Postdoc  University of California, Berkeley

PhD  Cornell University

AB  Dartmouth College

Dustin is a behavioral and evolutionary ecologist who studies the causes and consequences of sociality in animals. He is interested in social behavior, mating systems, and sexual selection among other topics. He currently works primarily on African starlings at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, and snapping shrimp throughout the Caribbean. He has conducted fieldwork throughout Africa and Central America, as well as in the Galapagos Islands working on birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, and crustaceans. He combines intensive field work and modeling with a variety of lab techniques, including molecular genetics, endocrinology, immunology, and stable isotope analysis. Dustin received an AB from Dartmouth College in 1999, followed by a year in the Galapagos Islands as a Reynolds Scholar conducting independent research. He received his PhD in 2006 as a Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellow at Cornell University. He then moved to the University of California, Berkeley as a Miller Research Fellow. In 2009, he joined the faculty at Columbia University.

Diploma   Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute

Wilson has been working on the African starling project since 2001. He left for a year and a half in 2006 to complete his Diploma in Wildlife Management at the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute. He has also been an integral part of many of the collection trips that we conducted across Kenya to collect starlings.

Godffrey grew up not far from Mpala and began working on the African starling project 2007 after graduating from high school. He monitors superb starling populations annually and works closely with undergraduate and graduate students in the field on a variety of projects.

Research Associates

Former Students and Postdocs


Principal Investigator

Dustin Rubenstein

Wilson Nderitu

Godffrey Manyaas

Rubenstein Lab

behavior • ecology • evolution

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James Kealey

MA  Columbia University

BA  University of California, Berkeley

James studied the ecology and genomics of caste differentiation in sponge-dwelling snapping shrimp using next generation sequencing and field experiments in Panama.

Melissa Mark

Sara Keen

MA  Columbia University

MS  University of Florida

BS  University of Florida

Sara studied vocal communication and kin recognition in superb starlings. She found that starlings encode identity information in flight calls and that social groups use different calls.

Undergraduate Students

Jeremy Law

Caitlin Dean  

BA   Columbia University

Caitlin studied the relationship between superb starling nest site selection and acacia ant aggressiveness. She found that starlings prefer to nest in trees inhabited by the most aggressive species of ants. She also examined avian diversity in agroforestry landscape with shade coffee plantations in Nicaragua.

MA  Columbia University

BA  Columbia University

Jeremy studied mechanisms of kin recognition in sponge-dwelling snapping shrimp. His field trials in Panama showed that different species respond differently to hetero- and conspecifics, and potentially use different mechanisms to recognize kin.

Kathleen Apakupakul

MA  Columbia University

MS  University of Michigan

BS  John Hopkins University

Kathleen studied extrapair paternity and differences in patterns of sexual selection in male and female superb starlings. She also examined MHC variation and mate choice in this cooperatively breeding species.

Rebecca Kelley

PhD Program   New Mexico State University

MA  Columbia University

BA  University of Miami, Ohio

Rebecca helped develop techniques to study epigenetics in birds. Specifically, she studied DNA methylation of promoter of the avian glucocorticoid receptor in superb starlings.

Joseph Solomon

MS  Hunter College

BA  Oberlin College

In addition to overseeing the lab, Joe is in charge of the bioinformatic work on the genomics of caste differentiation in snapping shrimp and transciptome analysis in starlings. He also examines DNA methylation and stress hormones in starlings.

Gillian Carling

Columbia College ’17

The Bronx High School of Science ’13

Gillian began working in the lab as a Sophomore at the Bronx High School of Science as part of their Biological and Physical Research Projects Mentorship Program. She studied sex determination, hermaphroditism, and sociality in sponge-dwelling snapping shrimp. She was named a finalist at the New York City Science and Engineering Fair.

Rubenstein Lab, Spring 2012. The picture on the left depicts the group in New York City. The picture on the right depicts the group in Kenya.

Sarah Guindre-Parker

PhD candidate  Columbia University (started Fall 2012)

MS  Windsor University

BA  Simon Fraser University

Sarah is interested in the evolution of animal behavior and how ecological and physiological factors may influence reproduction in birds. During her MS, she examined male plumage signals of individual quality and their influence on reproductive success in an Arctic passerine. As an undergraduate, she studied physiology and immunology in birds. For her PhD, she is interested in studying the physiological and environmental costs of reproduction that may favor cooperative breeding behavior across several species of African starlings that differ in their degree of cooperation during breeding. 


