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People

~Here are our current lab members. For information on me (DL) click on the PI link above in the menu.

Ph.D. students

Danielle Wasserman
(dwasserman@gradcenter.cuny.edu)

Danielle is a CUNY, Evolution Ecology and Behavior Doctoral candidate in the Lahti Lab. Danielle's main interests are morphological variation and systematics with special attractions to reptiles and bones. The focus of her dissertation, Hyoid Evolution in Hawaiian Honeycreepers (Drepanidinae) was seeded during an internship at the Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago, IL). Danielle was fixing an Asian water monitor skeleton mount and was unsure of where to put its dislocated hyoid apparatus (tongue skeleton). Danielle migrated to Southeastern Louisiana University (SLU) for a curatorial MS assistantship and to study evolution in the Crother Lab. At SLU, Danielle student-managed it's herpetology collection and was encouraged to expose the hyoids of as many monitor lizard species as possible. Danielle does essentially the same thing within the finch clade Drepanidinae, an adaptive radiation, singular in magnitude and endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. The conservation status of Drepanidinae and the need for intact, in-fluid specimens creates special challenges. Danielle relies on computed tomography scan laboratories, museum collections, and geometric morphometric techniques and resources to complete her mission, which is the most accurate possible reconstruction of hyoid shape transformation over time in the honeycreepers. The work is shedding some light on the hyoid function and adaptive significance, the nuances of which are largely unknown. Note: the Asian water monitor "hyoid" that inspired the MS that inspired the Ph.D. was actually a piece of the pectoral skeleton. 

Go to Danielle's website

 

Mason Youngblood
(masonyoungblood@gmail.com)

Mason received his B.S. in Biology from the University of South Carolina, where he studied genetics and behavior in mammalian and insect models. He is now a Doctoral Candidate in the CUNY Psychology Program, specializing in Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology. His current research is focused on cultural evolution. He has assessed the state of the interdisciplinary field using bibliographic methods; conducted a study of music sampling through time; and developed a new RFID-based method of monitoring bird populations using feeders. Currently he is studying the dynamics of house finch song change through time, especially with an eye to detecting biases in social transmission.

Go to Mason's website

 

Franny Geller
(frannygeller@gmail.com)

Having graduated with a bachelors degree in Music from Queens College, Franny made a transition from human song to birdsong to biology. Her dissertation research involves an investigation of cultural lability (the rate at which a trait culturally evolves), and a study of the degree to whcih developmental, demographic, and ecological fractors underlie house finch song structure and cultural transmission.

Go to Franny's website

 

 

Masters/Postbaccalaureate researchers

Maleha Mahmud, lab manager
(mahmud.maleha96@gmail.com)

Maleha received a BA in Anthropology with high honors from Queens College, and wrote an honors thesis entitled "Trade, exchange and interaction in the Harappan civilization”. She is currently working on the Bronx River urban ecology project for her Biology Master's research. Her focus is on how the macroinvertebrate community varies along the stream, and what abiotic and biotic variables are predictive of species diversity and water quality. Maleha has been our lab manager since 2019.

 

 

Oditi Debi
(oditi.debi62@qmail.cuny.edu)

Oditi Debi earned a Bachelors degree in Psychology with a minor in Biology, and is now a post-baccalaureate preparing for a career in pharmacology. In the Lahti Lab, Oditi has been a research assistant for the Bronx River Urban Ecology Project, helping the research team to monitor water quality and to survey biodiversity.

 

Ritika Nath
(ritika.nath02@qmail.cuny.edu)

Ritika received a BA in Biology from Queens College. She is working on the Bronx River urban ecology project.  For her Master's research she is conducting a survey of mammalian diversity along the Bronx River. She is specifically interested in how urbanization impacts mammalian species composition and whether competitive dynamics in an urban context impact the presence or absence of mammalian species in certain habitats.

