Lab Alumni


Young lab 2016In front: Truman, Amy Wolf, Chhaya Werner.   Behind: Kelly Gravuer, Laura Morales, Kevin Welch, Grace Charles, Katie Stuble (& Martin)

Post-doctoral Associate Alums

  • Harry Wells (Ph.D., Leeds, 2021) was hosted by the KLEE project, doing NSF-funded post-doctoral research and working with Duncan Kimuyu on KLEE project management. Currently a post-doc at Princeton University with Rob Pringle and Dave Wilcox.
  • Duncan Kimuyu (Ph.D., Nairobi, 2016), who did his doctoral work in KLEE, has applied his considerable expertise to being Project Manager of KLEE ever since, in addition to is academic appointment at Karatina University, and his Smithsonian post-doctoral position.
  • Amelia Wolf (Ph.D., Stanford, 2011) was hosted by the Young Lab 2016-2019, doing NSF-funded post-doctoral research (in collaboration with Duncan Menge at Columbia University) on the latitudinal distribution of nitrogen-fixing trees. Amy has also done research at Mpala in Kenya. Amy is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas, Austin.
  • Judith Sitters (Ph.D., ETH Zurich, 2012) has been hosted by both Vrije Universiteit Brussel (with Dr. Harry olde Venterink) and the NSF-funded Kenya Long-term Exclosure Experiment (KLEE). Judith is exploring how herbivory affects plant and soil stoichiometry in savanna ecosystems, supported by a grant from FWO (Belgian Science Foundation).
  • Katharine Stuble (Ph.D., Tennessee, 2013) was a post-doctoral researcher (and project manager) for the NSF-funded PRYER program from 2014 to 2016. Katie is broadly interested in the drivers of ecological communities (from ants to microbes to plants), including in the context of global change. After doing an ISEECI post-doc in 2016, she took a full-time position as a Research Scientist with the Holden Arboretum in Ohio.

Graduate Student Alums

This cadre of incredible graduate students continues to examine applied and conceptual issues in ecology, restoration, and biodiversity conservation.

Ph.D. students (UC Davis, unless otherwise noted)

Young Lab

In front: Emily Zefferman, Kelly Gravuer, Lauren McGeoch Porensky, Marit Wilkerson.  Behind: Jen Balachowski, Kurt Vaughn, Truman, Starry Sprenkle, Kevin Welch

