My Lab

Free-ranging dogs in Thimphu, Bhutan

My philosophy:

Take yourself seriously.  Leave egos at the door.  Work hard, play hard.  Humility and respect for others are keys as is a willingness to help.

We learn, have good times, and try to support each other.  We focus on individual research questions, target other sorts of issues, muse and discuss science and conservation.  At times we have visiting dignitaries who camp with our group – including the likes of visiting scientists from the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Dr. Aili Kang (WCS-China), Dr. Steve Zack (WCS-Portland), and others.

Graduate Students – Because of my existing project commitments and my desire for my own fieldwork, my lab is deliberately small.

Current Students

Theresa Laverty, PhD Student

My broader interests lie in conservation biology, particularly outcomes of human-wildlife interactions across lands managed for different uses. My dissertation focuses on food webs and community ecology surrounding water sources in one of the world’s oldest deserts. More specifically, I examine how large mammalian herbivores, via their direct and indirect effects on vegetation and insect communities around rare, aboveground water bodies, could impact bat communities that prey on insects. My research takes place along the highly ephemeral Namib Desert rivers in northwestern Namibia, where elephants, giraffe, black rhinos, and many smaller herbivores live among livestock and semi-nomadic pastoralists.

Before joining the Berger Lab, I assisted with ecological research both within the United States and abroad. As an undergraduate, I participated in two semesters in the field in Panama and Kenya and studied dietary overlap of caimans for my senior thesis (Peruvian Amazon). I then went on to manage camera trap studies, aid with elephant monitoring research, and assist with landscape and restoration ecology projects in northern Kenya, worked on a fire ecology project in Yellowstone, and spent an additional year managing a long-term mountain gorilla project in southwestern Uganda. Just prior to starting graduate school, I worked on a beach nesting bird study back in my hometown state of New Jersey.

Claim to fame: After a month or so of many shoves from the dominant silverback, 19 mountain gorillas in Uganda accepted me as a member of their group.


National Geographic Profile:


Garrett Sisson, PhD Student

My interests lie in conservation challenges related to climate and landscape change. My dissertation research will focus on the impacts of climate change on the mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), a cold-adapted, alpine ungulate. While many species will be affected by climate change, cold-adapted, alpine species are vulnerable to being pushed off the edge of a warming world. My fieldwork will be based in Glacier National Park, whose official symbol is the mountain goat, and where climate change has advanced at a rapid pace. Glacier boasted more than 100 glaciers at the turn of the 20th century, but fewer than 30 remain. Is Glacier vulnerable to losing both its namesake and its symbol? Mountain goats, being an emblematic creature, are of cultural importance to Glacier, but what else is at stake if we lose them? How important are alpine ungulates to their ecosystems? And if they are in danger, what can a protected area do about it?

I view science as my medium to speak for creatures that don’t have their own voice in human economies, politics, or cultures. I take a mechanistic approach to understanding the factors that relate to population persistence, be them ecophysiology, habitat-relationships, or management, and try to identify solutions that work for both wildlife and people. Prior to joining the Berger Lab, I worked with reptiles and amphibians in the eastern United States. I completed my M.S. at Ohio University, where I studied road ecology, resource selection, and thermal ecology of Ohio-endangered Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus).

Claim to fame: When not working on ecological pursuits, I spend much of my time working on musical endeavors that don’t actually result in any fame.


Wesley Sarmento, Masters Student

Wesley completed his M.S. in 2016 and is currently working for Montana FWP.

For my masters thesis I am examining the direct and indirect effects of people, climate, and potential predators on mountain goat ecology in Glacier National Park. More specifically, I am looking at the consequences and causes of goat habituation to people. Additionally, I am interested in how goats might be affected by melting snowfields and climate change.

I’ve studied and explored a range of systems from the Kenyan bush to Alaska’s Arctic. I recently finished fieldwork as a National Geographic Young Explorer – conducting research and conservation of argali sheep in the Ikh Nart Reserve of Mongolia.

Claim to fame: I am only allergic to Grant’s Gazelle.



Stefan Ekernas, PhD student

Stefan completed his PhD in 2016 and is currently working for the USGS in Colorado.

I am broadly interested in applying behavioral and population ecology to conservation biology while finding synergies between conservation and human needs. My dissertation research is focused on the the potential for competition between Argali sheep in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert with increasing domestic herbivores by examination of changes in Argali vital rates.

I have previously worked on Grant’s gazelle behavior and physiology in Kenya, links between public health and conservation in India, urban ecology and conservation in New York City, and primate behavior in a Kenyan rainforest. Some of this was done as a student, and some was done as Research Director for WildMetro, Research Associate at one of the top medical schools in India (Christian Medical College), and Lecturer at Baruch College (CUNY).

When not sitting in front of a computer or chasing Argali sheep, I try to do as much wildlife photography, rugby, and hiking as possible.

Claim to fame: I have seen an aardvark and honey badger in the wild.


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