Visit our former team members page.
Andrew S. GersickPostdoctoral 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.
Marc MayesPostdoctoral Research Associate
Marc Mayes is a Nature Conservancy NatureNet Postdoctoral Fellow, based between Princeton University and University of California-Santa Barbara (co-advisor Dr. Kelly Caylor). His work addresses how climate, land use and ecological processes affect terrestrial carbon, nutrient, water cycles and vegetation structure, particularly in dryland ecosystems. Marc specializes in incorporating field data with eclectic mixes of remotely sensed data, including satellite (optical, radar) and airborne (UAS/drone-based optical and thermal) platforms, to scale understanding of plot-scale processes to landscapes. His current projects span Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and California. Marc’s work with Nature Conservancy advisor Dr. Anne Trainor includes mapping land cover changes with Landsat and Sentinel data across Zambia, to monitor current and inform new land-use plans that balance conservation with agricultural development goals around sensitive habitat areas such as Kafue National Park.
Madeleine AndrewsGraduate student
I am interested in understanding the impacts of agricultural expansion and habitat fragmentation on wildlife movement and social network structure. More specifically, I hope to explore how animals cope with living in edge ecosystems in order to inform effective population management strategies that benefit both wildlife and adjacent communities. I am co-advised by Simon Levin, and want to use the concept of wildlife as a public good to structure policies that fit within a healthy environmental and economic framework. My research background is primarily in behavioral ecology, working with big cats and primates, and in evolutionary game theory, modeling social competency.
Qing CaoGraduate 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.
Severine HexGraduate student
The questions my research addresses are why complex communication evolved in different lineages and how animals that live in complex social environments use their communicative systems to navigate their social worlds. I study acoustic and multimodal communication and social behavior in equids to investigate how social complexity and communicative complexity interact to lead to convergence upon complex communication across taxa. Despite being phylogenetically and physiologically similar, equids demonstrate a great degree of variation and flexibility in their social structure, with species generally falling into one of two social systems: stable harems or fission fusion societies. Thus, equids are ideal candidates for approaching these questions. I study four equid species, the Plains Zebra, the Grévy’s Zebra, the Asiatic Wild Ass, and Feral Horses, to investigate how an animal’s social structure and its relative complexity can lead to differences in communicative and social behavior, as well as how environmental factors can shape the modality in which a species’ communicative complexity manifests. In addition to these comparative questions, I focus on the Plains Zebra, which possesses the most complex social system among the equids, and am interested in how they use their communication to navigate their multi-tiered social structure and maintain their differentiated social bonds. I explore these questions using a combination of classical behavioral observations and machine learning techniques to identify ecologically meaningful units in the communication systems of these species while avoiding human perceptual biases.
Visit Former Team Members page.