Current Recipients of the Graduate Student Fellowship

The Philomathia Graduate Fellowship in the Environmental Sciences provides fellowships for graduate students studying issues related to the environment at UC Berkeley. Students are nominated to receive the award on the basis of their high level of academic distinction and exceptional promise.

2019 - 2020 Recipients

Nicolas AlexandreNicolas Alexandre
Integrative Biology
Ph.D. Candidate

Nicolas' research focuses on linking phenotypic variation with genotypic variation and fitness within species for complex, quantitative traits. Through fine-mapping of natural genome-wide variation, he is localizing putatively causal loci segregating as polymorphisms that underlie phenotypic variation for bill shape which can be subsequently tested for signals of selection. The bills of hummingbirds represent an excellent model for studying adaptive evolution in quantitative traits given their widespread distribution, feasible collection, and recently available genomic resources. To understand how genomic architecture of complex traits evolves in nature, he is implementing a combination of genome-wide association studies, niche modelling, pollen metabarcoding, functional experiments, and phylogenetic analyses to understand the link between evolution of complex traits within and between species.

 


Mallory BallingerMallory Ballinger
Integrative Biology & Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
Ph.D. Candidate

Understanding how organisms adapt to their environment is a major goal in evolutionary biology. Mallory’s research aims to identify the factors underlying environmental adaptation by integrating evolutionary analyses of DNA sequence variation with experimental studies of whole-animal physiology. Currently, she is studying small mammal populations that inhabit temperate and tropical environments across North and South America. Through the integration of population and comparative genomics, functional genomics, and whole-animal physiology, Mallory’s research ultimately aims to determine how small mammals colonize new environments and the signatures of subsequent adaptation to those new environments. For more information about Mallory’s research, visit her website here.

 


Stephano Cestellos-BlancoStefano cestellos-blanco
Material Science Engineering
Ph.D. Candidate

Modern society is entirely reliant on accessible sources of ammonia (NH 3 ) as a fertilizer to meet agricultural needs for an expanding world population. However, industrial production of ammonia relies on fossil fuels consuming up to 3% of global yearly energy and contributing to local environmental pollution. Stefano strives to combine biological N 2 -to-NH 3 enzymatic pathways within bacteria with light-active nanomaterials. The goal of his research is to power N 2 -fixing bacteria with energy harvested from sunlight by semiconducting nanostructured materials. Stefano employs a variety of electroactive bacteria in his research while fabricating and synthesizing biocompatible nanomaterials.

 


Natalie GrahamNatalie Graham
Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management
Ph.D. Candidate

Understanding how biodiversity might accommodate, resist, or collapse in response to pressures of global change is critical for the future health of the planet. What properties make a biological community more resilient or more susceptible to sudden change? Are changes integrated or rejected in predictable ways? Natalie’s research aim is to simplify the complexity of biodiversity dynamics by assessing metrics of stability in arthropod communities across the Hawaiian archipelago, using the age of the volcano, from about 50 years to 5 million years old, as a proxy for community complexity. Advances in next-generation sequencing allow her to rapidly asses species richness and abundance, incorporating tens of thousands of individual insects, spiders and other Arthropoda. Natalie then reconstructs ecological networks from biological interactions among herbivore-plant, predator-prey, parasitoid-host, using natural history information from the literature and associations of organisms in the field. Metrics based on the network structure, and how it changes over time, assist in forecasting how communities are adapting and responding to change.

 


Lindsey Hendricks-FrancoLindsey Hendricks-Franco
Integrative Biology
Ph.D. Candidate

As the frequency and intensity of wildfires increase, it is urgent to elucidate the mechanisms that drive post-fire ecosystem recovery. Soil ecological knowledge has the potential to direct successful recovery, across a range of ecosystem and habitat types. Lindsey’s research focuses on how plant functional diversity drives post-fire recovery of soils in Northern California chaparral shrublands. Shortly after summer fires, herbaceous plants grow prolifically, likely absorbing nitrogen in ash before it runs off to pollute nearby bodies of water. She uses herb-removal experiments to demonstrate the functional
combinations of plants that maximize post-fire nitrogen retention and soil restoration.

 


David KurzDavid Kurz
Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management
Ph.D. candidate

David's dissertation research focuses on the socio-ecological dynamics shaping threatened bearded pig populations in Borneo, at the landscape, regional, and mega-island levels. Some of his questions include: How do natural and anthropogenic barriers affect bearded pig gene flow in a fragmented landscape? What are the motivations and methods for pig hunting among Sabah's indigenous peoples, and how has hunting changed with modernization? And, what are the broad-scale environmental and social factors correlated with bearded pig occupancy patterns? To approach these issues, David is taking a multidisciplinary approach, involving genetic, social science, and spatial modeling methods.

 


Isaac Lichter MarckIsaac H. Lichter Marck
Integrative Biology
Ph.D. candidate

Isaac studies the diverse flora of the North American deserts with the goal of understanding the mechanisms underlying diversification and the ecological factors maintaining the resilience of rare plant species. He is currently studying the rock daisies (Perityleae; Asteraceae), a diverse group of arid-adapted plants with a high instance of threatened species in the Death Valley region of Eastern California. His work combines molecular phylogenetics with models of geology and paleoclimate to understand how species have been and are being impacted by global change.

 


Clay NossClay Noss
Environmental Science, Policy and Management
Ph.D. Candidate

 The global extinction crisis has thrown the importance of fundamental ecological questions into sharp relief.  What are the consequences of the addition or removal of species from a community? How do permutations to the length of food chains influence the role of species in communities? Clay’s research addresses these basic questions by taking advantage of a natural experiment in the White Sands dunes of southern New Mexico. Out of the diverse suite of reptiles found in the desert immediately surrounding the dunes, only three lizards have successfully colonized White Sands. Not only have these lizards escaped most of their interspecific competitors, they have also escaped all of their major predators. Clay uses a combination of observational and experimental approaches to understand the ramifications of this dramatically shifted ecological context. 

 


Michael YuanMichael Yuan
Environmental Science, Policy and Management
Ph.D. Candidate

Repeated convergent evolution has captured the interest of generations of biologists in part because it implies some degree of determinism in evolution, whether through natural selection toward common adaptive peaks or shared evolutionary constraints. Michael studies the degree to which phenotypic convergence is mirrored by convergence across levels of biological organization (i.e. morphological, cellular, and genetic) and at various phylogenetic scales (across populations, across closely-related species, and across distantly-related clades). His work focuses on the radiation of Lesser Antillean Anolis lizards, which display phenotypic convergence in response to similar xeric-mesic environmental gradients across islands. Michael’s work aims to contribute to our broader understanding of the mechanistic origins of diversity and how organisms adapt to their environment.