryptic Species

Project Description: Every species, no matter how “charismatically challenged” has a story to tell. For those who study the Dusky Shrew, Sorex monticolus, it is known that its taxonomic classification is unclear, insufficient, and may contain hidden species’. My project will attempt to confirm that Sorex monticolus, does indeed contain cryptic species.

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Fall 2013

Interests in biology or career choice: My interests in Biology are conservation education, biodiversity, marine bio, and animal behavior.

Mentor:  Yadéeh E. Sawyer

Lab: Dr. Joe Cook

Jobette "Joey" Chour

Personal Web Page:

Project Title:  Ectoparasitic arthropods on NM lizards with a concentration on Sceloporous spp.

Project Description: I am in the beginning stages of planning out a project for an ectoparasitic study. I am considering the comparison of amounts and species of ectoparasites found on lizards in urban areas vs rural ones. I will also include changes, if any are found, throughout varying seasonal changes.

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Fall 2012

Interests in biology or career choice: My career choice has been in herpetology with hopes of making a difference in the conservation of vanishing species. I am currently working with Cophosaurus texanus and Sceloporus poinsetti and their distribution ranges within NM. I hope to participate in the reintroduction of Bufo boreas to the northern part of the state later on this year. My goal is to attend graduate school in the future.

Mentor:  Dr. Tom Giermakowski

Lab: Dr. Howard Snell

Nathan Cournoyer

Personal Web Page: Coming Soon!

Project Title: Seasonality of Infectious Diseases in the Pre-vaccine United States

Project Description:  Every year, millions of influenza inoculations are given in the United States in preparation for the upcoming flu season.  This flu season is the time of year when people appear to be more susceptible to infection by the influenza virus.  We have been able to observe this phenomena but the mechanisms behind it remain unclear.  I will be developing mechanistic and statistical models of intra- and inter-city disease dynamics based on case reports of infectious diseases such as influenza in pre-vaccine era United States cities.  Through these means I hope to be able to better explain seasonal patterns of infectivity.

Expected date to graduate from UNM: Spring 2013

Interests in biology or career choice: I am currently interested primarily in toxicology, specifically toxins created by infectious organisms within a host.  I find it fascinating that organisms that require the use of powerful microscopes in order to be seen can have such enormous effects.

Mentor: Christian Gunning

Lab:  Dr. Helen Wearing

David Garcia

Project Title: Determining reproductive allocation of Scleoperous ungulatus

Graduated from UNM: Spring 2009

Interests in biology or career choice: I began studying Biology with the intention of getting into medical school and working in the health fields, with a main focus on ophthalmology. However, I've been more interested in animal research - primarily behavioral studies dealing with consciousness in Corvids. I would like to work my way into further research of that field.

Mentor: Robin Warne

Lab:  Dr. Blair Wolf

Matt Garcia

Personal Web Page: Coming Soon!

Project Title: Discovering New Diversity and Species Diversity Controls in Lava Tube Microbial Mats in New Mexico, Hawaii, and the Azores.

Project Description: My study includes work completed here in New Mexico and on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The focus of this project is to look at what constraints controls the diversity of the colorful microbial mats that resided within lava tubes at my two locations. The factors being looked at include geological influence (i.e. abundance of particular elements found in the rock) and abiotic factors (i.e temperature, precipatation, etc…). 

Awards: Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LS AMP) Undergraduate Research Award

Expected date to graduate from UNM: Spring 2012

Interests in biology or career choice: Matthew G. Garcia, a junior majoring in Biology at UNM, is pursuing research into the microbial diversity of lava tubes on the island of Hawai’i.  Matt has sampled lava tubes of different ages that are located in different volcanic flows and that are located under different surface vegetation and precipitation regimes in order to shed light on what controls diversity in colorful microbial mats that coat the walls of many lava tubes worldwide.  He’ll be presenting his results at the International Congress of Speleology, which will be held in Texas in July 2009. Although born in Albuquerque, Matt spent his early years in a small (600 people) NM town, Seboyeta, before moving to Grants, NM. His high school biology teacher, Mr. Alexander, and his participation in a Science Fair project shaped his interest in science, and biology in particular.  He’s particularly interested in discovering new information about living things. Through UnO he’s pursuing learning to write grant proposals and papers and to give oral and poster presentations.  He most appreciates responsiveness, reliability, and forgiveness in a mentor.  In the lab, Matt has been mentoring a high school student from Sandia Preparatory School. Matt plans to go to graduate school to continue studying life in caves, or possibly to pursue biomedical research. 

