Danielle's main interests are morphological variation and systematics, with special attractions to reptiles and bones. She first became interested in the tongue bone, or hyoid, during an internship at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, when she didn't know where to put this strange Y-shaped bone while fixing an Asian water monitor skeleton mount. Danielle promptly started studying them, and received a Master's degree at Southeastern Louisiana University (SLU) for her survey of monitor lizard hyoids. Here at CUNY Danielle is doing essentially the same thing with the famed Hawaiian honeycreepers, an adaptive radiation that has produced an explosion of different diet and beak types-- and probably hyoids to match. 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.
Alexis is interested in how humans influence the natural environment, especially through urbanization, and how ecosystems respond to these changes. Her dissertation research focuses on vertebrate scavengers in New York State (especially vultures!), and how their population and community ecology varies with the differing levels of urbanization across our area. Among her methods, Alexis uses geospatial tracking to monitor vulture movements, and stable isotope analysis which allows her to determine the sources of their food. During her time at CUNY Alexis has performed research in the laboratories of Jeff Bird, Brian Giebel, and José Anadón.
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 which developmental, demographic, and ecological factors underlie house finch song structure and cultural transmission. She has been a popular teacher of undergraduates at QC. Moths have recently joined the ranks of Franny's favorite organisms.
Macarena G. GomezdelaTorre
Macarena received her Master's in our lab and is now pursuing additional research projects while preparing for the next step in her career. Macarena came to the lab interested in all things rabbit-related! For her research thesis she designed and performed an independent experimental study of domestic rabbits, testing for an association between personality and cognitive traits. She worked with Mason on the analysis. She has also contributed to an ongoing lab project on the ethnobotany of The Gambia.
Angelinna undertook an extensive research project for her undergraduate Biology Honors Thesis, and she is expanding the study even further for her Master's research. Working with Bobby and Gotham Coyote, Angelinna is documenting coyote occupancy and habitat preferences, as well as broader mammalian diversity, across New York City parks.
Andrea joined our lab as an undergraduate, analyzing historical house finch song and helping to trap and band house finches on the Queens College campus. After receiving her BA, Andrea transitioned into the Master's program and is now deciding on a direction for her upcoming research.
Ritika received a BA in Biology from Queens College, and as a Master's student is now working on the Bronx River urban ecology project. Ritika focuses on mammalian diversity along the river's length. 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 received a BA in Biology with a minor in French, and then joined the Master's program. In our lab she is on the Bronx River Urban Ecology Project team. Her focus is macrofungal diversity along the river's length. Currently she is in the thick of field research, collecting and photographing mushrooms and other fungal critters. Catalina's dog-son Luke Dingus has not yet chosen a research project, although by now he probably knows the Bronx River fungi transects very well.
Al is completing his Master's work remotely, completing a project that was begun by Aaron, reviewing all that is known about one of the world's most notorious but interesting mammalian invasives: the small Indian mongoose. For several years Al managed and then directed volunteer services at Central Park. He has recently become the Executive Director of the Darien Nature Center in Connecticut.
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 entered our lab as an undergraduate, working on house finch acoustic analysis. After receiving her BA in Biology, Shari then entered the Master's program, and will soon begin research in a new area, likely on bird egg color.
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 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 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.
Andrew F. Richards
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. Alexander, focusing 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. Recently he has conducted field research on white-crowned sparrows in Michigan in association with the lab of Alec Lindsay at Northern Michigan University.
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.
Is there a Lahti Lab without Bobby? Bobby has been a vital researcher, energizer, supporter, advisor, leader, and friend in our lab almost since its inception. 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 very first of our lab's student publications. 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 focused on two main projects. His main NSF project was a study of function and evolution of weaverbird (Ploceidae) nests. In service of this project he conducted a research trip to Ethiopia, the second trip there for our lab. Second, he developed from scratch a new and thorough urban ecology research program, the Bronx River Project, focusing on the natural history and ecological changes along New York's only freshwater river between the city and its upper reaches in Westchester County. Bobby mentored, and continues to mentor, several Master's students on that project as research supervisor (beginning with Amanda, Maleha, Ritika, Sal, and Angelinna). He joined the NYC-based Gotham Coyote Project and has established numerous connections with other agencies and organizations in the city as a result of this project as well. Bobby led the lab during DL's sabbatical throughout 2019. He then provided tremendous effort in helping guide the lab through the COVID era. Bobby has been a driven and careful scientist, a fair and broad thinker, an encouraging and devoted advisor, and a universally beloved lab member. He leaves us for a professorial position at Mercy College here in NYC.
