People

CURRENT LAB MEMBERS

Rob Pringle, Associate Professor

I have always been fascinated by the ways in which species interactions “cascade” through food webs and other ecological networks, often with surprising outcomes. Research in my lab focuses on three main problems. The first is trying to understand the ways in which large mammalian herbivores directly and indirectly shape the ecosystems they inhabit: how do they affect plants and other animals, and what can this tell us about the likely impacts of past and future extinctions? A related focus is on how top predators structure communities by altering the abundance and behavior of their prey. Finally, I am interested in the spatial organization of these ecosystems–specifically, how regular patterns created by ecosystem engineers like termites influence the behavior of individuals, populations, and ecosystems. Google Scholar profile / ResearchGate profile / Twitter @rob_pringle / [CV]

Lotanna Micah Nneji, Postdoc

I am interested in understanding the diversity, ecology, population genetics and distribution patterns of animals such as invertebrates (butterflies and moths), freshwater fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. My research incorporates ecological and molecular data to investigate the evolutionary ecology of animals. During my PhD, I studied the diversity of herpetofauna in Gashaka Gumti National Park (Nigeria) using a short diagnostic gene fragment (DNA barcode) for rapid species identification and ecological studies. In the Pringle lab, I will conduct the first DNA metabarcoding analyses of the diet composition and niche relationships of herbivorous birds – Ostrich (Struthio camelus camelus), guineafowl (Acryllium vultirinum and Numida meleagris), spurfowl (Pternistis leucoscepus), and bustard (Eupodotis gindiania) – at Mpala Research Centre in Kenya. [CV]

Matt Mumma, Associate Research Scholar

I am an applied ecologist that uses a wide range of field, lab, and analytical techniques to better understand the resilience of wildlife populations and communities to anthropogenic and natural disturbances with a particular interest in the alteration of competitive and predatory relationships. My current work focuses on species recovery in Gorongosa National Park where many wildlife populations experienced significant declines following a 15-year civil conflict. Many species are recovering, but a large discrepancy remains between the past and present composition of wildlife populations. We are examining large herbivore diets via metabarcoding to unravel the relationship among diet quality and diet diversity across the grazer-browser continuum and compare diet quality among species to better understand differences in species recovery. [Website]

Meredith Palmer, Postdoc

My research focuses on predator-prey interactions—specifically, how predators such as lions, hyenas, cheetahs, wild dogs, leopards, and wolves change prey behavior and demography in ways that impact species coexistence and ecosystem functioning. My work incorporates behavioral and demographic information from long-term predator monitoring projects, camera-trap data, and manipulative experiments. During my PhD, I studied the dynamic temporal component of ‘landscapes of fear’ across eastern and southern Africa (primarily in Serengeti National Park). In the Pringle lab, I will investigate how prey mitigate risk from multiple interacting predators, particularly in ecosystems where predator-predator and predator-prey relationships are re-establishing thanks to conservation and restoration efforts. [Website]

Rafael Valentin, Postdoc

As a molecular ecologist, I have a wide range of interests within invasion and community ecology. My past research has focused on development and application of above-ground terrestrial eDNA techniques to survey for invasive insect pests. Presently, I use those same techniques in the Pringle Lab to assess fundamental theories of community structure, trophic interactions, and food web dynamics across two systems—Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, and uninhabited Bahamian islands. In Gorongosa, I am exploring the trophic interaction between vertebrates and arthropods and its effect on community structure. In the Bahamas, I am assessing the impact of introduced top predators on arthropod community structure and how these changes in community composition affect each island’s resultant food web. [Website]

Finote Gijsman Kelemu, Graduate Student

I am broadly interested in plant-insect interactions and the roles they play in maintaining ecosystem biodiversity. For my undergraduate thesis, I investigated the impacts of a non-native, seed-eating weevil on the reproductive success of Cirsium pitcheri, a threatened keystone species endemic to the Great Lakes region of the United States. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, I spent a year working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology in Germany gaining experience in the fields of chemical ecology and plant-insect interactions. In the Pringle Lab, I am interested in investigating the role that chemistry plays in mediating plant-insect food webs and interactions. [CV]