Mentor: Dr. Diana Northup

Lab:  Dr. Diana Northup

photo by: Kenneth Ingham

Ali Ghadimi

Personal Web Page:

Project TitleInvestigation of the presence of the Geomyces destructans fungus in bat habitats in El Malpais National Monument.

Project Description: We have completed our field work and are in the intermediate stages of lab work. We are in the process of extracting all of our soil samples and cultures and have successfully replicated the G. destructans positive control.

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM:  Spring 2013

Interests in biology or career choice: I am interested mainly in microbiology and currently am studying the G. Destructans fungus, which is the cause of the disease White Nose Syndrome in bats. We are looking several caves in the El Malpais area in western New Mexico for any sign of this emerging disease. Additionally, I am working on the Scanning Electron Microscope in the hopes to discover microbial communities hidden in mineral deposits; a project that has astrobiological uses.

Mentor:   Dr. Mike Spilde

Lab:  Dr. Diana Northup

Attribution:  Kenneth Ingham

Nick Homziak

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: Revision of the genus Heteranasssa Smith, (Erebidae; Catocalinae)

Project Description: I intend to clarify the relationships between the moths in the genus Heteranassa, as well as provide a summary the known natural history of the group.

Awards: UNM Nominee for Goldwater Scholarship, 2010-11, UNM National Scholars Scholarship, UNM Amigo Scholarship

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Spring 2013

Interests in biology or career choice: I am interested in conservation biology and the use of taxonomic knowledge of Lepidoptera to better protect and manage biodiversity After graduation I intend to continue in graduate school to strengthen my research experience and gain a more specialized and targeted education in taxonomy and conservation. This will prepare me for a career in research and management of protected areas at the landscape

Mentor: Heidi Hopkins

Lab: Dr. Kelly Miller

Joanna Johnson

Project Title: Intergradation and skull morphology of Martes americana and M. caurina

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Spring 2013

Interests in biology or career choice: I have been going back and forth with what interests me in terms of biology. I would like to deal with evolution with mammals in general, but I am still trying to decide. Since I am still trying to figure out what I would like to major, I have been considering mathematical biology and will continue to think about what else interests me.

Mentor: Sylvia Brunner

Lab:  Dr. Joe Cook

Monica Kimbrough (Prev. Lucero)

Project Title: Diversity and Prevalence of Avian Malaria in Peru

Graduated from UNM: Spring 2009

What are they doing now: I am a Natural Resource Planner for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I lead teams in the development of Comprehensive Conservation Plans for National Wildlife Regues.

Mentor:  Michael Lelevier

Lab: Dr. Chris Witt

Jessica Martin

Project Title:   You are what you eat: the key role of mesquite in promoting survival in extreme environment.

Graduate from UNM: Spring 2010

Interests in biology or career choice: Jessica's reseach includes an interesting project in Death Valley, California. Her research, titled “You are what you eat: the key role of mesquite in promoting survival in extreme environment,” examines the relationship between desert woodrats, Neotoma lepida, living in the valley floor and their absolute dependence on one resource, mesquite, for survival. Jessica has been teasing this plant-animal interaction apart over the past few years to see how the mesquite affords not only food resources, but also the physical protection it provides through spinescence to the woodrats, and she is interested in expanding her research to examine plant toxins present in the mesquite and how the rats might be combating their effects.

What are they doing now: I am working in Dr. Smith's lab at the University of New Mexico as a lab assistant.

Mentor:  Dr. Larisa Harding

Lab:  Dr. Felisa Smith

Diego Matek

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: A Survey of Hoplopleura arbicola and Neohamatopinus pacificus across Select Tamias Species

Project Description: I am investigating chipmunks (Tamias) and their associated parasites. There are 23 species of chipmunks with two sucking lice and three pinworms species associated. Right now I am focusing on identifying sucking lice from select chipmunk species. Preliminary research shows lice DNA matches the nuclear DNA of chipmunks, but the sample size is still too small for results to be significant. Future research will be aimed at more genetic analyses of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA to elucidate information regarding possible coevolution of these hosts and parasites.

