PEOPLE

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DIANA J. R. LAFFERTY

Principle Investigator

As a broadly trained and passionate interdisciplinary conservation ecologist, I synergize my research, mentoring, teaching, and outreach activities to maximize participation by diverse people in authentic science to advance our understanding of how wildlife populations–and their associated communities and ecosystems–respond to global change. I lead students in hypothesis-driven research at the nexus of basic and applied ecology using a variety of taxonomic models that span myriad landscapes. The ecological questions I seek to answer often integrate macro and micro-perspectives using a mix of natural history observations, field-based monitoring, traditional and cutting-edge laboratory techniques, geographic information systems, statistical modeling and bioinformatics analyses. Consequently, my research often extends into other disciplines including genetics, microbiology, human dimensions of natural resource management, geography, and postsecondary science education. By intention, my inclusive and highly collaborative research allows me to build successful partnerships with academic, governmental, and non-governmental institutions, as well as industry partners to engage diverse stakeholders in the research process and provide novel opportunities for students and citizen scientist participation at local, national and international levels.

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RYLEE JENSEN

Graduate Student

Using a combination of noninvasive field sampling, 16S rRNA sequencing, and bioinformatics analyses, Rylee is quantifying the strength of multiple physiological, environmental, and evolutionary factors as drivers of gut microbiome diversity and community structure across a diverse herbivore assemblage in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Rylee's research is made possible through a collaborative initiative with scientists at the Etosha Ecological Institute and the University of Georgia. Prior to joining the WECOS Lab, Rylee served as a bear research technician with the National Park Service in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska and as a carnivore technician with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. She earned her BS in Wildlife Ecology and Management from the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.  After completing her MS degree at NMU, Rylee will continue her graduate education as a PhD student studying the impacts of anthropogenic disturbance on wildlife health and population dynamics. Rylee also has a passion for wildlife photography and has traveled around the continent photographing wild megafauna and landscapes. To immerse yourself in her outdoor adventures, visit Rylee on Instagram at @rylee_jay_photo.

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JUSTIN PINERO

Graduate Student

Justin is a MS student in Biology studying the physiological consequences of ecotourism on brown bears at Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Alaska. As a collaborative initiative with the National Park Service, Justin’s findings will aid managers in understanding and mitigating the impacts of tourist-related disturbance on brown bear health. Prior to joining the WECOS Lab, Justin received a B.S. in Biology at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida where his senior research focused on identifying efficient conditions for rearing the maximum number of butterflies. Justin also  served as a sandpine restoration scientist managing a hectare of land with two other interns and maintained three beehives. He interned for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration focusing on science communications and hydrography, contributing to an initiative focused on mapping the bottom of Lake Huron. After completing his graduate program, Justin plans to work as a wildlife biologist at the federal level, contributing to science-informed strategies that will promote the conservation of diverse species. In his free time, Justin loves to skateboard, hike, and go camping. 

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LAURA WHIPPLE

Graduate Student

Laura is a MS student in Biology leading the Yooper Wildlife Watch project, an education and research initiative that uses remote cameras to study wildlife in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In addition to collecting data to inform wildlife management, Laura's research aims to bring new ways of presenting wildlife ecology topics to biology students by utilizing camera trap imagery a teaching tool. Prior to joining The WECOS Lab, Laura received a B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in December 2020. Her undergraduate honors thesis used camera trap data from SnapShot USA - a nation-wide annual camera trapping initiative - to investigate spatial differences in mammal communities between Urbana, IL and other SnapShot USA sites. After graduating from the University of Illinois, Laura worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Hood, TX as a research biologist, where she conducted surveys on small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, oak sapling regeneration, and feral hogs. After completing her MS degree, Laura plans to work as a wildlife biologist or conservation outreach coordinator at the federal level, contributing to science-based ecosystem management strategies while also informing the public on critical environmental issues. In her free time, Laura enjoys hiking, camping, wildlife photography, and trying to teach herself how to knit.

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JULIA SOMA

Undergraduate Student

Julia is a former Freshman Fellow and a senior at NMU pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology. As a long-term WECOS Lab member, Julia is a dedicated technician on our Yooper Wildlife Watch project as well as a contributor to multiple collaborative initiatives including (1) a study to evaluate the effectiveness of remote cameras to track molt phenology in snowshoe hares and (2) a joint initiative among the WECOS Lab, NMU Vertebrate Zoology Museum, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game to examine relationships among American marten, their internal parasites, and their gut microbiomes across the vast Alaska landscape. Julia is currently learning how to apply bioinformatics analyses to examine variation in gut microbial taxonomic diversity and community structure relative to differences in waterfowl gut morphology across taxa. In her spare time, Julia enjoys hiking on trails in Marquette and spending time with friends. Upon graduation, Julia plans to pursue a master's degree and continue contributing to wildlife research. 

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ZACK VAN HUYSEN

Undergraduate Student

Zack is a senior pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Ecology in the Biology Department at NMU. As a long-term WECOS Lab member he has contributed to multiple initiatives including (a) an investigation into the relationship between digestive tract morphology and gut microbiomes in migratory waterfowl, (b) a collaborative effort among the WECOS Lab, NMU Vertebrate Zoology Museum, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game to examine relationships among American marten, their internal parasites, and their gut microbiomes across the vast Alaska landscape, and (c) an assessment of the drivers of gut microbiome diversity and community structure in brown bears across three national parks in Alaska. In his spare time, Zack enjoys hiking on trails in Marquette, reading, and propagating a variety of plants. Upon graduation, Zack hopes to pursue a career that will enable him to synergize his passion for fire ecology and wetland ecology in an effort to promote natural ecological processes and foster environmental stewardship. 

