Rubenstein Lab

integrative organismal biology in a changing world

Twitter @DustRubenstein


Superb starling family

principle investigator

Dustin R. Rubenstein 

Dustin is an Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University. 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, insects, and crustaceans on every continent except Antarctica and Europe.


Renata Mazzei ’19 - ’21 

Swiss National Science Foundation Early Postdoc.Mobility Fellow

During her PhD, Renata studied social behavior in gobies from both a proximate and and ultimate perspective. At Columbia, she will take a comparative and empirical approach to continue to study social evolution in gobies, combining field work throughout the Caribbean to identify key life history traits of goby species with phylogenetic comparative work of this group of fishes.

Patrick Kennedy ’21 - ’24

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow

Simons Foundation Fellow

Patrick is interested in why animals cooperate – and what can tip them over into conflict. During his PhD, he studied the evolution of altruism in South American wasps, and during his first postdoc he developed theoretical models. At Columbia, he will investigate how tropical and temperate social insect populations may differ in their social evolution. He will be studying a species of wasp that spans much of Africa and working with populations in Cameroon, Kenya, and South Africa.

graduate students


Yi-Ru Cheng PhD ’14 -

Yiru studies 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.


Shailee Shah PhD ’16 -

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 is using field experiments, long-term data, and population genetics to examine dispersal and the direct benefits that superb starlings receive while living in complex social groups with surprisingly low kin structure.

Stefanie Siller PhD ’16 -

NSF Graduate Research Fellow 

Stefanie is examining 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 wild and captive house sparrows.

Jerry Guan

Alexis Earl PhD ’19 -

Alexis is interested in the evolution of complex social behavior, communication, and cognition. For her MS she studied whether female ornamentation in Indian peafowl signals social status, and whether hormonal mechanisms link variation in ornamentation with status. For her PhD she will use long-term behavioral and epigenetic data in super starlings to investigate how social and ecological environments influence individual level trajectories of roles within complex social groups, and subsequent impacts on group stability and structure.

Catherine Yung-Yi Lan MA ’21

Catherine is interested in the evolution of behavioral traits. After graduating college, she spent a year at Academia Sinica in Taiwan doing research on the effects of photoperiodism on burial behavior in hybrid beetles, as well as analyzing gene sequences for wild-caught beetles. For her MA, she will continue studying social behavior in burying beetles.

Jerry Shuzhe Guan MA ’21

Jerry is interested in how environmental change has influenced evolution .  For his MA thesis, he will be examining adaptation and gene flow in burying beetles across an elevational gradient in China.

research associates


Joseph Solomon

Lab Manager

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 Nderitu

Field Manager

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.


Elkana Korir

Field Assistant

Korir has worked on the African starling project since 2019.  Previously he worked on weaver and guinea fowl projects at the Mpala Research Centre.

former lab members



Shana Caro ’17 - ’20 

Simons Foundation Fellow

Stengl-Wyer Fellow, University of Texas at Austin

Caro Webpage


Solomon Chak ’16 - ’19 

Life Sciences Research Fellow

Assistant Professor, SUNY Old Westbury

Chak Lab


Rafael Maia ’15 - ’18 

Simons Foundation Fellow

Data Scientist, Apple Inc.

Maia Webpage


Katherine Brooks ’14 - ’17 

Columbia Frontiers of Science Fellow

Collection Analysis Librarian, Columbia Univ


Stephen Harris ’15 - ’16 

Columbia Frontiers of Science Fellow

Assistant Professor, SUNY Purchase

Harris Lab


Melissa Mark ’09 - ’12 

NSF Postdoctoral Fellow

Director of Conservation Programming 

University of Washington

PhD students


Jay Falk PhD ’20 (Cornell)

NSF Graduate Research Fellow 

Postdoctoral Associate, University of Washington

Falk Webpage

Sarah Guindre-Parker

Sarah Guindre-Parker PhD ’17

NSERC Graduate Fellow

Assistant Professor, Kennesaw State University

Guindre-Parker Lab

MA students


Eleanor Diamant MA ’17

PhD student, UCLA

Diamant Webpage


Yuki Haba MA ’17

PhD student, Princeton University

Haba Webpage


Alyxandra Pikus MA ’17

Associate Director of Program Development

Oxbridge Academic Programs


Natalie Hofmeister MA ’15

PhD student, Cornell University

Hofmeister Webpage


Rebecca Kelley MA ’13

PhD, New Mexico State University

Data Scientist, Amazon


James Kealey MA ’12

Science teacher

Richmond High School, Richmond CA


Kathleen Apakupakul MA ’12

Research Associate

Institute for Conservation Medicine

Saint Louis Zoo 

Apakupakul Webpage


Sara Keen MA ’11

PhD, Cornell University

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Stanford University

undergraduate thesis students


Arden Berlinger CC ’20

PhD Student, University of Cambridge


Hannah Skolnik CC ’15

DVM student, UC Davis

Laura Booth

Laura Booth CC ’15

Biological Science Technician, Presidio Trust


Lucia Weinman CC ’14

PhD student, Rutgers University


Julia Pilowsky CC ’12

MA, Tufts University

PhD student, University of Copenhagen

Pilowsky Webpage


Caitlin Dean CC ’12

JD, University of Michigan

Associate, Fish & Richardson


Lea Pollack CC ’12

PhD student, UC Davis

Pollack Webpage


Jeremy Law CC ’11

MA, Columbia University

Certified Arborist/Natural Resources Specialist


undergraduate interns

Sarah Marazzi-Sassoon BC ’22

Debbie Leung CC ’21 

Faith Ajayi CC ’21 (Rabi Scholar)

Ona Jae Lee SEAS ’21

Shoshana Sernik GS ’20

Sophia Kislik BC ’20

Christian Eggers CC ’20

Jake Arlow BC ’19

Joseph Knee CC ’19

Kaiulani Sakaguchi CC ’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)

post-baccalaureate interns

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)

Gabrielle Welsh (University of Maryland)

high school interns

Zhaleh Mahootian (Bronx High School of Science ’20)

Hank Marriott (Ethical Culture Fieldston School ’20)

Livia Marchese (Briarcliff High School ’19)

Regina Hashim (home school student ’19)

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)

visiting faculty

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  |  Lab Tel: 212-854-5330  |  Email: dr2497[at]columbia.edu  |  Twitter: @DustRubenstein


© 2002-2021  |  Dustin R. Rubenstein  |  Columbia University in the City of New York