 

 

 

Catalina Isaura Tapia
(catalina.tapia27@qmail.cuny.edu)

Catalina received a BA in Biology with a minor in French, from Queens College. She is currently working on the Bronx River urban ecology project, helping to identify stream macroinvertebrates as well as setting camera traps to monitor mammalian diversity. Catalina's dog-son Luke Dingus has not yet chosen a research project.

 

 

 

Macarena G. GomezdelaTorre
(macarena.gomezdelatorreclavel93@qmail.cuny.edu)

Macarena received a BA in Biology from Queens College. Her Master's research explores the relationship of personality traits and cognition in small mammals as well as the role of domestication in the evolution of these species. She is also interested in education, animal welfare, and the conservation of ecosystems.
 
 
 
 

 

Cristina Morales
(cristinacmorales@gmail.com)

 

Salvatore Asaro
(sal.asaro@gmail.com)

Salvatore is a master’s student with research interests in ecology, biodiversity, botany, and natural history. He received his BA from Williams College in 2011, with majors in American Studies and Studio Art. He is an adjunct lecturer in the QC Biology department and his current thesis research investigates the biodiversity of terrestrial flora along the Bronx River. He is also pursuing a Horticulture Certificate at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

 

 

Shari Zimmerman
(shari.zimmerman54@qmail.cuny.edu)

Arya Hawkins-Zafarnia
(arya.hawkins-zafarnia61@qmail.cuny.edu)

Jasmin Alim
(jasmin.alim@qc.cuny.edu)

Jasmin’s main focus is in the Baker Lab, determining the effects of natural synergists and organic pesticides for the control of the potato pests. She has joined Bobby’s research endeavors in Awash National Park, Ethiopia, to study nesting associations between Ploceus weaverbirds and other species.

 

Amanda Goldstein
(ajgoldst7@gmail.com)

Amanda started in the lab on the house finch cultural evolution project. After receiving her BA in Biology, she transitioned into the MA program. She is interested in ecology and conservation, and has been an environmental educator at the Long Island Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Her major Master's research project is on the urban ecology of birds as part of the Bronx River Project.

 

 

 

 

Charles Maniego
(chaimaniego@gmail.com)

Charles has painstakingly aligned (in an analogous way to genetic aligment by hand) songs of house finches (recorded by Dr. Paul Mundinger) to assess within- and between-individual variation in song structure. He received his BA in Biology and defended his Honors thesis in the lab, and now is expanding this work as a Master's research project focused on the nature and extent of cultural "mutation" and thus the unit of cultural evolution in house finch song. He has also received a MS in Biomedical Science from Rutgers University.

 

Lizbeth Vazquez
(lvazq@yahoo.com)

Liz has worked on various projects in the lab, especially when it involves looking for birds! For her major Master's project she is documenting the flora of Ethiopia's Awash National Park. She is also our lab nurse.

 

 

 

 

Jacqueline Milander
(jmilander100@qc.cuny.edu)

Jacqueline is studying the song of the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). This bird not only learns from other members of its species but also mimics other sounds. Jacqueline is determining how the ambient sounds in particular local areas influence what a bird learns and sings.

 

 

 

Wendy Castillo
(birdsonglahti@aol.com)

Wendy is recording and analyzing geographic variation in an introduced population of house finch songs in Hawaii, and comparing them to those previously recorded in California. By so doing she will provide cultural evidence of their location of origin, and also determine how the Hawaiian birds' songs have changed since introduction.

 

 

Undergraduate researchers

Ratna Kanhai
(ratna.kanhai99@qmail.cuny.edu)

Ratna is a biology major working on the house finch cultural evolution project. She analyzes historical songs going back to the 1970s.

 

 

 

 

Andrea Lopez
(andrealopez11796@gmail.com
)

Andrea is a biology major working on the house finch cultural evolution project. She analyzes historical songs going back to the 1970s, and assists in trapping and banding house finches on the Queens College campus.

