Ecology & Evolution

students on Galapagos Field Trip with marine iguana in foreground

The Ecology & Evolution Area has students who often do highly original research projects. Many work through a scientific problem from beginning to end. Learning statistics is a pillar of the training. Many students also become fantastic naturalists. Opportunities abound to study in exotic as well as local terrestrial ecosystems. Master's students have been very successful at raising funds to cover their research expenses. Graduates go on to work with land management agencies, such as the National Park Service, to teach at community colleges, and to Ph.D. programs.

Cheryl Courtney-Hogue - parasites of fishes

Cheryl CourtneyProfessor and Chair
Ph.D. University of Wisconsin, Madison
Phone: (818) 677-3349
Fax: (818) 677-2034
Office: Chaparral Hall 5315

I study various aspects of the relationship between fish and their macroparasites and conduct research in environmental parasitology. Research projects that I am currently involved in include studying heavy metal accumulation in cestodes parasitizing fish from water bodies that vary in level of contaminants, examining histopathological changes in parasitized fish from polluted habitats, assessing the role of parasites in mate choice in fish, and studying the population biology of parasite assemblages of lacustrine fish.

Robert Espinoza - comparative physiological ecology of amphibians and reptiles

Robert EspinozaProfessor & Special Assistant to the Dean
Ph.D. University of Nevada, Reno
Phone: (818) 677-4980
FAX: (818) 677-2034
Office: Chaparral Hall 5319
Dean's Office: Eucalyptus Hall 2130

Research in the Laboratory of Integrative and Comparative Herpetology seeks to understand how forces such as evolutionary history, the physical environment, and interactions among species affect an animal's morphology, physiology, ecology, behavior, and life history. In short, we study the "how" and the "why" of animal function. We study these relationships principally in amphibians and reptiles because they are ideal organisms for testing hypotheses that lie at the interface of physiology, behavior, ecology, and evolution. Recent studies have included a blend of field observations, measurements, and experiments, laboratory benchwork and experiments, and computer simulations. Usually our research draws from several levels of biological inquiry: subcellular, tissues, individuals, populations, and communities. However, we tend to emphasize the biology of whole organisms and to draw broader inferences from modern comparative analyses. I also conduct research with colleagues in Argentina on a large clade (>250 species) of austral South American lizards (Liolaemidae). This lineage offers an excellent model system for answering a variety of questions that are of general interest to comparative biologists.

David Gray - behavioral ecology, sexual selection, speciation

David GrayProfessor & Special Assistant to the Dean
Ph.D. University of New Mexico
Phone: (818) 677-7653
Fax: (818) 677-2034
Office: Chaparral Hall 5327

I study the evolution of insect behavior, mostly sexual signaling and its consequences in crickets. This necessarily integrates the fields of animal behavior, behavioral and evolutionary genetics, and evolutionary ecology. My work attempts to address both the microevolutionary and macroevolutionary causes and consequences of mate choice. This research has both field and laboratory components, and uses a broad range of techniques from molecular and quantitative genetics through bioacoustic and behavioral approaches.

Fritz Hertel - comparative anatomy and ecology of birds and mammals

Fritz HertelProfessor
Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles
Phone: (818) 677-3353
Fax: (818) 677-2034
Office: Chaparral Hall 5321

Most of my research concerns the functional morphology of birds and mammals and its relationship to ecological segregation among species. I am also interested in macroevolutionary questions such as how morphological and functional diversity compares among recent and fossil communities (e.g., vultures, raptors, antelopes).

Tim Karels - behavioral and population ecology of mammals

Tim KarelsProfessor
Phone: (818) 677-2990 Fax: (818) 677-2034
Office: Chaparral Hall 5320

My research interests are in understanding the diversity of processes that influence population growth in natural populations. This is a central and long-standing problem in ecology with fundamental importance in understanding population dynamics and the conservation of species. I use ground-dwelling squirrels (ground squirrels and marmots) as a model system for exploring ecological, behavioral, physiological, and evolutionary mechanisms that determine population growth. They are a taxonomically diverse group of rodents with different mating systems, social structure, and population dynamics distributed throughout the northern hemisphere from arid tropics to arctic and alpine environments. Consequently they are an excellent group with which to comparatively and/or experimentally test hypotheses in population regulation and life-history theory.

Jeanne Robertson - geographic divergence in lizards and frogs

Jeanne RobertsonAssociate Professor
Ph.D. Cornell University
Phone: 818-677-4408
Fax: 818-677-2034
Office: Chaparral Hall 5318

I am an evolutionary biologist interested in microevolutionary processes that mediate population and lineage diversification. Specific interests include: population and landscape genetics, phylogeography, patterns of and processes of genetic, phenotypic, and behavioral isolation, the evolution and functional significance of color pattern in amphibians and reptiles, ecological speciation.

Paula Schiffman - ecology and conservation of plants, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Paula Schiffman and CamelProfessor
Ph.D. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Phone: (818) 677-3350
Fax: (818) 677-2034
Office: Chaparral Hall 5314

I am a terrestrial ecologist who uses quantitative and experimental approaches to address questions about plants and their ecologies. I am primarily interested in processes and interactions that occur at the community level. Most of my current research focuses on the ecology of California prairies (= "valley grasslands"), a complicated and spectacularly beautiful vegetation type. Although my research sometimes involves greenhouse experimentation, most of my data collection is done at field sites in the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a 254,000 acre prairie preserve in eastern San Luis Obispo County. My students and I are examining relationships between native and invasive alien plant species as well as interactions between these plants and various animals (e.g. giant kangaroo rats, valley pocket gophers, pronghorn antelope). We are also studying how disturbances (fire, animal burrowing and livestock grazing) affect vegetation composition over time. Other interests include seed ecology (dormancy and dispersal), phytogeography, Mediterranean-type ecosystems and environmental history. Because of the relevance of my research to conservation and ecological restoration, I frequently interact with government agencies about habitat management. I also strive to educate the public about the importance and immediacy of conservation and environmental preservation issues. Lastly, and perhaps most of all, I am a natural historian and am fascinated by biodiversity. So, I spend a lot of time exploring and thinking about wildness.

Casey terHorst - species interactions in evolutionary and ecological time

Casey terHorstAssociate Professor
Ph.D. Florida State University
Phone: (818) 677-3352
Fax: (818) 677-2034
Office: Chaparral Hall 5316

As a community ecologist, I am interested in the factors that allow species to coexist. I am interested in how evolution on contemporary time scales alters the outcome of species interactions and affects species and genetic diversity in communities. However, species in natural communities interact with many other species, so evolutionary outcomes are the result of multiple direct and indirect species interactions. Consequently, I also examine the evolutionary importance of indirect species interactions to better understand how species evolve in a community context.

Jeremy Yoder - coevolution, geographic variation, and population genomics

Associate Professor

B.S. 2004, Eastern Mennonite University
Ph.D. 2011, University of Idaho.


Phone: (818) 677-2158

Office: Chaparral Hall 5317

Lab website

No living thing is an island. Plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria all interact with other species in the course of their lives — and these interactions shape the evolutionary history of the species involved. I study the coevolution of interacting species, using ecological field studies, greenhouse experiments, population genomics, and evolutionary theory to understand how species interactions have shaped the diversity of life on Earth.


Christy Brigham (Research Scientist)

Jim Hogue (Lecturer)

Greg Pauly (Research Scientist)

Jonathan Richmond (Research Scientist): email