Graduated from UNM: Spring 2012

Interests in biology or career choiceWhile biology in general piques my interest, I am particularly partial towards community and organismal ecology. These subjects accrue meaning and utility as I advance in my research and pursue in becoming a doctor of veterinary medicine.  

Mentor:   Kayce Bell

Lab: Dr. Joe Cook

Steven "Kevin" McCormick

Personal Web Page: Coming Soon!

Project Title: Visual, Olfactory and Auditory Cues of Female Mate Choice in the Pupfish Cyprinodon veriegatus.

Project Description: Cyprinodon veriegatus are an invasive species of pupfish spreading through the fresh water ecosystems of southern North America. They are an aggressive species that readily hybridize with native populations, and are able to acclimate to high salinity waters. I am currently investigating the visual, olfactory and auditory cues presented by male C. veriegatus to attract females. This is part of Dr. Kodric-Brown’s ongoing research of speciation within the Cyprinodontidae family, and evolution through female mate choice.

Awards: J. A. Gaudin Jr Scholorship, Dean’s List Endowment CNM, Lottery Scholarship, Transfer Scholarship

Graduated from UNM: Spring 2012

Interests in biology or career choice:  I find all areas of organismal behavior interesting, but I am hoping to focus my graduate research on the early
ontogeny of mammalian predators. I am interested in separating behaviors that are primarily genetically
driven from those that are gained by cognitive learning through social and environmental interactions. I hope
to bring this research to reintroduction programs to assist in finding stimuli that will ultimately prepare captive
populations for survival in the wild.

Mentor:   Angela Hung

Lab:  Dr. Astrid Kodric-Brown

Ashley Montoya

Project Title: Evolutionary diversification of southern jumping mice.

Graduated from UNM: Fall 2008

Interests in biology or career choice:   Ashley’s primary career interest includes fields that use genetic counseling as part of their research activities. 

Mentor: Jason Malaney

Lab:  Dr. Joe Cook

Adeline Murthy

Personal Web Page: Coming Soon!

Project Title: The effects of urbanization on the composition of winter bird communities

Project Description: Over the past 100 years, the United States has experienced a vast increase in urban development. In many temperate environments, urbanization can alter the availability of food for certain species during harsh winters. We are investigating the effect that these pools of resources have on winter bird communities using data from the Christmas Bird Count. We are specifically looking at how community composition and species abundance have changed with increasing density of human population in urban areas. We expect to see an increase in the presence and abundance of exotic species relative to natives.

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM:  Spring 2013

Interests in biology or career choice: I have always been fascinated by biology, specifically in the field of conservation. I feel that this is one of the most socially and environmentally pertinent topics, and will be growing field in these upcoming years. I highly value the intrinsic aspects of nature and ecosystems, which is why I feel it is important to protect and understand them. After I graduate I plan on pursuing a PhD, and continuing to do research in this field.

Mentor: Trevor Fristoe

Lab: James Brown

Matthew Peralta

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: The biological control of mosquito larvae populations using larvivorous fish; An eco-friendly approach.

Project Description: The focus my current project looks into the top down control of mosquito populations using fish as a mechanism for the prevention of mosquito borne illnesses. I used stable isotope analysis, gut content, and overall abundance of mosquito larvae to determine if the fish present in my experiment are actually consuming mosquito larvae preferentially over other invertebrates. Results suggest that fish do indeed consume mosquito larvae in proportion to their abundance thus providing an indirect control of mosquito borne illnesses. Ultimately I want show that the restoration of native fishes is beneficial to humans as well as fish.

Awards: Who’s who among American high school students & runner up at the Fisheries conference (DFC)

Graduate from UNM: Spring 2011

Interests in biology or career choice: I am interested in aquatic ecosystems, natural history, geology, and the conservation of native fishes. Currently, our lab is using stable isotope tracers and the quantification of food web constituent biomass of the Rio Grande in order to better understand how trophic levels within the food web interact with each other. Furthermore this allows to us to determine the primary energy source within the Rio Grande River seasonally with an emphasis on summer dry down periods. In the future I would like to use my research experience as a platform for a career in the conservation and management of native fishes, in particular the subspecies Oncorhynchus clarki virginalis.

What are they doing now: I worked in the private sector for one year doing Ichthyological research on teh Rio Grande and San Juan River drainages. I have now begun a full time position with the New Mexico department of Game and Fish.

