Our Team

Skylar Hopkins, Ph.D. – Assistant Professor

Skylar is the Principal Investigator in the Sustainable Health Ecology Lab, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Ecology, a member of the Global Change and Human Well-being Cluster, and an affiliate of the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center. She’s a quantitative ecologist who focuses her research on the intersection of conservation and parasite/disease ecology, with an overarching goal to understand how parasites are maintained in complex socio-ecological systems. You can learn more about some of that work under the Research tab! Skylar teaches Global Change Ecology and Parasite and Disease Ecology and is trying to share disease ecology with even more people through the Parasite Ecology blog and a textbook that she is currently co-writing. She advises graduate students through the Biology Graduate Program and the Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Graduate Program and she advises undergraduate students through the Applied Ecology Minor Program–visit the Prospective Lab Member tab to learn more about research opportunities with SHEL!  

Zach Gajewski, Ph.D. – Postdoctoral Researcher

Zach Gajewski is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Sustainable Health Ecology Lab. He completed his Ph.D. in Biology and M.A. in Data Analysis and Applied Statistics at Virginia Tech, where he examined and tried to predict the effects of daily temperature fluctuation on the growth of the amphibian chytrid fungus. He is a quantitative ecologist that brings both empirical and theoretical methods together to understand how the environment and environmental variations, such as temperature fluctuations, shape disease dynamics. In the Sustainable Health Ecology Lab, he is currently working on how nonrandom foraging behavior and different resource distributions over a landscape influence host contact rates and therefore disease dynamics.

Alexandria Nelson, Ms.c. – Ph.D. Student

Alex is a Ph.D. student in the Sustainable Health Ecology Lab. She has a B.S. in Marine Biology and a B.S. in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from the University of California San Diego. She has a M.S. in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Her primary research interest is the use of parasites as bioindicators of ecosystem health. She hopes to uncover patterns of host and parasite distributions across North Carolina climate gradients during her time as a Global Change Fellow with the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center. She is currently working on identifying parasites from North Carolina snake species through genetics and morphological analyses.

Emily Oven – Master’s Student

Emily is a master’s student in the Sustainable Health Ecology Lab. She has a B.S. in Fishery Sciences from the University of Washington and a background in marine and freshwater fisheries research as well as parasite ecology. She is currently working on two projects for her master’s research. One project is a literature review that focuses on understanding how snake parasite communities vary by ecoregion and habitat type across North America. The other project is a disease monitoring project for ophidiomycosis (snake fungal disease) in snakes across an urban–rural gradient in the Piedmont ecoregion of NC to better understand the effects of disease and urbanization on local snake populations.

Kenzie Pereira, Ph.D. – Postdoctoral Researcher

Kenzie Pereira is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Sustainable Health Ecology Lab. She completed her Ph.D. in Biology at Duquesne University, where she examined amphibian immune defenses against a recently emerged chytrid fungal pathogen and how defenses are influenced by endogenous stress levels. She was recently awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology to further investigate host-pathogen interactions in the Sustainable Health Ecology Lab. By applying her skills in vertebrate physiology and immunology, she is examining how variations in environment, host stress physiology and immunity, and parasitic infections shape disease dynamics. Specifically, she is studying how parasitic worm infections influence fungal disease patterns in North Carolina snakes.

Lab Supervisor- Carrot

Carrot the Dog is in charge of Skylar’s work–life balance and preventing people from accidentally stepping on herps in the field.

Our current undergraduate students:

  • Teddy Sarian – Provost Experience Program
  • Hannah Widdowson
  • Trey Jeffers

Lab members who have moved on to other exciting things:

  • Hamilton McInnis – Undergraduate Researcher (AEC minor program)
  • Lily Zeller – Undergraduate Researcher (AEC minor program)
  • Sophie Meng – Undergraduate Researcher
  • Alex Tung – Undergraduate Researcher (AEC minor program)
  • Hannah Cooper – Undergraduate Researcher (AEC minor program)
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