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 at

Robert Cooper is a senior graduate 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.

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.

Peter Scott is an evolutionary biologist and herpetologist interested in the mechanisms responsible for lineage diversification and persistence. His work in the our lab focuses on 1) the utility of different genomic sequencing methods (RADseq, exon capture, whole genome resequencing) for resolving difficult nodes in the Tree of Life, 2) empirical problems in species delimitation using molecular genomic data, and 3) applying RADseq and whole genome data to conservation problems in California. He is also an instructor and research advisor in the UCLA Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences. Currently a postdoc in the Shaffer Lab, Peter will be moving on to a faculty position at Texas A&M in the fall of 2020.

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 continuing in the Shaffer Lab as a postdoc researcher.