Early-Career Scientists


Timothy Bonebrake – University of Hong Kong




Dr. Bonebrake has broad research interests in global change ecology and tropical conservation. His current and recent studies have focused theoretically and empirically on urbanization and climate change impacts on biodiversity in the tropics, with an emphasis on Lepidoptera. With respect to the PIRE project, Dr. Bonebrake will be examining the role of physiology, plasticity and adaptation in structuring potential climate change responses of tropical butterflies in West Africa.




Sophia Carodenuto – UNIQUE forestry and land use and Freiburg University




With a background in environmental governance and international culture and politics, Sophia Carodenuto combines her doctoral research on international forest policy implementation with her current position at UNIQUE. She is professionally engaged in a number of African countries designing and implementing REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade). She consults governments, communities, and business actors in the land use sector with the aim of fostering collaboration towards development that integrates sustainable management of forests and natural resources. Her praxis-oriented research focuses on REDD+ and FLEGT tools and measures for implementation, including evidence-based policy making and policy learning, decentralization and multi-sector institutional collaboration, social and environmental safeguard monitoring, and transparency and environmental information system establishment.



Adam Freedman – Center for Tropical Research, UCLA and Harvard University




Dr. Freedman’s research interests include population and comparative genomics, speciation, and mechanisms of genetic and phenotypic variation within and between species.  His research has investigated processes of diversification in African rainforest skinks, the evolutionary consequences of deforestation on African rainforest birds through the combination of genetic, morphological, and remote-sensing environmental data; in addition Dr. Freedman’s research has combined bioinformatics and high throughput sequencing to understand the genetic basis of rapid phenotypic evolution in the domestication of dogs. His current research aims to integrate RNA-Seq and phenotypic data from Anolis lizards to understand the genetic basis of convergence in dewlap coloration patterns.



Lisa Korte Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability, Smithsonian Institution




Dr. Korte is a conservation biologist with expertise in African mammals and extensive field experience in Central Africa.  Her research is on the social and spatial organization of large mammals, including buffalo and elephants.  She is also studying how extractive industries and science-based conservation organizations can work together to develop natural resources that benefit people while ensuring long-term biodiversity conservation.  Dr. Korte is the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Gabon Biodiversity Program, which will host the field-based component of the PIRE undergraduate training program in year 4.  Field visits to Gamba will expose students to how the private sector, government, and NGOs can work together to promote and protect biodiversity in the context of resource development.  Students will also gain an appreciation for Gabon’s national parks as well as the beauty of the coastal forests, where the rainforest meets the sea and hippos, elephants, and buffalo walk the beach.  We hope to inspire the next generation of scientists and provide valuable research opportunities for students and collaborators.



Alexandra Ley – University of Halle-Wittenberg




After her studies of biology at the University of Bonn (Germany), Dr. Ley obtained her PhD at the University of Mainz (Germany) studying morphological, phylogenetic and ecological aspects of African Marantaceae. She then went as a post-doc to the ULB in Brussels (Belgium) to intensify my research on speciation in African Marantaceae by studying phylogeographic patterns across central Africa. She is currently a researcher at the University of Halle (Saale) (Germany). Her main research interest is on ecological and genetic processes shaping species diversification in the understory of tropical rainforests. Her favorite study group is currently still the family Marantaceae (Zingiberales). Within the PIRE project she will contribute to investigations on the impact of climate change on plant speciation. For a model species from the family Marantaceae we will analyze the morphological and genetic variability across a climate gradient using surveys, transplant experiments and transcriptomics trying to detect local adaptations as a potential basis for future radiations under climate change.



Stephan Ntie – Université des Sciences et Techniques de Masuku




Dr. Stephan Ntie obtained his PhD in Conservation Biology from the University of New Orleans in 2012. For his dissertation, he focused on the historical biogeography of forest antelopes (duikers) in Central Africa, testing two hypotheses of tropical diversification: the forest refugia and the riverine barrier hypotheses. He has broad interest in population genetics, molecular phylogeography, non-invasive genetics, and tropical ecology. Dr. Ntie recently joined the Université des Sciences et Techniques de Masuku (USTM) where he is committed to developing collaborative research projects and enhancing Gabonese students’ interest in conservation biology. Within the PIRE project, Dr. Ntie will work on mapping duiker genomic variability among various forest habitat types in Cameroon and Gabon using DNA extracted from non-invasively collected samples.



Kristen Ruegg – Center for Tropical Research, UCLA




Dr. Ruegg is currently a Research Scientist and Lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Senior Research Fellow with the University of California, Los Angeles’s Center for Tropical Research.  Dr. Ruegg completed a Postdoctoral position at Stanford University in 2010, a Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley in 2007, and a Master’s degree at San Francisco State University in 2002.  Her research leverages recent genomic approaches to address ecologically important questions in natural systems.   As part of the PIRE project, Dr. Ruegg will serve as a consultant for the use of Next Generation Sequencing technologies to understand patterns of adaptive genetic variation in African taxa.  Specifically, she will assist with the implementation of RAD sequencing.



Henri Thomassen – Institution of Evolution & Ecology, Eberhard Karls University




Dr. Thomassen is interested in evolutionary ecology and the conservation of biodiversity. His particular focus is on analyzing evolutionary and ecological processes in a spatial context, and using the results in informing conservation practices. Dr. Thomassen’s main focus in the PIRE will therefore be on modeling intraspecific variation of target taxa. He will also be involved in genotyping several taxa and in developing and presenting workshops on spatial analyses.




Breda M. Zimkus – Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University




Breda Zimkus is a biologist interested in biodiversity, biogeography, phylogenetics and conservation of amphibians and reptiles. Her research integrates a broad range of techniques, including fieldwork, taxonomy, and molecular systematics to interpret patterns of speciation and diversity. She is particularly interested in the phylogenetic diversification of African amphibians and use of molecular tools to define species boundaries. She is currently investigating two widespread frog families, puddle frogs (Phrynobatrachidae) and ridged frogs (Ptychadenidae), to understand the complex diversification patterns of these lineages across sub-Saharan Africa. She is collaborating with the PIRE team on aspects of the amphibian target species (Phrynobatrachus auritus), including collection, morphology and plasticity studies.


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