Our Team

Elise Zipkin

Associate Professor

Department of Integrative Biology

Program Director

Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior (EEB)

Michigan State University

Current Lab Members

Bruna Amaral

Bruna Amaral

PhD Student

Bruna’s research focuses on understanding how birds cope with the challenge of surviving in the Anthropocene. She is passionate about using quantitative methods to investigate a variety of individual, population, and community-level processes to identify the underlying causes of demographic declines and to inform conservation efforts. She is particularly interested in tropical bird communities, which are both extremely diverse and threatened, yet remain understudied. During her PhD, Bruna will be a part of an NPS project investigating how forest bird populations in parks in the Eastern US have changed in the past fifteen years, and the importance of protected habitats in conserving these avian communities.
Samuel Ayebare

Samuel Ayebare

PhD Candidate

Sam’s research focuses on understanding the factors that influence species abundance, distributions, and persistence. Sam is developing statistical models to estimate species abundance patterns relative to climate and industrial activities while accounting for interacting dynamics of co-occurring species. Prior to MSU, Sam worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Uganda program for nearly a decade, estimating baseline levels of biodiversity including the impacts of anthropogenic factors on wildlife. Sam received his MS from the University of Rhode Island. He is a recipient of the WCS Beinecke African Scholarship and the WWF Train Fellowship for Aspiring Faculty.

Kayla Davis

Kayla Davis

PhD Candidate

Kayla’s research focuses on understanding the demographic and environmental factors that shape avian populations and communities. While at MSU, Kayla is collaborating with partners at USFWS and USGS to assess seabird distributions as part of the Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (GoMMAPPS). She is developing study design approaches for at-sea aerial surveys and models to estimate the factors influencing seabird spatial patterns. Kayla received her MS in Fish and Wildlife Conservation from Virginia Tech where she studied seabird behavior and demography.
Jeff Doser

Jeff Doser

Postdoctoral Researcher

Jeff is interested in the development and application of hierarchical models for ecological monitoring and decision making. He is developing statistical approaches to leverage a variety of data types for management and conservation of bird communities, including acoustic data, count data, and detection-nondetection data. Jeff is currently working on the development of integrated community models to evaluate the large-scale drivers of bird species-specific and community level dynamics. He completed his PhD in Forestry and an MS in Applied Statistics at MSU and a BS in mathematics and biology at SUNY Geneseo.
Neil Gilbert

Neil Gilbert

Postdoctoral Researcher

Neil is a quantitative ecologist with interests in behavioral ecology, population and community ecology, and landscape ecology. Supported by an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology, his research at MSU investigates how relationships between disease and biodiversity vary through time, using data from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Neil completed a MS at the University of Alabama and a BS at Calvin College. His PhD, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focused on developing models to estimate wildlife population abundances and species distributions using camera-trap data and other forms of “unmarked” data.
Wendy Leuenberger

Wendy Leuenberger

PhD Candidate

Wendy is broadly interested in using quantitative methods to understand and predict species dynamics and determine appropriate conservation actions. Wendy is developing data integration methods to evaluate the causes and consequence of environmental change on wildlife populations and communities. Wendy received her MS from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where she studied avian responses to experimental ice storms and developed a lesson plan for high school students. She then worked as a biometrician at the University of Kentucky for three years. Wendy is an NRT-IMPACTS Fellow (NSF Research Traineeship – Integrated training Model in Plant And Compu-Tational Sciences).

Sarah Saunders

Sarah Saunders

Adjunct Scholar

Sarah’s research focuses on declining and threatened wildlife populations to improve recovery efforts. Sarah is a Quantitative Ecologist in the Science Division at the National Audubon Society and a former postdoc in the lab. She continues to collaborate with the lab on a number of projects, including the development of models to tease apart the factors causing the decline of the eastern North American monarch population. Sarah completed her PhD at the University of Minnesota where she studied the endangered Great Lakes piping plover population. Sarah enjoys working with long-term data sets and advanced statistical models to tackle conservation problems.
Peter Williams

Peter Williams

Postdoctoral Researcher

Peter is a community ecologist broadly interested in macroecology, biogeography, and tropical ecology. While at MSU, Peter is working on a variety of different projects including an evaluation of how drought affects tropical tree communities (with collaborator Natalia Umana at University of Michigan) and an analysis examining global diversity patterns of vertebrate communities before and during the Anthropocene. Peter completed his PhD at the University of Montana where he studied tropical plant-animal interactions in Southeast Asia. Before that, he worked in China on a Fulbright Fellowship studying golden snub-nosed monkeys.

Former Lab Members

Postdoctoral Researchers

Christie Bahlai, 2016-2017
​Current Position: Assistant Professor, Kent State University

Courtney Davis, 2021-2022
Current Position: Quantitative Ecologist, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Graziella DiRenzo, 2016-2019
Current Position: Assistant Unit Leader, USGS Co-op at University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Sam Rossman, 2014-2018
Current Position: Research Scientist, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute

Sarah Saunders, 2016-2019
Current Position: Quantitative Ecologist, National Audubon Society

Erin Zylstra, 2019-2021
Current Position: Quantitative Ecologist, Tucson Audubon Society


Graduate Students​

Acacia Ackles, co-advised with Emily Dolson, PhD (2022)
Current Position: Visiting Assistant Professor, Lawrence University

Jeffrey Doser, co-advised with Andy Finley, PhD (2022)
Current Position: Postdoctoral Researcher, Michigan State University

Matthew Farr, PhD (2021)
Current Position: Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Washington

Allison Sussman, MS (2017)
Current Position: Database and GIS Specialist, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Alexander Wright, PhD (2021)
Current Position: Conservation Biologist, US Fish and Wildlife Service


Visiting Students​

Caroline Blommel, Postbac Researcher (2020-2021)
Current Position: MS student, Colorado State University

​Xabier Cabodevilla, Visiting PhD student from Spain (2019)
Current Position: PhD candidate, Universidad del País Vasco

Saba Manzoor, Visiting PhD student from Pakistan (2018-2019)
Current Position: Assistant Professor, University of Sialkot

Shahla Nargis, Visiting PhD student from Pakistan (2018-2019)
Current Position: PhD candidate, University of Faisalabad

​Valentina Oberosler, Visiting PhD student from Italy (2018)
Current Position: Postdoctoral Researcher, The Science Museum at Trento (MUSE)

​José Ribeiro, Visiting PhD student from Brazil (2016-2017)
Current Position: Quantitative Ecologist, Rainforest Connection



Weston Barton (REU Student, 2018)
Daniel Greeson (Professorial Assistant, 2016-2018)
Vince Nguyen (Professorial Assistant, 2017-2019)