 



 

 

Postdoctoral Researchers

Bobby Habig 
(heybobby99@gmail.com)

After several years as an educator and program manager at the American Museum of Natural History, Bobby entered our lab and collaborated with Khaleda on the behavior of breeding male and female African village weaverbirds. He expanded this project into a study of colony disturbances, nest attendance, and male boldness that resulted in the first paper submitted for work done by a student in our lab. Bobby, holds two Bachelor's degrees, a Master's in Education, and a Biology PhD. After gaining his 2nd baccalaureate in our lab, he pursued his PhD at Notre Dame in the lab of Beth Archie. His main dissertation project was an assessment of the effect of social status on immune and endocrine function in the baboons of Amboseli, Kenya. He then rejoined our lab with an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship, and is focused on two main projects. First, he is studying the function and evolution of weaverbird nests. Second, he has developed a new urban ecology research program entitled the Bronx River Project, focusing on the natural history and ecological changes along that river between New York City and White Plains. Bobby is mentoring several Master's students on that project. He has recently joined the NYC Coyote Project as well. Bobby led the lab during DL's sabbatical throughout 2019.

 

Andrew F. Richards
(africhards2.718@gmail.com)

Andy received his PhD from the University of Michigan for his study of the life history and behavior of female bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia. Since then he worked for many years with Richard D. Alexanderfocusing on the evolution of human behavior, physiology, psychology and culture. Currently he continues this investigation into evolutionary explanations for learning and other complex traits. He has also been an Adjunct Professor in the Queens College Biology Department.

 
 
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 Alumni

Everyone below has contributed to our research projects in the lab, and nearly all have achieved undergraduate or graduate degrees in the process. Several other students not included here have worked in the lab over the years as well, as visiting researchers, trainees or assistants.

 

Christina Takos (2019)

Christina recorded house finches across Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau County for the house finch cultural evolution project.

 

 

 

 

 

Michelle Mordukhaev
(2016-2019; B.A. in Biology, 2017; lab manager, 2016-2019)

Michelle was, by unanimous consent among those who were in the lab during her 3.5 year time here, the most well-adjusted person among us. Unflappable, cheerful, funny, kind, and of course universally liked, Michelle was a stellar lab manager from 2016-2019. In addition to keeping the lab going, Michelle contributed to a new cultural evolution webpage, worked with Liz on a project documenting the flora of Awash National Park in Ethiopia, and contributed substantially to an academic tribute website in honor of Richard D. Alexander.  She also worked at Long Pond Environmental Center and was a veterinary assistant at a Long Island animal hospital. She left our lab for veterinary school at St. George's University in Grenada.

 

Ar Kornreich
(2016-2019; BA in Biology and Honors Thesis, 2019)

Ar holds the record for hitting the ground running after joining the lab, and her intelligence and industry was an inspiration to the entire lab. Ar completed a pair of independent projects on female song. The first is an empirical study of the seldom-noticed phenomenon of female house finch singing. Ar found, contrary to assumptions in the literature, that female song can be just as long and complex as the much more familiar male song. Ar submitted this paper for publication shortly after graduating. The second project is a review of the literature on the function of female bird song. Ar left our lab to take a doctoral student position in Biology in the laboratory of J. Alan Clark at Fordham University. 

 

 

Susie Yin
(2017-2018; 2nd B.A. in Biology, 2017)

Susie worked with Annie on a study of the recovery of oysters in the NYC area.  Focusing on the shoreline of Randall's Island, in cooperation with the Randall's Island Park Alliance, especially Chris Girgenti, Susie and Anne collected data on the presence and health of the population, the environmental features that correlate with establishment, and the extent of endoparasitism.

 

 

 

Anne Harrison
(2017-2018; B.A. in Biology, 2017)

Annie worked with Susie on a study of the recovery of oysters in the NYC area.  Focusing on the shoreline of Randall's Island, in cooperation with the Randall's Island Park Alliance, especially Chris Girgenti, Annie and Susie collected data on the presence and health of the population, the environmental features that correlate with establishment, and the extent of endoparasitism.