FORMER GRADUATE STUDENTS

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AMELIA BERGQUIST

Graduate Student

2018-2020, M.Sc.

Amelia graduated with her M.Sc. in Post-Secondary Science Education from NMU where she created the Yooper Wildlife Watch data management and citizen scientist portal within the Zooniverse online platform. Yooper Wildlife Watch is a interdisciplinary education, research, and extension initiative that uses remote cameras to examine wildlife spatial and temporal responses to seasonally diverse human activities (e.g., skiing, hiking, mountain biking, hunting, logging) across a mosaic of public and private lands at the rural-wildland interface in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In addition, Amelia developed immersive curriculum for the large-enrollment Principles of Ecology general education course that engages > 200 undergraduates annually in authentic ecological inquiry while simultaneously training students in camera trapping field methods. Prior to attending graduate school, Amelia completed her B.S. degree in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Minnesota Duluth, spent several years working on shipping vessels in Alaska as a NOAA observer, and served as a teacher at Conserve School in Wisconsin. Amilia aims to teach at a community college and engage citizen scientists in meaningful ecological and conservation science. In her free time, she loves to knit, cross country ski, kayak, bake, and convince friends to jump in Lake Superior at odd times of the year.

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SIERRA GILLMAN

NSF Graduate Research Fellow 2018-2020, M.Sc.

Sierra investigated black bear-gut microbiome relationships and the potential consequences of anthropogenic pressures on wildlife gut microbiota community structure. Sierra graduated from Florida State University with a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Studies in 2013. Prior to starting her masters at NMU in 2018, Sierra worked for several years in different research roles including being a large carnivore keeper at Wildlife Safari Park's cheetah breeding program; a research volunteer for Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership in Kianjavato, Madagascar; a field-site manager for research on human-fossa interactions in Morandava, Madagascar; a research technician on deer foraging behavior in Northeast Washington state; and as a research technician on carnivore interactions in Northeastern Oregon. Sierra is currently a PhD student in Dr. Gardner's Quantitative Ecology Lab in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at University of Washington where she is using hierarchical distance models to to synthesize long-term survey data of marine birds and mammals.

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TRU HUBBARD

Graduate student

2019-2021, M.Sc.

Tru was a MS student in Biology at NMU where she led the Yooper Wildlife Watch project, which is an interdisciplinary education, research, and extension initiative that uses remote cameras to examine wildlife spatial and temporal responses to seasonally diverse human activities (e.g., skiing, hiking, mountain biking, hunting, logging) across a mosaic of public and private lands at the rural-wildland interface in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Tru's graduate research focused on the impact of human recreation on black bear occupancy and detection across the Marquette-wildland interface and variation in carnivore community dynamics across across the United States. Beyond Yooper Wildlife Watch, Tru collaborated on SnapShot USA, a nation-wide initiative led by The Smithsonian and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to evaluate wildlife detections and occupancy across all 50 states. Tru continues to be an instructor for Principles of Ecology at NMU and coordinate Yooper Wildlife Watch activities and contribute to Snapshot USA. 

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SARAH TRUJILLO

Graduate student

2020-2021, M.Sc.

Sarah completed her MS degree in Biology in December of 2021. While at NMU, her thesis research focused on examining the ecological causes and consequences of gut microbiome variation in brown bears across three national parks in Alaska (i.e., Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Park and Preserve, and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Her research was a collaborative initiative with scientists at NMU and North Carolina State University as well as researchers with the National Park Service, US-Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, thus enabling her findings to be integrated directly into federal decision-making regarding the conservation and management of brown bears and their microbes. Upon graduation, Sarah began serving as a wildlife biologist with US-Fish and Wildlife Service for the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Washington. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys backpacking, mountaineering, nature photography and spending quality time with her cat.

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCHERS & VOLUNTEERS

2021-2022

Jordon Brown
Morgan Ciecko

Kristian Choate

Claire Jorgensen
Mitchel Hawthorne
Trinity Hinshaw

Michaela Nelson

Ray Ozols

Julia Soma

Caitlin Sternberg

Zach Van Huysen

Jack Welte

2020-2021

Eli Bieri

Jordon Brown
Morgan Ciecko

Anna Cockey

Devon Hains
Mitchel Hawthorne
Madie Horton

Claire Jorgensen

Jacob Laurain

Skyler Mark

Ashlynn Pryal

Andrea Sekloch

Kara Sheldon

Julia Soma

Zach Van Huysen

Jack Welte

2019-2020

Evan Andrus
Vince Bashi
Megan Bertucci
Brandon Caltrider
Morgan Ciecko
Grace Freitag
Jacob Furtah
Sam Golding
Mitchell Hawthorne
Rachael Hildreth
Alyssa Huiskens
Lane Jeakle
Chris Kailing
Cierra Kalinovik
Jacob Lawain
Siarra Lopez
Abby Macek
Kaitlin Morrow
Rob Ort
Raymond Ozols
Emma Piper
Emily Reeves
Connor Smith
Julia Soma
Caitlin Sternberg

Nick Thuma
Zack Van Huysen
Myles Walimaa
Max Wiecek

2018-2019

Evan Ardus
Caroline Arlasky
Chelsea Doran
Grace Freitag
Grace Grimes
Rachael Hildreth
Chris Kailing
Jay Kirschner
Brooke Krysiak
Kevin Kremer
Abby Macek
Abigale Smith

Julia Soma

Lane Jeakle
Alyshia Uhthoff
Myles Walimaa
Kailyn Williams

2017-2018

Caroline Arlasky
Lane Jeakle
Jay Kirschner

Kevin Kremer

Brooke Krysiak
Abby Macek
Alyshia Uthoff