Maleha received a BA in Anthropology with high honors from Queens College. After taking Animal Behavior, Maleha decided to leave Anthropology temporarily to perform research and gain a Master's degree in Biology. Our lab is very grateful for her decision! Shortly after joining us, she was unanimously voted as the best person to become our third lab manager. She held this position during the most tumultuous and uncertain time in our lab's history, with DL's sabbatical followed immediately by COVID. Maleha's spirit was perfectly suited to manage the lab through this time, as she is one of the most positive, encouraging, and devoted lab members we have ever had. As for research, Maleha joined the Bronx River Ecology Project at its inception. She developed and implemented two projects with Bobby's guidance, on how the macroinvertebrate community varies along the stream, and what abiotic and biotic variables are predictive of species diversity and water quality. After receiving her Master's, she left our lab for the CUNY PhD Program in Anthropology, where she works with Shahrina Chowdhury at Brooklyn College on nonhuman primates.
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 then joined our lab via the CUNY Psychology Program, with a concentration in Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology. Mason quickly diversified into a remarkably versatile researcher. Although his several studies ranged from neurophysiology to developing ornithological monitoring equipment to conducting bioacoustic analysis, Mason firmly established a home base in cultural evolution from which his projects proceeded. He assessed the state of the interdisciplinary field using bibliographic methods; conducted a (still growing) collection of studies of music sampling through time; examined the spread of political extremism as a contagion; and used dynamics of house finch song across several decades to detect biases in social transmission. Mason is the most productive student researcher ever in our lab in terms of projects and publications. By shortly after his point of departure from our lab, he had published all seven chapters of his dissertation in peer-reviewed scientific journals. His publications from our lab will continue, as he also worked with three of our Master's students on their projects (Ar, Macarena, and Wendy). Following his PhD he became a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. He is part of the Minds and Traditions Research Group, where he continues pursuing a range of projects in cultural evolution.
Amanda began her extensive time with us working on the house finch cultural evolution project. After receiving her BA in Biology, she transitioned into the MA program and looked for a new project. She is interested in ecology and conservation, and long wished that our lab would expand to include more projects in that direction. Her wish came true when Bobby developed the Bronx River Urban Ecology Project, and Amanda quickly joined the team. She fell in love with birds during her time in the lab, and so it was not surprising that her research focus became the diversity and abundance of birds on an urbanization gradient along the Bronx River. Amanda rapidly converted her thesis into a manuscript for publication, and became the second lab member (after Johanna) to publish her Master's thesis in a peer-reviewed journal. She is also the only person to receive two degrees while in the lab. Amanda has held various positions in New York City as an environmental educator, ecologist, and conservationist, and she continues to work in this area.
Ratna worked with Mason on the house finch cultural evolution project. She analyzed historical songs going back to the 1970s. She also was an EMT during COVID, responding frequently to coronavirus infection-related calls.
Joderick worked with Mason on the house finch cultural evolution project. He analyzed songs recently recorded in NYC in preparation for a comparison with historical songs. He also worked at a hospital helping afflicted patients during COVID.
Jasmin’s main focus was in the Baker Lab, determining the effects of natural synergists and organic pesticides for the control of the potato pests. But she was an active presence in our lab for several years. Eventually she conducted research with us as well-- she accompanied Bobby on a research expedition to Awash National Park, Ethiopia, and studied nesting associations between Ploceus weaverbirds and other species there.
Cristina worked with Andy, exploring the nature of teaching and its relation to cooperation. She wrote a literature review on the evolution of teaching in human and nonhuman animals.
Arya was one of the most energetic intellectual contributors to our lab ever since he joined us in the spring of 2017 for an unprecedented term of reading a book a week in our lit group. He has a love of spiders, and an uncanny ability to find them. Many ideas, field treks, discussions, and a wedding later, he left us for medical school.
Oditi Debi (2019-2020; BA in Psychology, 2019)
Oditi was a research assistant on the Bronx River Urban Ecology Project, helping the research team (led by Bobby) to monitor water quality and to survey biodiversity. She was of course also part of the rambunctious Oditi-Ritika-Maleha trio. She left our lab for pharmacy school preparation at St. Johns University, and then pharmacy school in Albany.
Christina recorded house finches across Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau County for the house finch cultural evolution project.
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 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. The second project is a review of the literature on the function of female bird song. Ar submitted a paper for publication shortly after graduating, which was accepted at the Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Ar is the second person (after Khaleda) to publish a first-authored paper based on research performed in the lab as an undergraduate. Ar left our lab to take a doctoral student position in Biology in the laboratory of J. Alan Clark at Fordham University.
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.
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.
Charles 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 then received a MS in Biomedical Science from Rutgers University.
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.
(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 and a Master's in computer science.
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 helped analyze swamp sparrow vocal development based on recordings of captive individuals.
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 his dissertation, 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, worked for Major League Baseball for several years, and then moved to the dating app Hinge. His scientific work is published in the Journal of Insect Behavior, Animal Behaviour, Canadian 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 has been collaborating with 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.
Sara Paccione (2014-2016; MA in English), background research for several classic works of literature covered in the Reflections on Great Literature blog.
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 later brought Bobby onto this project, which is now published in two papers in Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology. Khaleda's paper there on male behavior at the colony represents the first first-author publication for undergraduate research in our lab. 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 a Master's degree and then became 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.