 

 

Natasza Fontaine
(2015 - 2018)

Natasza is one of the best naturalists to enter our lab. She came to us from A&E, where she was a producer. and then the New York Botanical Garden where she worked on the World Flora Online Project. She was engaged in the mockingbird project, recording birds and making behavioral observations. She left our lab to enter the Evolution & Ecology Doctoral Program at Florida State University, studying plant biodiversity in the Austin Mast Lab.

 

 


Eric Roginek
(2014-2018; MA in Biology, 2018)
Eric was our second Master's student to defend a research thesis, and brought a great deal of energy, thought, and inquisitiveness to our lab. He came to us with a background in behavioral psychology, and a broad interest in behavioral mechanisms. For his main Master's project he analyzed house finch song variation in California (based on the recordings of Jackie Song) in order to determine the nature of its variation over space. He is also a tennis pro instructor, and after leaving our lab obtained training in data science.

 

 

  Daniel Mann
(2015-2018; PhD in Linguistics, 2018)

Coming to NYC from Arkansas where he received a B.A. in History and Spanish, Dan earned a Master's in Applied Linguistics from Columbia. He then received a Ph.D. in Linguistics here at CUNY; his Chair was Juliette Blevins at the Graduate Center. Dan has performed research on language acquisition, phonetics and phonology, and comparative and historical linguistics. In our lab he primarily studied the permissivity of vocal learning in the house finch, demonstrating house finch learning of canary trills; this work is published in Bioacoustics. He is now continuing research on both human and bird projects as a postdoctoral scientist in the laboratory of Tecumseh Fitch at the University of Vienna.

 

 

Sandy (Harsangeet) Gill
(2015-2018; BA in Biology, 2016)

Sandy helped analyze swamp sparrow vocal development based on recordings of captive individuals.

 

 

 

 

 

M. Aaron Owen (2010-2017; PhD in Biology, 2017).

Aaron made first contact only a month after the lab was founded. Seven hears later he has been the most consistently present, social, and intellectually active lab member to have left us so far. Through extensive field work in India, Hawaii, Jamaica, St. Croix, and Mauritius, he discovered rapid evolution by sexual selection following introduction of the small Indian mongoose. He defended Ecology, Evolution, and Sexual Selection in the Invasive, Globally Distributed Small Indian Mongoose (Urva auropunctata) in April 2017. While here, Aaron was a skilled laboratory and recitation instructor for many years. After leaving our lab, Aaron pursued a career in data science, and currently works for Major League Baseball. His scientific work is published in the Journal of Insect BehaviorAnimal BehaviourCanadian Journal of Zoology, and Evolution.

 

 

Anna McPherran (2014-2017; BA in Biology and Honors Thesis, 2016). Anna was a pillar of the lab. Her independent research tested for an association between human land use at at a microscale on the phonological structure of house finch songs at several urban areas in California. She also assisted Aaron with his mongoose research in St. Croix. She left us for the PhD program in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Stony Brook University.

 

 

 

 

Christian Van Deurs (2016-2017; MA in Biology). Christian reviewed the evidence for cultural traditions and cultural evolution in mammals for his Master's thesis. He is a science teacher in the NYC school system by day, and a rock star by night.

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Goodman
(2016-2017)

Jonathan has been a collaborator of DL for years, but for a couple of years he was officially a postgraduate intern in evolutionary philosophy in our lab. He majored in behavioral biology & neuroscience at Emory University, and did his graduate work in philosophy at University College London and the University of London. His research while interning with us focused on two main topics. First, he examined the degree to which evolutionary theory can explain morality and moral commands such as The Golden Rule. Second, he began a collaborative project (that continues today) pursuing conceptual clarity among various perspectives in the study of cultural evolution. Jonathan then took a fellowship at the Imperial College London and entered Cambridge University's Department in Archaeology as a doctoral student working with Robert Foley. He is an accomplished editor and scientific journalist, having published widely on various topics including cancer treatment, viral evolution, natural selection, and academic ethics.