Mentor:   Dr. Ayesha Burdett

Lab:  Dr. Tom Turner

Justin Pichardo

Project Title: Emergence and Activity Patterns of Desert Box Turtles, Terrapene ornata luteola.

Graduate from UNM: Spring 2010

Interests in biology or career choice:  Justin is testing the hypothesis, first considered by Brown (1987), that core populations should have reduced genetic variation compared to peripheral populations because they are larger and more contiguous, which encourages gene flow and genetic homogeneity.  

Mentor:  Ian Murray

Lab: Dr. Blair Wolf

Abigail Ramirez-Ortiz

Project Title: Environmental impacts on endoparasites in the South American Andes

Project Description: Endoparasites are affected by the environment within their host, since a change in their surroundings can create an unfavorable situation where their survival is trivialized. But does the host’s environment affect the parasite? This is the main question of my research working with the parasites of Thylamys venustus, a South American marsupial that inhabits lowlands and highlands of the Andes Mountains. This mammal has a variety of helminths, parasitic worms, that live within it. I’m interested in studying if elevational changes in the mammal’s range affects the molecular diversity of the parasites. Some of the questions I will be asking through my research are: Are there genetic differences in the endoparasites along the highlands compared to those living in the lowlands?, How are the parasites spatially related along the mountains? and Does the morphological variation within the endoparasites reflect molecular diversity? The patterns I find could provide further insight on the potential for co-evolution or host switching. In the future, I would love to look at the dynamics between these host-parasite interactions.

Graduate from UNM:   Summer 2011.

Interests in biology or career choice: Whether it’s trying to save the world by recycling one plastic bag at a time or making sure I recycle all my schoolwork, I know that conservation biology is the area that really calls out to me. I don’t have a specific area that I’m interested in researching yet, but I know that once I stumble upon it I’ll know what it is. After graduating from UNM, I plan on pursuing a graduate education in biology to further expand my skills in research.

Mentor: Dr. Chris Himes

Lab: Dr. Joe Cook

Hallie Rane

Project Title: Gene Conversion and DNA Sequence Polymorphism in the Sex-determination Gene fog-2 and its Paralog ftr-1 in Caenorhabditis elegans.

Graduate from UNM: Fall 2010

Interests in biology or career choice: I am most interested in evolution and ecology. Specifically, I am interested in the evolution of novel function, the nearly-neutral theory of molecular evolution, and the role of evolutionary constraints and historical contingency in adaptive evolution. Further, I hope to do more work at the intersection of ecology and evolution uncovering how ecological pressures shape evolutionary trajectories.

CONGRATULATIONS HALLIE! Hallie is the 2010 recipient of The Maurice Hughes Scholarship for Excellence in Research.

Mentor:  Dr. Vaishali Katju

Lab: Dr. Vaishali Katju

Abbie Reade

Personal Web Page: Coming Soon!

Project Title: Differences in body shape in a sympatric flock of pupfish

Project Description:Coming Soon!

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM:  Fall 2012

Interests in biology or career choice:My interests in biology are broad. I am very interested in biogeography and species’ adaptations

to the environment. Conservation and remediation fit in with this side of my interests. On the other hand I am very interested in biopsychology topics. It is fascinating to examine ways that conscious decision making is influenced by the biological foundations in humans and animals. I
love biology and I am committed to a career in research!

Mentor: Rhiannon West

Lab: Dr. Astrid Kodric-Brown

Ashley Reid

Project Title: Examining the Relative Abundance of Thermal Spring Community Members Using Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction

Graduate from UNM: Fall 2009

Interests in biology or career choice: Ashley really loves bacteria, especially ones that can be found in extreme environments like the thermal vents in Yellowstone National Park. After graduation she plans to apply to graduate school in hopes of eventually getting a PhD.

