Although lab members work on a variety of animal systems and theoretical questions, what binds us all together is our interest in social evolution, as well as how organisms adapt to environmental change. Some of us are more focused on genomics, others on neuroendocrinology, and still others on trait evolution. Yet, we all are interested in studying the causes and consequences of living in groups, and/or how animals—social or otherwise—cope with living in variable and unpredictable environments. We primarily work on social species, either vertebrates (typically birds) or invertebrates (snapping shrimp and beetles). We are always open to new systems, new ideas, or new ways of doing integrative science. The lab includes a number of postdocs and graduate students, as well as high school and undergraduate interns. Lab members work in New York City, the surrounding area, or all over the world.
Dustin R. Rubenstein
Dustin is an Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University in the City of New York, where he is also Director of the Center for Integrative Animal Behavior and Chair of the University Seminar in the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior. He runs the Program in Tropical Biology and Sustainability, an undergraduate semester-long study abroad program in Africa, and the sTEAM Fellows Program, a team-based interdisciplinary summer research program for first years students from underrepresented groups. Additionally, he is a faculty member in the Doctoral Program in Neurobiology and Behavior, and a lecturer in Frontiers of Science, part of Columbia College’s undergraduate Core Curriculum. Rubenstein received his A.B. from Dartmouth College in 1999, and his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2006 as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellow in the Biological Sciences. He was then awarded a Miller Research Fellowship to conduct postdoctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley from 2006-2009. He has held appointments at the American Museum of Natural History, the National Museums of Kenya, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. In recognition of his research accomplishments, Rubenstein has received young investigator awards from the Animal Behavior Society, the American Ornithologists’ Union, the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, and the University of Michigan. He is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society, and has been recognized by the National Academy of Sciences as both a Kavli Fellow for his research accomplishments and as an Education Fellow in the Sciences for his innovation in STEM teaching. Additionally, he has been acknowledged for his teaching, scholarship, and mentoring by Columbia University with a Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award and by the Society of Columbia Graduates with a Great Teacher Award. His research takes an integrative approach to understand why complex animal societies form and how organisms cope with environmental change through studies that combine behavior, ecology, and evolution with those of the underlying molecular and neuroendocrine mechanisms. He has studied a variety of animals, including reptiles, birds, crustaceans, and insects throughout Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Rubenstein is the author of nearly 100 publications, as well as the co-editor of the book Comparative Social Evolution, and the co-author of the market-leading textbook Animal Behavior.
Rafael Maia ’15 - 18 Simons Foundation Fellow
Rafael is a Junior Fellow in the Simons Society of Fellows. This prestigious fellowship from the Simons Foundation is enabling Rafael to expand his PhD work on the evolution and development of iridescent colors in bird feathers. His integrative research research focuses on how sexual selection has driven the evolution of ornaments, and ultimately the diversification of lineages. To answer these questions, he believes that understanding the development of such traits is crucial, since it determines how they can be modified and the physiological implications of doing so.
Solomon Chak ’16 - 19 Life Sciences Research Fellow of the Simons Foundation
Solomon is a Life Sciences Research Foundation Fellow funded by the Simons Foundation. For his PhD work, he studied comparative social evolution in Synalpheus snapping shrimp. He also examined shrimp community ecology with a focus on their host sponges and microbial diversity. At Columbia, he will be studying genome evolution in snapping shrimp and trying to understand the relationship between eusociality and genome size and structure.
Shana Caro ’17 - 20 Simons Foundation Fellow
Shana is a Junior Fellow in the Simons Society of Fellows. She is interested in the evolution of social behaviour – particularly in communication and parental care. During her PhD and as a postdoc, she investigated how ecology and life history traits affect parent-offspring communication both across and within bird species. At Columbia, she will integrate physiological, genetic, and behavioral data to explore how environmental and social factors shift how starlings communicate, and illuminate the mechanisms underlying these shifts.
Jay Falk ’13 - NSF Graduate Research Fellow (PhD)
Jay is a PhD student in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University co-advised by Mike Webster and Dustin Rubenstein. For his undergraduate work, he studied reproductive isolation and mating behavior in Tribolium beetles. He is interested in sex selection and trait evolution in a variety of species including insects, crustaceans, and birds. For his PhD, Jay is studying the evolution and maintenance of female plumage polymorphism in hummingbirds. Jay is funded by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.
Yi-Ru Cheng ’14 - (PhD)
Yiru is 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 is examining social network dynamics in grey-capped social weavers living the East African savanna ecosystem. Her work emphasizes the formation and maintenance of social groups, as well as how environmental variation influences the stability and robustness of social networks across year.
Stefanie Siller ’16 - NSF Graduate Research Fellow (PhD)
Stefanie is interested how early life conditions influence fitness later in life. After graduating college, she spent a year in Kenya working at the Mpala Research Centre doing conservation outreach with local schools and studying extrapair paternity in birds. For her PhD, she is examining how environmental conditions during early life influence DNA methylation in the avian glucocorticoid receptor promoter, and whether those levels influence the glucocorticoid stress response later in life. She hopes to expand this to look at global patterns of DNA methylation in the avian genome.