  • Chhaya Werner (Ph.D. 2018, co-advised with Susan Harrison) In addition to other research projects, Chhaya studies the role of climate, competition, and fire in community composition,combining approaches on multiple spatial and temporal scales. Chhaya was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. After post-docs with Dr. Anu Eskelinen at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (IDiv) in Leipzig, and then in the lab of Lauren Sullivan at the University of Wyoming, Chhaya is now an Assistant Professor at Southern Oregon University.
  • Grace Charles (Ph.D. 2018)  Grace studied the dynamics and drivers of savanna plant community ecology, including the potential impacts of large mammal extinction on plant communities. Grace has conducted research within the Kenya Long-term Exclosure Experiment (KLEE), as well as the Ungulate Herbivory Under Rainfall Uncertainty (UHURU) project at Mpala Research Centre in central Kenya.  Grace was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, and a Presidential Management Fellow. She is now a Data Scientist at Green River.
  • Derek Young (PhD 2017, co-advised with Andrew Latimer) Derek is working to understand how climate change will impact California forests, applying principles from disciplines including biogeography, landscape ecology, community ecology, and ecological genetics. Derek was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and an NSF IGERT fellow. Derek is currently a Research Ecologist in Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis.
  • Laura Morales (Ph. D. 2017, co-advised with Richard Evans) studied the Polylepis forests of alpine Andes in Peru and Chile for her doctorate, particualrly in the context of how fire and livestock affect both natural regeneration and active restoration of Polylepis. Laura was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. After a stint at the School for Field Studies in Peru, Lauren has taken a postoctoral position at World Agroforestry (formerly ICRAF).
  • Duncan Kimuyu (Ph.D. 2016, University of Nairobi) studies the effects of livestock and fire on wildlife in Kenya. Duncan was recently awarded a prestigious Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2018-19, and again in 2019-2020. He is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor equivalent) at Karatina University, recently serving as Department Head. Duncan is the project manager of the Kenya Long-term Exclosure Experiment (KLEE).
  • Kelly Gravuer (Ph.D 2016, co-advised with Kate Scow): Kelly's research has sought understand potential impacts of climate change on ecosystem functions by improving our knowledge of plant and soil microbial community ecology. Kelly is an NSF IGERT fellow, an ARCS Fellow, and an EPA STAR fellow. Kelly was awarded a NatureNet Science Postdoctoral Fellowship to work with The Nature Conservancy and Arizona State University, and is now a Biologist at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Steve Fick (Ph.D 2016) is an expert in doing large-scale spatial analyses of environmental datasets. He is also interested in population and community processes in restoration, and carried out restoration research in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Steve was a Research Associate at the Stockhom Environmental Institute in Sweden, and later a Postdoctoral Researcher with USGS (and CU) in Utah. Steve currently works at the start-up Pivot Bio. Steve is currently a Data Scientist associated with USGS (Moab) and New Mexico State University.
  • Kristina Wolf (Ph.D 2016) Kristina's research focused on restoring healthy soil and plant communities in semi-arid and arid climates via various methods, including livestock grazing, with particular emphasis on whole systems of ranch management that focus on grazing livestock while keeping the restoration or conservation of ecosystem functions in mind. After working for several years as an Ecologist for H.T. Harvey, a leading California restoration firm, Kristina is now an Environmental Scientist at the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection.
  • Jen Balachowski (Ph.D 2015; co-advised with Kevin Rice) studied the ecological and evolutionary responses of native grasses to climate change, particularly in the context of ecotype performance for restoration projects ("Restoring for the Future"). Jen was an NSF IGERT fellow, and did a Fulbright Fellowship in Montpellier, France, where she explored the ecophysiology of summer dormancy in California and Mediterranean grasses. She was a Climate HUBS post-doc at UC Davis, and held positions a position as a Presidential Management Fellow with USAID and USFS, and Forest Trends. Jen is currently an Environmental Impact Analyst with the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation
  • Kevin Welch (Ph.D 2015; co-advised with Hugh Safford) studies the landscape characteristics of post-fire pine and oak regeneration California, with grants he developed with the U.S. Forest Service.  Surveying hundreds of plots in dozens of fires, he has determined the key correlates of post-fire forest regeneration dynamics. Kevin is currently an Emissions (Fire) Specialist at CALFIRE.
  • Emily Peffer Zefferman (Ph.D 2014) Emily studied how stream and riparian restoration may affect submersed aquatic plant communities.  Emily was a member of the Conservation Management Program. She is currently a Conservation Specialist at the Monterrey Resource Conservation District.
  • Marit Wilkerson (Ph.D 2013) Marit's research examined invasive plant patterns in conservation linkages or corridors, forb restoration in the Central Valley, and effects of wildlife and cattle on pollinators in Kenya. More applied work included conservation-oriented projects including examining connectivity in State Wildlife Action Plans, assessing species and area vulnerability to climate change, and a guide for graduate students on skill sets for non-academic conservation careers." Marit was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, and a member of the Conservation Management Program. and later an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow in Washington, D.C., working with USAID. Marit was then the Planning Director for the Nature Conservancy's Northern Great Plains program.
  • Starry Sprenkle (Ph.D 2013, co-advised with Kevin Rice) initiated hundreds of grass-roots agroforestry projects in Haiti, and is interested in the interface between ecology, environmental restoration, and sustainable development in the developing world. Starry was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. After many years as Deputy Director of Programs at J/P Haitian Relief Organization, Starry is currently Head of Restoration Science for Conservation international.
  • Lauren McGeoch Porensky (Ph.D. 2012) Lauren links landscape and community ecology with conservation and restoration in rangelands, savannas and grasslands. Most of her work focuses on spatial patterns associated with plant and large herbivore communities. She is especially interested in finding conservation and restoration solutions for multi-use and human-dominated landscapes. Lauren was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. Lauren is an ARS Ecologist for USDA in Fort Collins, CO.
  • Kurt Vaughn (Ph.D. 2011) was the Restoration Manager for California Audubon. He also ran the Restoration Practicum for the University of California, Davis. Kurt served as the Director of the Borderlands Restoration Network.
  • Corinna Riginos (Ph.D. 2008) studied of tree-understory interactions in Kenya; in particular, how these interactions are affected by herbivory and stand structure, with an emphasis on the management, restoration, and monitoring of rangeland health. Corinna was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and a 2015 Early Career Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. Corinna is a long-term collaborator on the NSF-funded KLEE project. She and Todd Palmer (see below) were also recently awarded an NSF grant to study the ecosystem impacts of invasion of savanna ecosystems by big-headed ants. Corinna is currently a Research Scientist for the Nature Conservancy in Lander, Wyoming.
  • Kari Veblen (Ph.D. 2008) is studying the causes and consequences of anthropogenic landscape heterogeneity in Kenya, and rangeland management and restoration in the western U.S. Kari was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. Kari is an Full Professor at Utah State University, and a co-PI of the current NSF-funded KLEE project.
  • Jeffrey Clary (Ph.D. 2006) studied the relationship between annual and perennial plants in a restoration context, doing biogeographic and greenhouse studies in Catalonia and California. Jeffrey was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, and did a postdoctoral Fulbright Fellowship in Montpellier, France. He then served as Administrative Director for the UC Davis Natural Reserve System. Jeffrey is Senior Director of Climate Strategies at the Foundation for California Community Colleges.
  • Mikaela Huntzinger (Ph.D. 2005) studied the interactions between herbivores of very different body sizes, as they relate to biodiversity conservation, in Kenya and California. Mikaela Huntzinger spent 11 years as an academic developer in the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at UC Davis, working with instructors who want to improve their teaching. Her interests include incorporating higher-order thinking skills into the curriculum; helping all students to learn, not just those who are easiest to teach; creating effective learning communities; and improving STEM education. Mikaela is now a private consultant.
  • Megan Lulow (Ph.D. 2004) studied grassland restoration in California, particularly the importance of priority effects in community organization. After many years as the Senior Field Ecologist at the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, Megan is currently the Executive Director of UC Irvine’s UCI-NATURE (UC Irvine’s Networked Assets to Understand the Environment).
  • Michelle Gadd (Ph.D. 2003) studied the relationship between elephants and livestock on the land they share in Kenya and southern Africa. Most elephants occur outside of national parks, but her research was unique in examining the compatibility of pastoralists and elephants. Michelle served for many years as Africa Program Officer for the international Wildlife Without Borders Program of the USFWS. She now works for a large private conservation concern.
  • Todd Palmer (Ph.D. 2001) is the prime mover of the ongoing acacia ant study, begun in 1998. This project has explored how spatial variation in community structure is influenced by interactions between tree ontogeny, local nutrient conditions, and the competitive abilities of different ant species. His work has expanded to include other aspects of ant-acacia mutualisms, and savanna ecology in general. Todd is a Full Professor at the University of Florida.
  • Linde Ostro (Ph.D. 1998, Fordham University) studied the ecology of reintroduced howler monkeys in Belize. Despite the prevalence of reintroduction as a species restoration technique, this study is one of the first to detail the ways in which reintroduced animals establish themselves in novel environments. Linde co-directed the Cockscomb Jaguar Project for the Wildlife Conservation Society until 2007. Linde then served as the Senior Vice President of Development at the New York Academy of Sciences. She now is the Vice President of Development for River Keeper.
  • Faith Kostel-Hughes (Ph.D. 1995, Fordham University) has studied the interactions between leaf litter and forest seed banks along an urban-rural gradient, demonstrating dramatic and hitherto unrecognized changes in litter quantity and quality associated with urbanization, with important consequences for forest restoration. From 1999 to 2019, Faith was an Associate Professor of Biology  and Director of Environmental Studies  at the College of New Rochelle. She is now a Professor at SUNY Westchester Community College.