Mentor:  S. O'Neil

Lab:  Dr. Tina Takacs-Vesbach

Jackson Sabol

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: Global distribution of Autism Spectrum Disorders as a result of pathogen/parasite stress

Project Description: I'm looking at prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD's) in different parts of the world based on pathogen/parasite stress. There has been quite a lot of research showing a strong relationship between fetal testosterone and ASD's. And one of the proposed mechanisms for this is what's called assortative mating. This is the preference of people with highly testosteronized brains to prefer to mate with other's who have highly testosteronized brains, which leads to children with that trait to an even higher degree. There's no evidence supporting this idea yet, but because pathogen/parasite stress (number of diseases and severity of diseases) affects assortative mating, it's highly probable there's a relationship. The relationship would go one of two ways: higher parasite/pathogen stress would cause people to be more focused on mating with testosteronized members of the opposite sex because it's an honest signal of health, thus leading to a higher prevalence of ASD's; or, lower parasite/pathogen stress would lead to a higher prevalence of autism because the body, no longer having to deal with diseases constantly, could invest more in sex hormones and the brain, resulting in the over-exaggerated testosterone brain.

Awards: Presidential Scholarship, Deans List

Graduated from UNM: Spring 2012.

Interests in biology or career choice: I am most interested in humans, particularly human bio-psychology. In other words, the study of human behavior and the mind plus what molecular, genetic, or ecological factors influence the two. To support the study of this, I am also interested in the evolution of humans (and most other organisms) leading up to emergence of humans, plus the factors that influence these organisms. In the future, I hope to do research in one or all of these directions, because above all, I really just want to know more.

Mentor: Kenneth Letendre

Lab: Dr. Randy Thornhill

Ashley Smiley

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: Effects of high-altitude hypoxia on cardiac morphology in Andean birds

Project Description: House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) and Rufous-collared Sparrows (Zonotrichia capensis) are two species of songbird found from sea level to high elevations in the Andean mountains of Peru. Because they are so widespread, investigating these species offers insight in adaptations to high elevation. Within these species, I am interested in how the heart morphology of muscle cells differs across an altitudinal gradient. Specifically I am comparing nuclear density in cardiac myocytes of individuals within the same species.

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Spring 2013

Interests in biology or career choice: Although I am interested in various fields of biology my favorite thus far is ornithology. The vastness of species of birds interests me greatly because there is always more to learn. Right now I am studying Andean birds and the effects of elevation on cardiac morphology. As for a career I hope to one day use my knowledge to continue research and even teach at the university level.

Mentor:  Natalie Wright

Lab: Dr. Chris Witt


Elisha Song

Project Title: Phylogeography of the nematode, Soboliphym batrini, across the Alexander Archipelago.

Graduated from UNM: Summer 2008

Interests in biology or career choice:   Elisha is interested in biomedical research.  She was part of the Local Organizing Committee for the 87th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Mammalogists and presented her work at the UNM Undergraduate Research Day symposium, in April 2008 and April 2009.  Elisha is currently working full-time but plans to apply to graduate school in the near future.

Mentor: Dr. Sara Brant and Anson Koehler

Lab:  Dr. Joe Cook

Kelly Speer

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: Clarifying the Diversity of Mountain Voles (Genus Alticola) in Mongolia

Project Description: Voles of the genus Alticola residing in central Asia remain phylogenetically cryptic. Previous molecular studies have suggested possible paraphyly with individuals of Myodes and were not able to strongly support inter- and intra-species relationships within Alticola. These previous molecular studies were hampered by limited sample size and locality distribution. By supplementing the sample size with recently collected individuals, increasing the number of represented localities, and examining 2 genetic loci, we hope to clarify taxonomic relations within Alticola as well as between species of Alticola and Myodes. As central Asian countries, like Mongolia, continue to develop, it is important to have a supported phylogeny of Alticola to ensure proper conservation management and planning.

Previous Project: Evidence for a relict population of shrews (Genus Sorex) in New Mexico
Because shrews (Order Soricomorpha: Family Soricidae) have high mutation rates, they provide an excellent opportunity to examine the effects of climate change, such as periodic glaciations, on patterns of mammalian evolution. My study focused on Sorex haydeni, a member of the cinereus complex, previously thought only to occupy mesic grassland of the midwest US and Canada. Through examining DNA sequence variation of 1 mitochondrial and 1 nuclear locus and increasing the number of specimens studied, I found that New Mexico S. haydeni represented a disjunct population, which might have split from the grassland-associated populations to the east due to shifts in available habitat during the late Pleistocene. In addition, several other populations of the cinereus complex were found to exhibit substantial sequence divergence.

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Spring 2012

Interests in biology or career choice:
Kelly is interested in studying the effects of climatic cycling during the late Pleistocene in mammals.  

