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 uses modern quantitative techniques to understand contemporary conservation issues. He received his PhD with the Shaffer Lab in 2021. His dissertation focused on the issue of non-native hybridization in the endangered California Tiger Salamander (CTS) system. Robert has used gene expression analyses to understand differences in thermal tolerance (CTMax) between native and non-native CTS. He also constructed large naturalistic ponds in Monterey County to study the effects of pond duration on non-native salamander fitness. Robert then adapted a recent demographic model to predict the success of non-native hybrids under various management scenarios. Currently, Robert is working on a rapid detection protocol to identify and remove non-native CTS in Sonoma County to prevent widespread introgression.
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. Dave received his PhD in 2016 from the University of Cambridge, and then went on to do postdocs at the Institute for Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool and the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center in Alton, Illinois.
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.
Zachary MacDonald is broadly interested in ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that structure biodiversity in space and time. Throughout his Ph.D. at the University of Alberta, much of Zac’s work focused on conservation applications of theoretical ecology, evaluating relationships between habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and emergent patterns of species diversity. Since then, Zac has focused on evaluating effects of habitat and climate changes on a reduced number of species, but in greater detail. Much of this research is aimed at advancing the field of landscape genomics, providing a valuable toolkit for identifying present and future threats to species of conservation concern. As a La Kretz Center Postdoctoral Fellow in the Shaffer Lab, Zac is now applying landscape genomics to a number to of threatened and alpine butterfly species throughout western North America to better inform conservation practice.
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.