Graduate Students

Nick Aflitto

Research Interests: My research is driven by a desire to reveal pest solutions that can be found in nature.  During my Ph.D., I aim to increase our understanding of acoustic-mediated chemical responses.  Specifically, I am interested in the interaction of sound and chemical communication across different trophic levels.  I see this work as a continuation of my M.S. research where I studied bark beetle acoustic communication and helped develop less toxic treatment options using biologically-relevant sounds.


Silas Bossert

Research Interests:
I am passionate about insect biology and systematics and I have a particularly strong interest in bees. My research interests are in line with this passion; I primarily focus on the phylogeny and systematics of bees using molecular and morphological methods. Specifically, I use newly developed hybrid-based targeted enrichment methods to capture hundreds to thousands of ultraconserved elements (UCEs) from published genomes and non-model taxa. I am keen to apply diverse phylogenetic methodologies, especially contrasting concatenation and coalescent-based species tree methods, as well as using species trees to conduct ancestral state reconstructions and biogeographical hypothesis testing. Besides my methodological focus, I am highly interested in historical and present-day bee faunistics, changing species compositions and cryptic species. My taxonomic emphasis mainly addresses the diverse Nomiinae (Halictidae), as well as bumblebees (Bombus, Apidae).

Matthew Boucher

Research Interests:
Starting this fall, I will begin working with Dr. Greg Loeb investigating chemical ecology and pathogen biology in spotted wing drosophila. The goal behind our work is tease out interactions that we can use to our advantage in a small fruit pest management program. In the past, I worked under Dr. John Burand and Dr. Joe Elkinton at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studying virus prevalence in managed and natural insect pollinators as well as molecular characteristics of forest pest pathogens. Moving forward, I am interested in disease dynamics between insects and agricultural systems, namely how plant and insect pathogens move through agroenvironments and how they alter insect and plant behaviors.

Natalie Bray

Research Interests:
I am a graduate student in Dr. Kyle Wickings’ lab. I am interested in soil arthropod ecology and the role of microarthropods related to belowground carbon cycling as well as microarthropod effects on microbial communities in horticultural and agricultural systems.    

Kristen Brochu

Research Interests: I am interested in the evolution of life history traits, specifically patterns of generalist vs. specialist diets. My dissertation is focused on examining the physiological adaptations of the squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, to its specialist diet, using chemical analysis and transcriptomic tools. Although I currently study bees, I love all insects and have spent a lot of quality time with my collecting net in Canada, the United States, Barbados, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, and The Bahamas.

Mary Centrella

Research Interests: The human population is growing and agricultural production must keep up with it! Fruit and seed-set of most crops is dependent upon pollination, yet honeybees appear to be in decline. The pollination gap this has created is currently being filled by solitary bees. As humans change their landscape to produce more crops, what are the ramifications for our solitary pollinators? I study the mason bee Osmia cornifrons to answer this question. At the landscape scale, I am using historical data to document temporal and spatial range changes of this species across the Eastern Seaboard. Locally, I am placing bees in New York apple orchards that range from agricultural to natural surroundings and analyzing their pollen to quantify host-plant diversity and pesticide content. I will follow these field experiments with laboratory experiments to deduce which specific diets and pesticides are most detrimental and/or beneficial to solitary bee fitness. If we understand what conditions are most beneficial for solitary bees, we can design agriculture with them in mind, and conserve both bees and agricultural production.

Ethan Degner

Research Interests: I hope to improve the human condition by studying medical entomology. I would like to study mosquito ecology and reproduction. I hope to develop novel methods with which mosquito populations may be controlled in order to curb the transmission of diseases, such as dengue and malaria.

Kaitlin Deutsch

Research Interests: I am broadly interested in the ecology and conservation of native pollinators. For my master’s dissertation at the University of Oxford, I investigated the prevalence of pathogens in syrphid flies. At Cornell, I would like to study the potential effects of disease, pesticide exposure, and climate change on the ability of native pollinators to fulfill critical pollination services. Under the supervision of Dr. Scott McArt, I hope to translate the scientific results into policy suggestions and guidelines.

Laura Figueroa

Research Interest:
I am broadly interested in applied ecological research and conservation biology of pollinators. I am working with Dr. Scott McArt in the fascinating field of bumble bee epidemiology, with a focus on floral features influencing disease transmission. I am interested in exploring disease distribution/spread at a network scale through time.

Zoe Getman-Pickering

Research Interests I am interested in chemical communication in bi and tri-trophic interactions between plants and insects. In particular, i am interested in how invasive species interact with organisms in their novel range and how this can lead to rapid evolution. My research combines mathematical modeling and empirical studies.

Heather Grab

Research Interests: I am a graduate student in Greg Loeb’s lab. I’m interested in investigating the influences of landscape simplification due to agriculture on pollination and biological control services provided by wild insects to strawberry production in NY. I hope to understand how farm level diversification may potentially buffer the negative impact of simplified landscape contexts. In my free time I love exploring the great hiking trails and waterfalls around Ithaca and spending time on my mini-farm with my ducks, chickens and goats.

Maxwell Helmberger

Research Interests:
I am interested in population and community ecology, primarily of insects and other invertebrates within the soil. The cryptic nature of the soil environment and the small size of many soil organisms mean that even basic ecological interactions are difficult to study. As such, soil can be difficult to manage and manipulate to ensure proper deliver of ecosystem services. My thesis research will focus on the potential of soil microarthropods such as mites and springtails to reduce the biological control efficacy of entomopathogenic nematodes through predation, and how soil biotic and abiotic factors affect predation rates.