What are they doing now: Biology graduate school at the University of Florida

Mentor:  Brooks Kohli

Lab: Dr. Joe Cook

Elizabeth "Lizzy" Stone

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: A comparison of Symbiodinium communities with in Marginapora vertebralis, its substrates, and the surrounding water.

Project Description: My project looks at the relationship between a Foraminifera species, Marginapora Vertebralis, and its algal symbiont, SymbiodiniumSymbiodinium lives within the M. Vertebralis cells and assists growth with the sugars produced through photosynthesis. It has recently become clear that Symbiodiniumhosts, including Foraminifera, are home to more than one clade, or species of the algae, but it is unclear from where the host gets its various clades of symbionts. For my project I have collected Foraminiferan samples from two different locations around Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. I collected the Foraminifera with the substrates on which they were growing and with samples of the surrounding water column. I am looking to see which clades of Symbiodinium are to be found within my M. Vertebralis samples, substrates and water column and will compare the results to draw conclusions about where the Foraminiferan has obtains its particular symbiont community. In order to do this I have sequenced several of my Foraminiferan-substrate-water groups from each location in order to get a range of the clades to be found in the system. From these sequences I will design primers for each individual clade. These primers will be used with Quantitative PCR to determine which and how much of each clade can be found in the rest of the samples. I will then be able to analyze and compare the communities in order to shed light on from where the M. Vertebralis has taken in its symbionts.

Awards: Nomiated for the Goldwater scholarship

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Fall 2012

Interests in biology or career choice: My interests in biology are wide spread but I am particularly fascinated by genetics and ecology. Right now I am studying a symbiotic relationship between the algae, Symbiodinium, and a specific species of Foraminifera. I am really excited to see how the results of this project end up and am looking forward to learning about the ins and outs of genetic research along the way.  After I graduate I hope to attend graduate school and continue conducting research, possibly pertaining to the coral system that I am studying now. 

Mentor: Dr. Tina Takacs-Vesbach and Justine Hall (Emory)

Lab: Dr. Ursula Shepherd

April Tafoya

Project Title: Phylogenetic analysis of the genus Hygrotus (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae).

Graduate from UNM: Spring 2010

Interests in biology or career choice:  April is interested in sustainable fresh water resources and clean-up and plans to attend graduate school to conduct research in the field of water chemistry.  She envisions herself as part of a professional team that implements innovative new ideas to address the issues of water clean-up and conservation. April is currently collaborating on several projects. First is a phylogenetic analysis of the genus Hygrotus (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) under the supervision of Dr. Kelly Miller (UNM).  The goals of this project are to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships among the species in this genus as well as to identify and discuss unique habitats.  As part of April's senior thesis, she is conducting a survey of the Bitter Lakes (New Mexico) ecosystem, and comparing the aquifer water chemistry and arthropods faunas between this water source and the Edwards Aquifer (Texas).  Part of this project involves the description of a new species of Hydroporini (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae).  April is also conducting a GIS analysis in collaboration with Dr. David Lightfoot (MSB).

CONGRATULATIONS APRIL! April received an award for first place in oral presentations at the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation conference at New Mexico State University on October 1-3, 2009.

Award: Harry & Mabel Leonard Research Fellowship, Department of Earth and Planetary
Sciences, University of New Mexico

What are they doing now: I am a Masters student in the Erth and Planatary Department at the University of New Mexico. My thesis is titled: Uranium-series dating of travertine from Soda Dam, New Mexico: Constructing a history of deposition, with implications for landscape evolution, paleohydrology and paleoclimatology.

Mentor:  Gino Nearns 

Lab:  Dr. Kelly Miller


Monica Tellez

Project Title: Length-mass relationships for freshwater macroinvertebrates in the Rio Grande River.

Graduated from UNM: Spring 2009

Interests in biology or career choice: I'm interested in freshwater ecology of rivers and streams - mainly aquatic insects and fish - and recently entered into the PhD program in biology at the University of New Mexico.

What are they doing now: Monica is a PhD student in Dr. Kelly Miller's lab at the University of New Mexico, Department of Biology.

Mentor:  Dr. Ayesha Burdett

Lab:  Dr. Tom Turner


Sophia Thompson

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: Microtus longicaudus and the theory of island biogeography

Project Description: My project focuses on populations of the long tailed vole, Microtus longicaudus across several islands located in the Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska. Specifically I am looking at how genetic diversity might be affected as the distance to mainland Alaska is increased as well as how changes in island size might affect the genetic diversity of these populations.