Shailee Shah ’16 - (PhD)
Shailee is interested in social dominance, communication, and sexual selection in birds. As an undergraduate, she studied alarm calling in herring gulls. After graduation she worked on a project on Himalayan birds in her native India, and worked at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology doing multimedia and citizen science. For her PhD, she will be looking at the interactions between environmental variation, dominance, and signaling traits in superb starlings.
Arden Berlinger ’20 CC - Science Research Fellow
Arden is a Science Research Fellow studying DNA methylation in genes of the HPA axis in European and superb starlings.
HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
Zhaleh Mahootian ’20 Bronx High School of Science
As part of the Biological and Physical Research Mentorship Program at her high school, Zhaleh is examining fecundity variation among species and within colonies of eusocial snapping shrimps.
Joe received his MA from Hunter College before joining the lab. He manages the lab in New York, overseeing students, helping with bioinformatics and data analysis, and all aspects of lab work.
Wilson has worked on the African starling project since 2001. He left in 2006 to complete his Diploma in Wildlife Management at the Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute.
Godffrey grew up near Mpala and began working on the African starling project in 2007. He monitors starling populations and works closely with undergraduate and graduate students in the field on a variety of projects.
FORMER LAB MEMBERS
Katherine Brooks ’14 - ’17 Columbia Frontiers of Science Fellow
Collection Analysis Librarian, Columbia University
Stephen Harris ’15 - ’16 Columbia Frontiers of Science Fellow
Assistant Professor, SUNY Purchase
Melissa Mark ’09 - ’12 NSF Postdoctoral Fellow
Director, Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program
Northern Arizona University
Sarah Guindre-Parker ’17 NSERC Graduate Fellow
NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Guelph
Eleanor Diamant ’17 MA
PhD student, UCLA
Yuki Haba ’17 MA
PhD student, Princeton University
Alyxandra Pikus ’17 MA
Media Services Assistant, The Earth Institute, Columbia University
Natalie Hofmeister ’15 MA
PhD student, Cornell University
James Kealey ’12 MA
Science teacher, Bret Harte Middle School, Oakland
Rebecca Kelley ’13 MA
Business Intelligence Engineer, Amazon
PhD, New Mexico State University
Sara Keen ’11 MA
PhD student, Cornell University
Kathleen Apakupakul ’12 MA
Lab manager, Washington University in St. Louis
Laura Booth ’15 CC
Park Ranger, Muir Woods National Monument
Julia Pilowsky ’12 CC
PhD student, Max Planck Center for Biodemography
MA, Tufts University
Hannah Skolnik ’15 CC
DVM student, UC Davis
Caitlin Dean ’12 CC
JD student, University of Michigan
Lucia Weinman ’14 CC
PhD student, Rutgers University
Jeremy Law ’11 CC
Manager, New York Tree Trust
MA, Columbia University
Lea Pollack ’12 CC
PhD student, UC Davis
Christian Eggers CC ’20
Jake Arlow BC ’19
Francesca Garofalo CC ’18
Tatini Mal-Sarkar CC ’17
Michael Spiotta GS ‘17
Karen Bao CC ’16
Fayme Cai CC ’16
Catherine Chen CC ’15
Brahadheeshwar Sundararaju CC ’15
Elora Lopez CC ’15
Nathen Huang CC ’14
Kerstin Nolan CC ’14
Sonalee Rau CC ’14
Madeline Cohen CC ’13
Heather D’Angelo GS ’12
Ben Eckersley CC ’13
Nathan Bailey CC’ 12
Jordan Hollarsmith CC ’12
Linnet Jessell (University of Kings College)
Brynn McCleery (Cornell University)
Suraj Nagaraj (UC Berkeley)
Tyler Davis (Cornell University)
Kaitlyn Gaynor (Columbia University)
Rebecca Harris (Cornell University)
Sarah Khalil (Cornell University)
Brynn McCleery (Cornell University)
Lea Pollack (Columbia University)
Stefanie Siller (Princeton University)
High School Interns
Samuel Levy (Abram Joshua Heschel School ’18)
Rebecca Marcus (Mamaroneck High School ’18)
Myron Huang (Bronx High School of Science ’18)
Katherine Grygiercyzk (Valley Stream South High School ’17)
Gillian Carling (The Bronx High School of Science ’13)
Visiting Graduate Students and Postdocs
Rebecca Calisi (University of California, Berkeley)
Rafael Maia (University of Akron)
Daniel Meliza (University of Chicago)
Juan Rubalcaba (King Juan Carlos University)
Tim Greives (North Dakota State University)
Columbia University, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, 10th Floor Schermerhorn Extension, MC5557, 1200 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027
Office: 90 Morningside Drive, Basement #3 • Lab: 851-854 Schermerhorn Extension
Tel: 212-854-4881 • Fax: 212-854-8188 • Lab Tel: 212-854-5330 • Email: dr2497[at]columbia.edu • Twitter: @DustRubenstein