 

Ronveer Chakraborty (2014-2017). After graduating from Queens College with a BA in Biology, Ronveer entered our lab and became one of our most fun and active members. He studied the moral traditions of the Tiv people.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Megerian (2013-2017; BA in Biology). Mark was long our manager of contributions to the Online Bibliography of Environmental Thought (OBET).

 

 

 

 

 

Theresa Crupi (2017; BA in Computer Science), software development for the Online Bibliography of Environmental Thought (OBET).

Sara Paccione  (2014-2016; MA in English), background research for several classic works of literature covered in the Reflections on Great Literature blog.

Stacy Wang (2016; BA in Computer Science), software development for the Online Bibliography of Environmental Thought (OBET).

Teresa Wu (2015-2016; BA in Computer Science), software development for the Online Bibliography of Environmental Thought (OBET).

 

Giulietta Coppola (2015-2016; BA in Biology), house finch cultural evolution. Julie also had some crazy adventures in our ornithology class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Khaleda Khan
(2009-2016; BA with Honors Thesis, 2011; lab manager, 2011-2016)

Khaleda joined our lab at its inception in 2009, and helped shape the lab in innumerable ways in its formative years. She did more than anyone else to establish a lab culture, with her openness, irreverent wit, and confident individualism. She became our lab's first manager, a position she defined and created for herself, and maintained for six years. She achieved great success in research, mentoring, and collection curation. Khaleda first studied the behavior of African Ploceus weaverbirds; for her honors undergraduate thesis she characterized the behavior of male village weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) at a breeding colony in Ethiopia. She collaborated with Bobby on this project, which is now published in two papers in Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology. In later research she helped describe the interaction of inherited and learned factors in the development of swamp sparrow song. She also spent three years as the Archivist of the Paul Mundinger house finch recording collection, training and leading dozens of undergraduate researchers in the identification and parsing of the songs of thousands of house finch individuals.  After leaving our lab she obtained training in web design, and is now a software developer for Quadio, the social streaming platform for college music.

 

Chenghui Ju (2011-2015; PhD., Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, 2015).

Chenghui was our lab's second defending doctoral student. She defended her dissertation, Cultural Evolution in Natural Populations: A Quantitative Bioacoustic Analysis, in July 2015. She developed a software package for bioacoustic analysis, FinchCatcher, which established our analytical methods for the cultural evolution project for years to come. She then took a faculty position at the Nanjing Forestry University. She continues to help our students finish their cultural evolution and bird song projects from a distance. Her research in our lab is published in The Auk.

 

 

 

Cheyenne Ganesh (2013-2015; BA in Biology and Honors thesis). Cheyenne joyfully traced vocal development in swamp sparrows, detailing implications for learned vs. inherited song features.

 

 

 

 

 

Daniele DeLeone (2014-2015; CUNY BA in Anthrozoology), cultural evolution and the Trolley Problem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elliot Aguilar (2009-2015; PhD., Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, 2016).

Elliot was our lab's first doctoral student, brought an energetic spirit and a diverse and quantitative intellect-- as well as our first NSF funding!-- to the lab. He defended his dissertation,Models and Methods in Social and Cultural Evolution, in June 2015. He then took a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, in the laboratory of Erol Akçay. Elliot trained in data science following his postdoc, and then took a job with Vroom, the online auto retailer. His work in our lab is published in Theoretical Population Biology and PLoS ONE.