Graduate from UNM: Spring 2011

Interests in biology or career choice:  I have several interests in biology, but would like to work with mammals. I would like to study the effects of cities on mammals living at the edges of cities, as well as how cities might be designed in a way that would minimize negative impacts on surrounding wildlife.  I would also like to research large predators and their roles in maintaining ecosystem health and diversity.

What are they doing now: I have started a Master program in Community and Regional Planning at the University of New Mexico.

Mentor:   Yadéeh E. Sawyer

Lab: Dr. Joe Cook

Jesse Trujillo

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: A Measure of Genetic Variability of Meda fulgida Based on Microsatellite Allele Frequenciesr

Project Description: Meda fulgida is a species of native fish now endemic to the Gila River in New Mexico, a tributary of the Colorado River. M. fulgida was listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened species in 1986 after being extirpated from several rivers in New Mexico and Arizona. This study's purpose is to use microsatellite loci to determine population substructure and estimate levels of genetic variability. Nine cross-specific primer sets (developed for Plagopterus argentissimus a sister species of M. fulgida) are being screened for optimal loci amplification.

Awards: Best Student Poster at the Fisheries conference (DFC) in Moab Utah 2010

Expected Date to Graduate from UNM: Spring 2012

Interests in biology or career choice: Jess’ interest in biology has began with studying the effects of habitat fragmentation on Herricka horrida (Canadian River Spiny Aster). Jess then became interested in water quality and started a research project using Pimephales promelas (Fathead minnow) as an indicator species of endocrine disruption by xenoestrogens released into river systems by wastewater treatment plants. Jess decided to continue his career in biology studying fish and traveled to Ghana, West Africa to study the biodiversity of freshwater and marine fishes in coastal wetlands. Currently jess is researching the genetics of the endangered New Mexico native fish Meda fulgida.

Mentor: Tyler Pilger

Lab: Dr. Tom Turner

Martha Jo (MJ) Vargas

Personal Web Page:

Project Title: Sharing science: A case study of the effects of science education outreach with elementary students

Project Description: The effects of informal science education via the Junior Scientist Outreach Program, an annual science camp for 4th and 5th grade students in the South Valley of Albuquerque, will be studied in an effort to connect an increasing number of traditionally underrepresented people to more jobs in the medical and science fields by peaking their interest in science at a young age. Using a mixed methods approach, this study will quantitatively and qualitatively asses the outcomes of informal science education focused on sustainability and ecology. Survey data as well as interviews and case studies will be collected to have breadth and depth in an understanding of the impacts of this type of outreach.       

As a part of the Biology Department, this project serves to improve communication of biological science and to emphasize the importance of science education in elementary, middle, and high schools. To accomplish this and make it part of a science outreach project, those Principle Investigators of biological research projects in the Department of Biology at the University of New Mexico who wish to participate in the Junior Scientist Outreach Program, would dedicate a portion of materials, supplies, and/or support from their NSF grant (if funded) to fulfill their Broader Impacts Criteria, and therefore, demonstrate their interests in making science accessible to the public. Read about this past Augusts (2011) camp here: UnO Scholar and BUGS brings children to greener pastures.

Awards: Golden Key Society, Cocalina Memorial Scholarship and Rosalie Doolittle Memorial Scholarship

Graduated from UNM: Spring 2012

Interests in biology or career choice: Ecology, Sustainability, Conservation, Education, Communication, and Outreach

Mentor: Allison Chatterjee (Purdue)

Lab:  Dr. Diane Marshall  

Geneva Williams

Project Title: Avian Adaptations to Altitudinal Gradients using Histology

Graduated from UNM: Spring 2009

Interests in biology or career choice:  Geneva is interested in biochemistry and plans to enroll in graduate studies after completing her undergraduate degree.   Geneva graduated in May 2009 and has been completing her research project in Dr. Witt’s laboratory. She plans to commence graduate school in the near future.

What are they doing now: Geneva will be working for Dr. Gordon Hager and Dr. Diana Staureva on a summer internship for 2010. She is currently looking for post bacc opportunities.

Mentor:  Michael Lelevier

Lab: Dr. Chris Witt