Past Ph.D. affilliates

  • Harry Wells (Ph.D., Leeds University, 2021) is current a post-doc at Princeton University.
  • Elizabeth Forbes (Ph.D., University of California Santa Barbara, 2021) is currently a post-doc Yale University.
  • Duncan Kimuyu: see Post-docs, above.
  • Wilfred Odadi (M.Sc., Moi University, 2005, Ph.D., Edgerton University, 2010) has been studying the ecology of livestock in the context of competition with native wildlife. He did postdoctoral research at Princeton University on improving rangeland practices in Kenya, and recently was awarded a NatureNet Science Fellowship at The Nature Conservancy. He is currently on the faculty at Egerton University.
  • Katherine Holmes (Ph.D. 2008, Advisor: Berry) studied the effects of invasive figs and their removal in Central Valley habitats.  With Kari Veblen and Truman Young, she also studied the efffects of controlled burns on the survival of plants oaks and perennial grasses. She is currently the Restoration Projects Manager for the Solano County Resource Conservation District.
  • Ryan Sensenig (Ph.D., 2007, Advisors: Laca & Demment) studied the ecology of fire in East Africa, particularly with respect to large mammals on the landscape scale. He is now an Associate Professor and Department Chair at Goshen College.
  • Bell Okello (Ph.D. 2007, University of Natal) examined the population biology of Acacia drepanolobium, the dominant tree species at the KLEE study site in Kenya, in the context of conservation, restoration, management, and use. Bell seven fo many years as the Gender, Agricultural and Rural Development Specialist for the International Center for Research on Women, in Nairobi, Kenya. He is now the Chief of Operations and Strategy for ETC Consulting.
  • Simon Kuria Kamande (Ph.D., 2006, Rhodes University) studied the invertebrate fauna of Acacia drepanolobium, and how it is affected by the species of ant occupant and exposure to different herbivores. He is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Botany at Walter Sisulu University in South Africa
  • Charles Warui (Ph.D. 2005, Rhodes University, South Africa) studied how invertebrates, especially spiders, may be indicators of the environmental health of East African savannas across a range of land uses. He worked for many years at the National Museums of Kenya. and then as Dean of the School of Pure and Applied Sciences at Mount Kenya University. He is currently a Professor at Murang'a University College.
  • David Kinyua (dnf, University of Nairobi) studied the effects of different manipulations on rangeland plant communities, with some exciting results on techniques to effectively revegetate severely degraded landscapes. David works for USAID in Nairobi.

