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Graduate Students (Advisor / Co-advisor)

Lacy Rucker (Ph.D. student, West Virginia University)


Lacy is from a small town in rural Tennessee located just outside of Cherokee National Forest, where her affinity for natural resources and wildlife sparked. She received her B.Sc. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science with a minor in Forestry from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2012. While at UT-Knoxville, she worked on several amphibian projects where she found her calling focusing on amphibian conservation. After completing her undergrad, Lacy continued her education at Alabama A&M University where she studied the effects of silviculture treatments on amphibian breeding in upland hardwood forests. Lacy’s Ph.D. work focuses on climate change impacts on survival, growth, and competition of Plethodontid salamanders in Monongahela National Forest. She enjoys rock climbing, backpacking, hiking with her dogs, and exploring new places.

Joel Mota (M.Sc. student, West Virginia University)


Joel was born in Portugal and grew up in the sprawling suburbs of Washington, D.C. Many of his childhood summers were spent visiting his family in Portugal, where he would run through sandy pineland forests catching little lizards and sifting through shells at the beach. Fast-forward a decade or so, and he received his B.Sc. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from George Mason University. During his time at George Mason, he worked on exploring the relationship between sodium and potassium in the hippocampus and cortex during seizure-like events in mammalian brains. This experience gave him a greater appreciation for the work and insight that conducting research entails. After graduating, he worked a variety of wildlife and conservation focused technician positions. These positions gave him experience working with different herpetofaunal taxa and their associated ecosystems. For his M.S. thesis project, Joel is assessing the status and distribution of Spotted Turtles in West Virginia. In his spare time, Joel enjoys biking, trying new foods, and searching for reptiles and amphibians in new places.

Lenza Paul (M.Sc. student, West Virginia University)


Lenza is from Barboursville, West Virginia and currently resides in Fayetteville, West Virginia working for the National Park Service as a Wildlife Technician. She completed her B.Sc. in Natural Resource Management and Conservation from Marshall University in 2011. Her current position focuses on monitoring populations of threatened and endangered species in the Gauley River National Recreation Area, New River Gorge National River, and Bluestone National Scenic River in southern West Virginia. For her Master’s thesis project, Lenza is studying the effects of the widely used insecticide i midacloprid on herpetofauna in hemlock conservation areas within the parks. Lenza enjoys spending her free time rock climbing, biking, and hiking with her two dogs in the beautiful New River Gorge area.

Sara Crayton (Ph.D. student, West Virginia University)


Sara is from Farmington, Pennsylvania. She received her BA in Biology with a minor in Computing and Information Studies from Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, PA. While at W&J College, she completed research on the signaling behavior of wolf spiders. She discovered a passion for herpetofauna as an intern at The Wilds in Ohio, where she trapped turtles at a reclaimed strip mine and raised hellbenders in a headstart facility. She previously worked as a wildlife technician with Iowa State University and the Iowa DNR completing wildlife inventories along the Missouri River with a diversity of taxa. She also mist-netted saw-whet owls and captured hawks with a county park. Sara’s Master’s research at WVU investigated whether stream salamander populations are affected by the insecticide imidacloprid. Her PhD research is focusing on responses of Wood Turtle populations to landscape alteration for oil and gas development in Pennsylvania. Outside of school, she enjoys reading and hiking.

Graduate Students (Committee Member)

Maria Berkeland (M.Sc. student, University of Minnesota)


Maria grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska. She received her B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in wildlife management from Bemidji State University in northern Minnesota. During her undergraduate career, she spent summers working as a field technician conducting permafrost research in Alaska. After graduating, she spent two summers working with bats and shorebirds as a wildlife technician. Most recently, she worked as a volunteer technician for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, entering and managing data for an ongoing Common Eider project as well as helping with various winter field projects, including moose surveys and collaring Canada lynx. Maria's Master's research involves population modelling and sensitivity analysis for a wood turtle population, as well as investigating depredation of wood turtle nests using game cameras. She enjoys cross country skiing, running, hunting, reading, and creating wildlife art.

