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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.

Jena Staggs (M.Sc. student, West Virginia University)


Jena is from Blue Springs, Missouri. She received a B.S. in Wildlife Biology along with her GIS Certification at the University of Missouri in Columbia. During her undergraduate studies, she conducted a camera trap study on mesocarnivores at a local tall-grass prairie. During the summers, she also worked as a field technician for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) as part of a long-term stream monitoring project and assisted a graduate student with mist-netting for bats in the Ozarks. After graduation, she worked as a student contractor with USGS on Pallid Sturgeon in the Missouri River. Most recently, she was a GIS technician for MDCs infrastructure management program. For her Master’s research, Jena is assessing abundance-habitat relationships for wood turtles in Wisconsin. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and crafting of all kinds.

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)

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.

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.

Undergraduate Students

Affiliated Students