Lab group

Joscha Beninde uses landscape genetics to understand how species survive and thrive in urban environments, with the goal of increasing the biodiversity of native species. At UCLA, he is working on a collaborative project with the La Kretz Center and the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge to map the genetic diversity of 15 species of plants, butterflies and vertebrates inhabiting the LA Basin. Joscha’s research builds on his PhD work in Germany, where he studied how urban infrastructure affects gene flow within a lizard species.
Gary Bucciarelli is broadly interested in stream ecology, conservation genomics, the evolution of chemical defenses, and ecological processes occurring at the urban-wildlife interface. His current research investigates 1) the evolution and ecology of the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin newts, (genus Taricha) throughout California, 2) a collaborative research effort between the UCLA/La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science and the National Park Service to develop a broad conservation management plan for amphibians of Los Angeles, and 3) a detailed landscape genomic interrogation of the stream-breeding amphibians of the Santa Monica Mountains. Gary is an Adjunct Assistant Professor for EEB, and Director of Research for Stunt Ranch. For more information, visit Gary’s website.
Robert Cooper is a senior Ph.D. student whose research seeks to understand how organisms will adapt to increasingly altered habitats caused by anthropogenic activities. Although trained as a lizard behavioral ecologist, Robert’s current research uses both functional genomics and experimental whole-pond manipulative experiments to manage, and reduce the continuing spread of non-native genes that are sweeping though endangered California tiger salamander populations in central California. All of his research has an underlying theme of informing management practices and targeting conservation efforts.
Joseph Curti is a Ph.D. student interested in applying whole-genome sequencing to California conservation management. Joey’s current research projects include 1) the impacts of long-term isolation and small population size on California red-legged frogs (Rana draytonii) in the Santa Monica Mountains, 2) the impacts of roads on the genetic health and population connectivity of California quail (Callipepla californica), and 3) population structure and signatures of local adaptation of the Yuma bat (Myotis yumanensis). He works closely with the National Park Service (Santa Monica Mountains) and the California Conservation Genomics Project. For more information, visit Joey’s website.
Dave Daversa is interested in optimizing landscape connectivity for endangered species threatened by disease. In collaboration with the National Park Service, he is working on better understanding movement and infection risk in endangered Yosemite toads, with the goal of developing data-driven re-introduction strategies to strengthen their vulnerable populations. Currently a La Kretz Postdoc, Dave received his PhD in 2016 from the University of Cambridge, and then went on to do a postdoc at the Institute for Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool. For more information, visit Dave’s website.
Natalia Gallego García received her Ph.D in 2019 at Universidad de los Andes. For her dissertation, she used landscape genomics to determine mechanisms affecting the functional connectivity in two endangered and endemic turtles in Colombia. As a 2015-16 Fulbright scholar, Natalia conducted research in the Shaffer lab. She is continuing her work with us now as a postdoc, working on a rangewide landscape genomic analysis of the red-footed tortoise across South America, with a particular emphasis on Columbian population differentiation.
Tara Luckau is our lab manager. Though her background tends to center around molecular biology, it is the application to conservation and herpetology that drives her forward. In general, she’s interested in using molecular techniques and technologies to address population-level questions in wildlife conservation. To that end, she earned her MS from San Diego State University where she studied comparative lizard population genetics. After a quick stint at next-generation sequencing powerhouse Illumina, she now finds herself back in the conservation genetics realm, pushing research projects forward from the lab bench.
Erin Toffelmier uses genomic tools to understand how the environment and landscape features interact and lead to species distributional patterns and the process of speciation in natural systems. Her primary study system is the alligator lizard genus Elgaria, where she is studying diversification at levels from recent speciation through phylogeography to local, population-level analyses. Erin is also dedicated to conservation-based research, and her work on metapopulation dynamics in critically endangered Santa Barbara tiger salamanders and isolated populations of threatened Panamint alligator lizards is helping manage both. After receiving her PhD from UCLA in 2019, Erin is now Associate Director of the California Conservation Genomics Project.