Darien Lozon (M.Sc. student, West Virginia University)


Darien is a Michigan native and a graduate of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, MI, where she received her B.S. in environmental biology. For her senior research project, Darien studied the effects of habitat characteristics, management practices, and landscape mosaics on grassland bird diversity. After graduation, she traveled to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma and the Flint Hills region of Kansas to study grassland bird ecology and observe the effects of land use and management on bird diversity in tallgrass prairies. For her thesis research, Darien is monitoring multiple taxa at the WVU Reedsville Farm to collect pre-restoration wildlife abundance and diversity data. She plans to incorporate turtle data from the Farm and investigate freshwater turtle habitat use and wetland connectivity in the Upper Deckers Creek watershed as well as monitor heavy metal bioaccumulation in turtles. In her spare time, Darien enjoys hiking, birding, and spending time with family (which includes 10 dogs).

Alex Benecke (M.Sc. student, West Virginia University)


Alex Received his B.S. in marine biology from Alaska Pacific University in 2015. During his time as an undergraduate he worked as a research assistant on a variety of graduate and state research projects. Following graduation, Alex worked as a seasonal creel clerk in Alaska and Oregon before being hired as a Research Associate with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (OH DNR). During his two years with the OH DNR, Alex researched the population Demographics of largemouth bass in Lake Erie’s western basin. Alex’s M.S. research at WVU focuses on modeling the quality of the black bass fishery in the Ohio, Monongahela, and Kanawha rivers. In recent years, anglers have reported a decline in the quality of the black bass fishery in the region. The primary objective of this research is to use historical tournament and survey data to identify trends in the black bass population and tournament catches to determine if fishing quality has declined. A secondary objective is to use environmental and anthropogenic variables to determine which factors are driving observed changes in the black bass population and fishery.

Caitlin Wilson (M.Sc. student, West Virginia University)


Caitlin is from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She attended Elizabethtown College where she earned a B.S. in Biology. Caitlin studied abroad her junior year of undergrad in the Turks and Caicos Islands, where she completed a research project on nursery habitat of juvenile lemon sharks around South Caicos. As part of the Peace Corps Master’s International Program Caitlin became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana. She worked on a variety of agriculture projects, including orange flesh sweet potato farming, with her community in the Northern Region of Ghana. For her Master’s thesis, Caitlin interviewed farmers in northern Ghana about their bush burning practices and how the farmers perceived the effects of bush burning on agriculture and wildlife. In her free time, Caitlin enjoys reading, rock climbing, and traveling. 

Braley Burke (M.Sc. student, West Virginia University)


Braley is from Wheeling, WV. She received her B.S.  in environmental protection with minors in biology and microbiology from West Virginia University. She spent her childhood exploring the forest around her house where she found her love of insects, but as she learned more about them she understood their ecological importance. Braley’s Master’s research investigates the impact of imidacloprid, a pesticide, on non-target terrestrial insects in a forest setting. In her spare time, Braley enjoys hiking, identifying wildlife, reading, and painting.

Eric Margenau (Ph.D. student, West Virginia University)


Eric is from northwest Wisconsin where he grew up ice fishing and dog sledding as a kid. He received his B.S. in Ecology and Field Biology from Saint Cloud State University in central Minnesota. Eric “saw the light” while taking an ornithology course, and since then has been primarily interested in songbird conservation and ecology. After completing his undergrad, he continued his education at Alabama A&M University where he studied songbird response to shelterwood prescriptions. Eric’s Ph.D. is focused on young forest habitat creation throughout West Virginia via cut-back borders along various landscape features (transmission powerlines, gas pipelines, and field openings), and within low-performing hardwood forests. He is evaluating avian, reptile, and amphibian responses to young forest habitat in these managed landscapes. In his free time, Eric enjoys mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing, disc golf, and reading (non-scientific papers).  

Undergraduate Students

Alex Lawson (B.Sc. student, West Virginia University)


Alex is from north central Ohio where he grew up exploring the outdoors, looking for anything and everything that interested him. He is currently enrolled in the Wildlife and Fisheries Resources program at WVU. Over the past few summers, Alex has worked for the Crawford County Park District, mainly focused on habitat improvement and educational programs. In his free time, he enjoys fishing, hunting, archery, running, biking, and pretty much anything else outdoors related.


Affiliated Students