Students affiliated with the BRTC are an integral part of our future.Graduate students conduct their own research as well as assist with general museum tasks. Undergraduate students (interns and volunteers from the University) also contribute to various research projects and collection maintenance.

Nick Bertrand, M.Sc. Student

Heterodonty in the Ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii): taxonomic distribution and evolution

Among the ray-finned fishes, homodonty (dentition composed of the same type of teeth) is much more prevalent than heterodonty (dentition composed of different types of teeth). Though a few striking examples of actinopterygian heterodonty have been known for a long time and are well documented (e.g. in the oral jaws of the wolf fishes) the distribution of this trait across the Actinopterygii is unclear and has yet to be summarized within a phylogenetic context. My research is focused on investigating the distribution of heterodonty within the Actinopterygii in order to provide a clearer picture of its evolutionary history within this incredible group of fishes. Due to the sheer size of the Actinoptergyii (roughly 29,000 species) I am focusing my review at the family level, utilizing a combination of museum specimens and the Ichthyological literature.

Adrian Castellanos, PhD student

Adrian is a recent graduate from Texas A&M University and has substantial experience working in museum collections (Texas A&M’s Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections and theHouston Museum of Natural Science).  Adrian is interested in the phylogeography of neotropical mammals. acastellanos*at*

Jennifer Cary, PhD student

Phylogenetic analysis and song differentiation between the hybridizing Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophrus bicolor) and Black-crested Titmouse (Baeolophrus atricristatus) in south-central Texas.

Tufted Titmice (Baeolophus bicolor) and the Black-crested Titmice (Baeolophus atricristatus) are two species of songbirds that are inter-breeding in central Texas.  At one time they were considered one species so for my research I am investigating the hybridization occurring between these two species.  For my project I am asking two main questions:  1) What is the extent of hybridization, and 2) what song elements differ between the species and what elements are used by hybrids.  I will be using computer programs to analyze the songs and a combination of microsatellites and mitochondrial data to determine the extent of hybridization.

Aleyda Galán, MS student

Aleyda is a first year MS student working on a biodiversity assessment of South Texas through the East Wildlife Foundation. She is interested in the evolutionary ecology of parasites and pathogens. Aleyda would like to obtain a career in academia where she can continue her parasitology and pathology research.


Johanna Harvey, PhD Student

Avian malarial lineages

I am examining the diversity and evolution of avian malarial lineages, as they are distributed across the African continent. I will be examining the degree to which Haemosporidian lineages are geographically structured, distributed and limited, as well as determining the phylogenetic relationships among parasite as well as their host associations. My study will examine the dynamics of malarial parasite assemblages locally and continentally across Africa.

Jerry Huntley, PhD Student

As a first year doctoral student, I am still formulating the research that will make up the bulk of my dissertation work.  I am broadly interested in many evolutionary patterns including, but not limited to, systematics, phylogenetics, phylogeography and historical biogeography.   My research will likely focus on the avifauna of the African continent as a model system for investigating these patterns.


Dae-Min Kim, M.Sc. Student

I have wanted to be a “fishguy” since I was five. I am interested in phylogeography, morphology, and phylogenetic relationships of minnows (Cyprinidae). Current research focuses particularly on North American and South Korean species, and South Korean loaches (Cobitidae).”

Kole Kubicek, M.Sc. Student

Developmental osteology of Red drum (sciaenops ocellatus) and spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus

I am currently studying skeletal development in members of the family Sciaenidae, particularly red drum and spotted seatrout. In Texas, both fish are economically important and commonly produced and stocked into the wild to help sustain wild populations. Knowing how the skeleton develops will allow for a better understanding of the early stages  of development in these fish as well as potentially helping to determine causes of bone deformities during production.

Caitlin Nessner, M.Sc. Student

Population genetics of chewing lice (Geomydoecus sp.) of Pocket gophers (Geomys breviceps

The Baird’s pocket gopher, Geomys breviceps, is commonly found in the southern portion of the United States.  Pocket gophers are fossorial mammals that live within intricate tunnel systems.  My research focuses on the population genetics of chewing lice, Geomydeoucus sp. parasitizing the pocket gopher hosts. This study will be completed through the use of a combination of microsatellites and mitochondrial data that will be analyzed to determine the genetic relationships among chosen populations in correlation with pocket gopher populations. These data and future prospective research will evaluate the coevolution of pocket gophers and their chewing lice.

Whitney Preisser, PhD student

Whitney is a recent graduate from University of Notre Dame. She is a first year PhD student broadly interested in host-parasite coevolution. More specifically, she’s interested in both parasite and host behavioral changes and adaptations that affect host exposure and susceptibility, and parasite transmission between hosts. She hopes to pursue and expand these topics for her dissertation.


Jaime Rodriguez, MS student

Jaime began his thesis work Fall 2012 and he is working on tick-borne pathogens. Jaime is co-advised by Dr. Sarah Hamer in Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M.



Chris Shalk, PhD Student

Mechanisms of Anuran Community Assembly in the Bolivian Gran Chaco

The Bolivian Gran Chaco has over 30 species of anurans that possess a wide diversity of reproductive strategies (e.g. foam nests) and body morphologies (e.g. carnivorous tadpoles). Using the Chacoan tadpole assemblage as my model system, my research aims to understand the mechanisms shaping community assembly in lentic waterbodies in the tropics.


Nicole Smolensky, PhD Student

Phylogeny, Population Ecology and Conservation of Osteolaemus tetraspis in Cameroon

The dwarf crocodiles (Osteolaemus) are small old-world crocodilians distributed throughout West and Central Africa. They are hunted throughout their geographic distribution primarily for food. Their conservation status is uncertain due to deficient information on population sizes and harvest rates. Conservation organizations and local government entities are concerned that hunting pressure in conjunction with habitat loss are threatening the species. Additionally recent evidence suggests the genus is not monospecific as is currently described. The objectives of my research are to test current hypotheses on the phylogeny of Osteolaemus, and investigate the population ecology and conservation status of O. tetraspis in Cameroon. I will take a multi-faceted approach involving population genetics, population enumeration and harvest rate estimation.

Oona Takano, PhD student

Oona is a first year PhD student and a recent graduate from the University of Florida. She has substantial and widespread field experience working with birds.  Her research interests include host-parasite coevolution, phylogeography, and populations genetics, specifically of birds and their feather lice.




Eric Tsakiris, PhD Student

Freshwater Mussels in Texas

I am interested in reproduction, host fish, and community ecology of freshwater mussels (Family Unionidae) in streams and rivers of Texas.

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