Erin Phillips, Graduate Student

Broadly, I am interested in how ecological communities are assembled, maintained, and in what underpins their variation in space and time. I have a particular interest in both predator-prey and predator-predator interactions, and in the Pringle lab, hope to research how they influence behavior and food web dynamics in African ecosystems. I graduated in 2018 with BSc in Zoology from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where I studied the impacts of prey group shape on detection by birds, and later the effect of predator avoidance on longevity in reptiles and amphibians. Most recently, I studied at Emory University on a Bobby Jones Scholarship, where I approached animal behavior from new angle, researching canine cognitive neuroscience via awake fMRI. [CV]

Joel Abraham, Graduate Student

Disturbances are of paramount importance in structuring ecological communities. I study how these disturbances — particularly herbivory, fire, and flooding — interact with one another and the implications this has for ecosystem structure and function. I use Gorongosa National Park as a model system in which to investigate disturbance interactions. Previously as a member of the Staver Lab at Yale University I studied the behavioral responses of savanna herbivores to drought in Kruger National Park. I graduate from Yale in 2018 with a B.S. in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology as well as Environmental Studies; I remained there for a year as a lab technician before joining the Pringle Lab here at Princeton. [CV]

Matthew Hutchinson, Graduate Student

Consumer-resource interactions form the basis of population and community ecology, yet we are only beginning to understand how they vary. My thesis approaches this broad issue at multiple levels. At the highest level, I have compiled a global dataset of vertebrate diets to examine how specialization changes across latitudes, trophic levels, and study methodologies. Within ecological communities, I am studying how seasonality modifies the diets of and niche partitioning of large herbivores and how the presence of these herbivores influences ecosystem functions such as pollination. At the finest scale, I am examining how foragers respond to perturbation; specifically, documenting how prey selection by a population of African wild dogs is altered by translocation.  [Website]

Harrison Watson, Graduate Student

The carbon sink/source potential of tropical savanna ecosystems are largely unclear, despite their importance to global carbon cycling and sequestration. In particular, I’m interested in how disturbance from fire and herbivory influence carbon sequestration in these systems. My research combines theoretical modeling techniques with field work in Kenya and South Africa to understand the role of disturbance in clarifying the carbon storage potential of tropical savannas. I graduated from Jackson State University in 2019 with a BSc in Marine Biology where I studied mitochondrial genomics using species of crustaceans native to the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Arjun Potter, Graduate Student

My research focuses on the causes and consequences of diet selection by large mammalian herbivores. Most of my fieldwork focuses on plant traits and seeks to understand the underpinnings of niche partitioning. Other projects include a factorial field experiment of herbivory in a floodplain ecosystem and a simple mathematical model of herbivory. I conduct my fieldwork in the beautiful savannas and wetlands of Gorongosa National Park. Before starting my PhD, I researched the endangered wild cattle and savannas of Java and worked on a cattle farm in Connecticut. [Website] [CV]

Megan Demmel, Lab Manager

I am interested in understanding how broad ecological patterns shape populations and species interactions at varying scales, particularly at the microbe level. I graduated from Princeton University in 2019 with a B.A. in Ecology & Evoutionary Biology and a minor in Computer Science. My undergraduate thesis, which I completed in the Pringle Lab, examined gut microbiome composition of savanna herbivores across eastern and southern Africa. I also investigated how dietary shifts of captive animals affect the gut microbiome in order to better understand microbial dynamics and functionality in wild mammal populations.

Ciara Nutter, Lab Manager

Sam Kurukura, Research Technician

I am a field-based biodiversity and ecological-research technician in Laikipia, Kenya. I have worked with the Pringle Lab since 2005 and help to oversee the UHURU Large-Herbivore Exclosure Experiment at the Mpala Research Centre. I have a particular interest in botany, and in understanding how large mammalian herbivores shape savanna ecosystems.