BA   Columbia University

Lea studied female dispersal and recruitment patterns in cooperatively breeding superb starlings. She found that immigrant females commonly recruit female relatives into their new groups, thereby creating kin structure within the immigrant population.

PhD Program   Tufts University

BA   Columbia University

Julia studied the form and function of song in male and female superb starlings to look at patterns of dimorphism in this tropical species. She found that both sexes use and produce song in the same ways, suggesting that song is under strong selection in both sexes.

Julia Pilowsky

Lea Pollack

Postdoc  Columbia University

PhD  Stony Brook University

BA  University of California, Santa Cruz

Melissa studied the physiological and fitness costs of brood parasitism by cuckoos in Thryothorus wrens in an agro-forest landscape in Nicaragua. She was funded by an NSF Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.

Lucia Weinman

BA   Columbia University

Lucia used the superb starling transcriptome to develop a SNP array. She compared the power of microsatelllites and SNPs for studies of kinship and parentage in superb starlings.

Hannah Skolnik

Columbia College ’15

Hannah is developing epigenetic tools to use in zebra finches. She is adapting our work on DNA methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor in starlings to the lab rat of the avian world. She will compare methylation patterns in different brain regions and other tissues.

Laura Booth

Columbia College ’15

Laura is studying spatial and temporal patterns of avian malaria prevalence in African starlings. She is using molecular techniques to screen out extensive DNA collection from superb and other starlings captured since 2001 in Kenya.

Nathan Bailey, Catherine Chen, Madeline Cohen, Heather D’Angelo, Tyler Davis, Ben Eckersley, Rebecca Harris, Jordan Hollarsmith, Nathen Huang, Elora Lopez, Brynn McCleery, Suraj Nagaraj, Kerstin Nolan, Sonalee Rau, Brahadheeshwar Sundararaju


Natalie Hofmeister

MA program  Columbia University (started Fall 2013)

BA  St. Olaf College

Natalie is broadly interested in adaptation to variable environments in vertebrates, particularly in the evolution of the vertebrate stress response. As an undergraduate, she examined the causes of spatial variation in δ15N of painted turtles in the Mississippi watershed. She is now studying sequence variation in the glucocorticoid receptor of African starlings as a first step towards understanding the molecular mechanisms of the stress response in birds. She is looking for differential signatures of selection in species (and populations of superb starlings) living in forest, savanna, and desert habitats.

Yi-Ru Cheng

Graduate Students

Katherine Brooks

Postdoc  Columbia University

PhD  University of Chicago

MS  University of Chicago

BA  University of Chicago

Katherine is Columbia Frontiers of Science Fellow interested in the evolution of cooperation and social structure. During her PhD, she studied how evolutionary history, environmental variation, predation risk and physiology influenced social system evolution in ground-dwelling squirrels. She used comparative phylogenetics, field work, and endocrinological lab techniques to investigate these questions. At Columbia, she is using next-generation sequencing to resolve the Synalpheus snapping shrimp phylogeny. With the new phylogeny, she will test questions related to social and behavioral evolution in this socially diverse group of marine organisms.

PhD student  Columbia University (started Fall 2014)

MS  University of Montana

MD  National Taiwan University

Yiru is broadly interested in the evolution of avian life history strategies and social behavior. For her MS, she studied how growth strategies could have evolved under different levels of predation pressure in North America passerine birds. For her PhD, she will examine social network dynamics in grey-capped social weavers living the East African savanna ecosystem. Her work will emphasize the formation and maintenance of social groups, as well as how environmental variation influences the stability and robustness of social networks.


Joseph Mosiany

Joseph grew up not far from Mpala and has been working on the African starling project since 2013. He monitors superb starling populations annually and works closely with undergraduate and graduate students in the field on a variety of projects.



Karen Bao

Fayme Cai

Columbia College ’16

Fayme is using microsatellite data from snapping shrimp to explore colony relatedness patterns in species with different social systems.

Columbia College ’16

Karen is using microsatellite data from snapping shrimp to explore colony relatedness patterns in species with different social systems.