 

 

Gianna McArthur
(2011-2015)

Gianna began in our lab recording house finches as a graduate student, but then became our most significant contributor to the Online Bibliography of Environmental Thought (OBET). She also worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

 

 

 

 

Abudoula Nulumu (2014-2015), House finch cultural evolution. Abudoula also developed a valuable mobile quiz game app for the lab.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johanna Navarro (2009-2015; MA, Biology, 2015). Johanna was our lab's first Master's student and was the first to receive a Master's degree-- and she published almost immediately after defending! (In PLoS ONE). She helped establish graduate research in the lab, along with Wendy and Rose. She performed and published experimental tests on the effect of light on bird egg color, and also conducted a comparative study of the evolution of egg color in ratites. After leaving us she became a faculty member at Queensborough Community College.

 

 

 

Gennesis Zuleta (2013-2014), morality of the Mossi and Kpelle people of West Africa. Genn worked at a furious pace while here, and then went on to receive a Master's in Psychology at Hunter College.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seema Choudhary (2009-2014; BA in Biology, and Honors Thesis, 2011). Seema was one of our first three lab members (along with Stephanie and Khaleda). She studied original reports of local uses of woody plants in The Gambia in West Africa, and discovered several local medicinal uses that had not yet been documented. Seema brought her project nearly to the point of being a monograph, a goal we still hope to reach.

 

 

 

 

Stephanie Kandasami (2009-2014; BA in Biology, and Honors Thesis, 2011). Stephanie, one of our first three lab members (along with Seema and Khaleda), studied the divergence of moral codes between West African cultures, a daunting long-term project she began and led for five years, and that continues in our lab. Steph was social glue and a force for friendliness and good will in the lab. She left us to earn a Master's of Public Health at Columbia University.

 

 

 

 

Alison (Bromberg) Powell (2012-2014). Alison took over the swamp sparrow vocal development for her tenure, in between being a force for Weezer. I will be forever grateful for that opportunity she provided me (fulfilling her promise upon joining our lab) of hanging out with them for an evening after their show.

 

 

 

 

Julieana Steiner (2013-2014; BA, Biology, 2014), House finch cultural evolution; former lab comedienne-- razor sharp wit with millisecond timing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trisha Guduru (2013), House finch cultural evolution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simon Lee (2013-2014; BA, Biology, 2013), House finch cultural evolution. Simon was the first student to productively parse and document house finch songs from the Mundinger archive for Cornell's Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds. 

 

 

 

 

 

Maureen (Pereyra) Banach (2011-2012; BA, Biology, 2012). Maureen was one of the pioneers of our lab's foray into the analysis of vocal ontogeny in birds, focusing on the swamp sparrow. She left us to become a PhD student at the University of Rochester. She defended her dissertation in Immunology in 2018, and then took a postdoc at the University of Colorado Denver.

 

 

 

 

 

Jackie Song (2011-2013). Jackie conducted an extensive and well documented survey of house finch song in California that led to analysis by Eric and Anna. Jackie established our Facebook page, and kicked our social gatherings into higher gear.

 

 

 

 

 

Nardai Mootoo, (2010-2012), Nardai contributed to the project on moral diversity among West African cultures, and also to the Online Bibliography of Environmental Thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lauren Adragna (2011-2012), Swamp sparrow vocal development. Lauren was our lab's first-- but certainly not the last!-- animal lover with veterinary goals. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rose Chin-Hong (2010-2012), Ethiopian flora. Rose is a lifelong botanist at heart, and still frequents Queens College.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon Slomovich (2009-2010), Swamp sparrow vocal development. Sharon became the first of our lab members to go on to medical school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beata (Rozbicka) Sadigh (2009-2010), Morality of the Bemba people of Zambia. Betty has remained active intermittently in the lab, in courses and discussion seminars. She received as Master's degree and is now a teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

Rita Monfort (2009-2011), Parasite epidemiology in baboons, Wolbachia-host coevolution, cuckoo-host coevolution, human evolution, and sperm competition in baboons. Rita performed research in Ethiopia during our first expedition there in 2010.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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