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 New York City. At Columbia, he is Director of the Center for Integrative Animal Behavior, and Chair of the University Seminar in the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior. He is also the Director of the Program in Tropical Biology and Sustainability, an undergraduate semester-long study abroad program in Africa. Additionally, he is on the Faculty in the Program of Neurobiology and Behavior, and teaches in Frontiers of Science, part of Columbia’s undergraduate Core Curriculum. He 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 UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. In recognition of his research accomplishments, he has received young investigator awards from the Animal Behavior Society, the American Ornithologists’ Union, the Society of for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, and the University of Michigan, and been made an Elective Member of the American Ornithologists’ Union. He was also recognized by the National Academy of Sciences as both a Kavli Fellow for his research accomplishments and an Education Fellow in the Sciences for his innovation in STEM teaching. Additionally, he was acknowledged by Columbia for his teaching, scholarship, and mentoring with a Lenfest Distinguished Faculty 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 organisms, including birds, crustaceans, reptiles, and insects throughout Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
Katherine Brooks ’14 - ’17 Columbia Frontiers of Science Fellow
Katherine is a 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 is exploring the ecological consequences of eusociality in Synalpheussnapping shrimp by examining host use, range size, and social plasticity.
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 - Simons Foundation
Solomon is a Life Sciences Research Foundation Fellow. He will be moving to Columbia in the summer of 2016 to begin his fellowship. 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.
Sarah Guindre-Parker ’12 - (PhD)
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. Sarah is funded by an NSERC PhD Graduate Scholarship.
Jay Falk ’13 - (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 - (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.
Eleanor Diamant ’15 - (MA)
Ellie is interested in social behavior and sexual selection. For her undergraduate work, she studied brood parasitic egg rejection in bluebirds. For her MA, she is examining female plumage polymorphisms in hummingbirds. She is using museum collections to study the more than 300 species of hummingbirds to determine how common this unique phenomenon is within this diverse group of birds.
Yuki Haba ’15 - (MA)
Yuki is instersted in the evolution of complex social behavior. He studied the genes underlying aggressive behavior in beetles during his undergraduate work. For his MA, he is studying the genes underlying sociality in burying beetles from populations in Taiwan and Japan. He is comparing populations of beetles that vary in their degree of cooperative breeding behavior and using RNAseq and genome re sequencing to identify genomic differences related to social behavior.
Alyxandra Pikus ’15 - (MA)
Alyx is studying sex steroids in cooperatively breeding superb starlings to see how they vary in males and femals during the breeding season, how they differ among individuals of different breeding roles, and how they are influenced by environmental and social conditions.
Arden Berlinger ’20 CC
Arden is a Science Research Fellow studying DNA methylation in genes of the HPA axis in European and superb starlings.
HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
Rebecca Marcus ’18 Mamaroneck High School
As part pf the Science Research Elective Program at her high school, Rebecca is studying immunity in superb starlings along an ecological gradient in Kenya.
Myron Huang ’18 Bronx High School of Science
As part of the Biological and Physical Research Mentorship Program at his high school, Myron is studying female plumage polymorphisms in hummingbirds using the extensive collections at the AMNH.
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 on a group ranch not far from Mpala and began working on the African starling project 2007. He monitors superb starling populations annually and works closely with undergraduate and graduate students in the field on a variety of projects.
FORMER LAB MEMBERS
Stephen Harris ’15 - ’16 Columbia Frontiers of Science Fellow
Postdoctoral Scholar, Metabiota
Melissa Mark ’09 - ’12 NSF Postdoctoral Fellow
Director, Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program
Northern Arizona University
Natalie Hofmeister ’15 MA
PhD student, Cornell University
James Kealey ’12 MA
Science teacher, Bret Harte Middle School, Oakland
Rebecca Kelley ’13 MA
PhD student, New Mexico State University
Sara Keen ’11 MA
PhD student, Cornell University & Univeristy of Oxford
Kathleen Apakupakul ’12 MA
Lab manager, Washington University in St. Louis
Laura Booth ’15 CC
Intern, Muir Woods National Monument
Julia Pilowsky ’12 CC
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
Kaitlyn Gaynor ’10 CC
PhD student, UC Berkeley
Tyler Davis (Cornell University), Sarah Khalil (Cornell University), Rebecca Harris (Cornell University), Brynn McCleery (Cornell University), Lea Pollack (Columbia University), Stefanie Siller (Princeton University)
Jake Arlow BC ’19, Nathan Bailey CC’ 12, Karen Bao CC ’16, Fayme Cai CC ’16, Catherine Chen CC ’15, Madeline Cohen CC ’13, Heather D’Angelo GS ’12, Ben Eckersley CC ’13, Francesca Garofalo CC ’18, Jordan Hollarsmith CC ’12, Nathen Huang CC ’14, Linnet Jessell (University of Kings College), Elora Lopez CC ’15, Tatini Mal-Sarkar CC ’17, Brynn McCleery (Cornell University), Suraj Nagaraj (UC Berkeley), Kerstin Nolan CC ’14, Sonalee Rau CC ’14, Brahadheeshwar Sundararaju CC ’15, Michael Spiotta GS ‘17
High School Interns
Gillian Carling (The Bronx High School of Science ’13), Katherine Grygiercyzk (Valley Stream South High School ’17), Samuel Levy (Abram Joshua Heschel School ’18)
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)
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