Philip Houtz

Research Interests:  I am a Ph. D student in Nicolas Buchon’s lab. I am using Drosophila melanogaster as a model to study the genetic networks that control epithelial turnover in the gut. Specifically, I am interested in the mechanisms that control enterocyte extrusion from the epithelial layer, how this cellular delamination is coordinated with cytokine signaling to induce appropriate proliferation and differentiation responses in intestinal stem cells, and how the activity of bacteria within the gut can disrupt or maintain these events. My work should provide new, detailed insight into the cellular events that are responsible for maintaining gut homeostasis and integrity, and how different bacterial interactions may shape these processes. 

Joo Hyun Im

Research Interests:  Joo Hyun graduated from Grinnell College in 2010 with a BA in Biology and Global Development Studies. Prior to graduate school, she worked with Dr. Rachel Brem at UC Berkeley and Dr. Mimi Shirasu-Hiza at Columbia University studying natural genetic variation of salt response in Saccharomyces yeast and fly virus respectively. For more information, please see her linkedin page.

Ashley Leach

Research Interests:  I am a graduate student in Dr. Nault’s lab. I’m interested in exploring integrated pest management (IPM), environmental sustainability, and insect ecology. Specifically, I am studying a novel multi-faceted IPM strategy to help onion growers manage Onion Thrips and Iris Yellow Spot Virus within their fields.

Timothy Luttermoser

Research Interests:  I am broadly interested in insect ecology and natural history, and particularly in community and landscape ecology. For my M.Sc. research at Purdue University, I focused on behavioral and chemical ecology of ants. Specifically, I studied odorous house ants, a native North American ant which has an extremely variable social structure which seems to relate in some way to its success in urban areas. For my PhD at Cornell, I would like to focus on community ecology in agroecosystems under the supervision of Dr. Katja Poveda. I am particularly interested in understanding how diversity and community composition relate to ecosystem services such as pest control by natural enemies.

Anyi Mazo-Vargas

Research Interests:  I am interested in understanding how new morphological features develop and evolve to create the amazing diversity of forms we see in nature. Variations in morphology during evolution are the result of changes in regulatory programs during development. Thus, I want to focus on gene interactions specifically in the development of wing color patterns of Heliconius butterflies. My work should provide insights to understand what changes in developmental gene regulatory networks contribute to the formation of new phenotypes.

John McMullen

Research Interests:
I am interested in microbial symbiosis and understanding the chemical interactions and the underlying co-evolution that occurs between a host (in particular insects) and their microbial partners. I received my BS and MS in Microbiology from the University of Arizona under the tutelage of Patricia Stock studying the tripartite symbiosis between insects, insect pathogenic nematodes and their mutualistic bacterial partners.

Nelson Milano

Research Interests:  I am broadly interested in examining the effects of pesticides, pathogens and nutrition on pollinator health. I received my B.S. from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst where I conducted and assisted with research in above- and belowground plant-insect interactions in cucumber (Cucumis sativus) and population dynamics in hemlock woolly adelgid and winter moth. For my M.S. at Cornell University, I would like to continue studying aspects of pollinator health under the supervision of Dr. Scott McArt and Dr. Brian Nault. I am particularly interested in understanding the effects of land management and practices on bumble bee performance across different landscapes.

Manuel Ricardo Perez Alvarez

Research Interests: I am interested in insect ecology and community ecology, and the application of ecological theory for risk assessment and management of transgenic crops and conventional agricultural methods. I would like to address how GM crops may affect ecological functions and associated ecosystem services of the tropical agro ecosystems using two different approaches: ecological network analysis and functional biodiversity.

Talya Shragai

Research Interests:
I am interested in the biology of vector-borne diseases. For my undergraduate research at the University of California, Los Angeles, I focused on the intersection between biology and global development; specifically, I looked at how anthropogenic impact affects animal behavior. For my Ph.D. at Cornell University, I would like to study the impact of climate change on mosquito behavior and physiology under the supervision of Laura Harrington. I am particularly interested in understanding how these changes may influence the dynamics of disease transfer.

Juan Jose Silva Fernandez

Research Interests:  My fields of interest are biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, toxicology, and population genetics and I am applying to Cornell as a PhD student in Entomology. I am fascinated by the life cycle, behavior, and ecology of mosquitoes and other insects. More precisely, I would like to study resistance to insecticides because this is a field where I can evidence evolution happening every day to the mosquito population. Finally, I would like to drive a project under the direction of Dr. Scott: the idea would be to seek molecular markers involved in resistance to insecticides using A. aegypti as target organism.

Leticia Smith

Research Interests: I am interested in how disease-vector arthropods adapt to insecticidal and environmental stresses and how this may affect the ways in which we manage and control them. Insecticides are still the most common and often only means to control some of the most dangerous disease vectors such as the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. My research in the Scott Lab focuses on the fitness effects of insecticide resistance in A. aegypti.  Insecticide resistance in medically important organisms is of worldwide concern, especially to the regions most troubled by vector borne diseases. My goal is to help find effective management strategies to reduce disease risk while minimizing impact to the environment.

Katherine Urban-Mead

Research Interests:  I am interested in the spatial ecology of beneficial insects in agricultural landscapes. For my undergraduate and M.Sc. research at Yale University, I focused on the interaction networks of wild bee communities in old-field meadows across human impact gradients. For my Ph.D., I would like to continue studying landscape scale beneficial insect dynamics and theory-driven conservation with Prof. Bryan Danforth. I am particularly interested in understanding early season forage provisioning and factors affecting nest site availability for wild bee pollinators in apple orchards.

Michael Wolfin

Research Interests: My primary interests are in chemical ecology, particularly olfaction, insect chemical communication.  My project involves the investigation of the immediate basis for olfactory-mediated host and non-host differentiation by phytophagous insects so that we can better explain how specialist and generalist species differ in the way they process host odors in a 'chemically noisy' environment, and evolve from one extreme to another.