John Ekeno, Research Technician

I work with the Pringle and Tarnita Labs at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya. There, I help to oversee several large-scale and small-scale field experiments focusing on how termites and large mammalian herbivores affect plant and animal communities.

Michiel Veldhuis

Michiel was a post-doc in the Pringle and Tarnita Labs from 2018 to 2019 and is now an Assistant Professor at Leiden University. During his postdoc, he continued his work in the Greater Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem focusing on the niche partitioning among large herbivores and termites and how this is expected to change in the future.

Ana Gledis da Conceição

Ana Gledis was a research technician with the Lab from 2017–2019 and is now pursuing a Master’s degree in conservation biology in Gorongosa National Park. She worked on several projects related to understanding the restoration of the Gorongosa ecosystem.

Jen Guyton

Jen was a PhD student in the Lab from 2013—2018 and is now a photographer, explorer, and naturalist working for National Geographic and others. [Website]

Jessica Castillo Vardaro

As a post-doc in the Pringle and Tarnita Labs from 2015 until 2018, Jess led a multi-species behavioral, ecological, and population-genetic study of termites in Kenya, to understand how competition influences population structure and spatial self-organization. She also is the first to work out molecular techniques for studying termite diets! Jess is now an Assistant Professor in the Biological Sciences at San Jose State University. [Website]

Johan Pansu

Johan, a world-class molecular ecologist, was a post-doc in the lab from 2016 to 2018. Building on our lab’s prior work using DNA metabarcoding to study large-herbivore diets in Africa, Johan led (and continues to lead!) a pioneering effort to characterize large-mammal food webs throughout southeastern Africa. In the meantime, Johan has moved on to a prestigious Marie Skłodowski-Curie Fellowship, based with CSIRO (in Sydney, making us jealous again…)

Tyler Coverdale

Tyler came into the lab as a phenom out of Brown University. During his PhD work at Princeton, Tyler made a number of fascinating discoveries about the effects of elephants and other large herbivores on plant communities and plant antiherbivore defenses in African savannas. He is among the inaugural cohort of Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows at Cornell University, where he is working with Anurag Agrawal[Website]

Chris Baker

After completing his PhD at Harvard, Chris joined the Pringle and Tarnita Labs as a post-doc from 2015 to 2017. With us, he spearheaded an exciting project focusing on how termite mounds in African savannas generate spatial patterns that propagate throughout the ecosystem. Chris has moved on to the Pierce Lab at Harvard, where he is working on disentangling leech-host food webs (among other things, we are sure). [Website] [CV]

Josh Daskin

Josh was the inaugural Pringleton, our first PhD Student. His PhD work on the effects of armed conflict on wildlife populations and ecological dynamics was first-rate and first-of-its-kind, and Josh helped to spark the then-nascent ecological research program in Gorongosa National Park. Josh is now a Fish and Wildlife Biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Fortunately for us, we still cross paths with Josh regularly in Gorongosa.

Tyler Kartzinel

Tyler was with us from 2013 to 2017, first as a Pringleton post-doc and later as a TNC NatureNet Fellow. He left Princeton to join the faculty at Brown University as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and a Fellow in the Institute at Brown for Environment & Society. Tyler built the Pringleton molecular lab from the ground up and led our first forays into DNA metabarcoding; we still work with him on projects in Kenya. [Website]

Ryan Long

Former post-doc Ryan Long (2013-2014) is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Idaho! We have yet to meet his match in terms of expertise in mammalian physiological ecology, movement ecology, and their interface. We continue to collaborate with Ryan on a long-term NSF-funded study on the ecology, behavior, and energetics of spiral-horned antelopes (that’s bushbuck, nyala, and kudu for you big-mammal noobs) in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. [Website]

Patty Chen

Former Lab Manager Patty Chen (2013-2015) has moved on to post-baccalaureate studies at Columbia University and is conducting clinical research at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She was a fantastic lab manager and a key contributor to several papers. She is going to be a life-saving physician someday soon, and we were very fortunate to have her in our orbit for a few years.