Young lab 2003

Mikaela Huntzinger, Megan Lulow, Debbie Peterson, Truman, Ryan Sensenig, Kari Veblen,Michelle Gadd, Russell Huddleston

Masters student alums

  • Mila Dunbar-Irwin (M.Sc. 2014) (co-advised with Hugh Safford) compared stand stucture of conifer forests in California (with a long history of fire suppression) and Baja (where there has been far less fire suppression), and studied agricultural ecology in Central America. Mila is currently Sustainability Director for Moab, Utah.
  • Alex Palmerlee (M.Sc., 2007) examined the cost-effectiveness of multiple restoration techniques for woody species in rangeland and riparian sites. He was the Manager of the Audubon Bobcat Ranch, and conservation/restoration area in Yolo County, California, and now splits his time between northern California and New Orleans, where he keeps his hand in restoration, art, and filmmaking.
  • Tracy Erwin (M.Sc., 2007) examined recruitment limits to restoration in endangered Hawaiian trees.
  • Mia Ingolia (M.Sc., 2006) examined the germination ecology of a threatened plant, the Tahoe Yellow Cress. Mia, formerly the Curator and GIS Manager at the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, is a biologist/botanist at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Mia guides Habitat Conservation work on the 63,000 acres of SFPUC lands, including Hetch Hetchy, and helps develop the SFPUC East Bay Watershed Interpretation Center's 3-acre garden and native plant nursery.
  • Susan Infalt (M.Sc, 2006) studied the restoration of degraded, abandoned campsites in King's Canyon National Park. She currently works as a staff scientist for Garcia and Associates.
  • Debbie Petersen (M.Sc. 2005) examined grassland restoration in California ecosystems where native annuals predominate, and in particular the beneficial effects of reseeding after fire. She is currently an Instructor at Las Positas College, and consulting restoration ecologist.
  • Russell Huddleston (M.Sc., 2001) explored different soil modifications and planting techniques as they affected the restoration of grasslands in a vernal pool ecosystem in Oregon. After many years with private environmental consultancy firms (E2, CHM2 Hill, A-T-S)

    Russ is now an Ecologist in Wetlands Section of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  • Ryan Deering (M.Sc., 2001) examined the potential for seed priming to shift the competitive balance between exotic annuals and native perennials in California grasslands. Ryan is the GATEways Horticulturist at the UC Davis Arboretum.

  • Diana Hershey (M.Sc., 1999) carried out a study of the effects of soil substrate and plant provenance on ecological restoration along Cache Creek, California. Diana is a Planner for the County of Mendocino.

Past Masters affiliates

  • Mary Ngugi Waithera (M.Sc. 2023, University of Nairobi) is currently pursuing her PhD at Karatina Unviersity.
  • Phyllis Sherril (M.Sc., 2021, University of Nairobi) studied the interactions of fire and herbivory for the KLEE project. Phyllis is now a doctoral student with Wageningin University.
  • Venancia (Vanessa Ndoo) Wambua (M.Sc. 2012, University of Nairobi) studied dung deposition and decomposition rates in Laikipia rangeland. From 2011 to 2014, she was a Project Officer for BirdLife International. Since 2014, she has beenProject Manager for Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative in Africa.
  • Antony Kirigia (M.Sc. 2009, University of Nairobi) studied the economic and ecological consequences of manure exports from degraded rangelands. He now he works for Farm Concern International in Nairobi.
  • Isaac Kimathi (M.Sc. 2008, University of Nairobi) examined the effects of fire on primary productivity in Laikipia grasslands. Isaac is a Deputy Research Manager for the Kenya Union for Savings and Credit Cooperatives, Ltd (KUSCCO).
  • Silvanos Otieno (M.Sc. 2005, University of Nairobi) studied the effects of herbivory by different guilds of large mammals in Kenya on the productivity and standing biomass of a savanna ecosystem. Until his death, he worked as Coordinator for the Mikinduri Children of Hope Foundation.
  • Wilfred Odadi (M.Sc. 2003, Moi University) studied the foraging ecology of cattle in Kenya, and how it is influenced by competition with native wildlife. He went on to earn a doctorate with KLEE at Egerton University, Kenya (see above).
  • John Mugo Kagori (M.Sc. 1999, University of Nairobi) studied the ecology of nitrogen fixation in Acacia drepanolobium. He is currently Academic Coordinator at Oshwal Academy Nairobi .