Pespeni Lab Photo – Fall 2019

Back row: Lauren Ashlock, Reid Brennan, Chelsea Darwin, and Jessica Crooker.

Front row: Chege, Emily Shore, Alison Hall, Melissa Pespeni, Csenge Petak, and Mackenzie Kerner.

Principal Investigator

Melissa H. Pespeni

Melissa is an evolutionary biologist interested in identifying the molecular underpinnings of complex adaptive phenotypes and understanding how ecological and evolutionary processes interact to shape a species’ or population’s capacity to adapt to current and future biotic and abiotic challenges. Her research involves genomic and physiological analyses in both natural and experimental populations.


Postdoctoral  Fellows

Reid Brennan

Reid is an evolutionary biologist interested in how organisms respond and adapt to abiotic stressors. He is particularly focused on the mechanisms that enable populations to adapt to and persist in novel environments and utilizes physiological, transcriptomic, and genomic approaches. During his PhD with Andrew Whitehead at UC Davis he worked on adaptation to salinity in killifish. While at UVM, he will be investigating adaptation of copepods to climate change using multi-generational experimental approaches.

Personal website and Google Scholar.

Graduate Students

Lauren Ashlock

Lauren is a PhD candidate interested in understanding the potential resilience of marine organisms to global climate change. She uses multi-generational selection experiments in marine copepods to investigate the adaptive capacity for response to multiple and sequential biotic and abiotic stressors. As a fellow in the QuEST graduate training program, she has done an applied internship at the Farallon Institute.

Herman Chege

Chege is a PhD student interested in the application of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, particularly Deep Learning algorithms, in exploring biological data. He seeks to use these tools to answer scientific questions, discover new patterns and engineer new cutting edge tools for biology spanning ecosystem to genes.

Personal website.

April Garrett

April is a Masters student interested in understanding how multiple environmental stressors (particularly ocean warming, acidification, and disease outbreak) impact the physiology and resiliency of marine invertebrates and the adaptive capabilities of their subsequent populations.

Alison Hall

Alison is a PhD student interested in understanding the evolutionary mechanisms that underlie adaptation to climate change in marine ecosystems. She is excited to use genetic and genomic tools to conserve biodiversity and understand broader ecological implications of adaptation. Outside the lab, Alison enjoys playing in the beautiful East coast outdoors.

Csenge Petak

Csenge is a PhD student interested in molecular evolutionary biology and computational modeling. She is exploring the structure and function of sea urchin gene regulatory networks to infer their evolution and how they might facilitate evolvability. As a trainee in the QuEST graduate training program, she is planning to participate in interdisciplinary research regarding the general behavior of systems and the emergence of modularity.

Emily Shore

Emily is a Masters student interested in human impacts on the environment.  She has designed her thesis to explore impacts of microplastics on the fitness and behavior of copepods.

Undergraduate Students

Chelsea Darwin

Chelsea is a Biological Sciences major interested in marine biology and global change research. Her thesis explores the adaptability of the marine copepods to different environmental stressors such as changes in temperature and salinity.

Anya Steinhart

Anya is a Biology major interested in genetics and global change research.  She has designed her thesis to explore the genetic and physiological response mechanisms of the tropical sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus to extreme low salinity events, mimicking tropical storms.

And YOU?!

If you are a highly motivated and dedicated undergraduate interested in our research, please read, fill out, and send this application to Dr. Pespeni with an introduction to your motivations!  The typical flow is to first become familiar with the organisms and types of research questions addressed and tools used in the lab.  To do this, you would assist with current research projects and attend weekly lab meetings.  If you are particularly attentive to detail and compassionate, you can shadow current lab assistants to learn the ropes to become an animal care technician.  After on average a year in the lab doing the above activities, you may feel confident in designing and carrying out your own research project with Dr. Pespeni’s guidance.

Former members

Melanie_LloydMelanie Lloyd, NSF-funded Postdoctoral Fellow

Currently: Living her dream – staying in Vermont as a middle school science teacher.

Kate Huber,  Zoology  BS  2019

Research: Impacts of novel plastic leachate compounds on larval sea urchin development.

Currently: Starting as a Masters student in the UK studying conservation.

Aubrey Pelletier, Biology BS 2019

Honors College thesis research: Characterized the genetic variation in carbonic anhydrase, a protein critical for resilient physiological phenotypes in ocean acidification conditions.

Currently: Marine research technician in Indonesia!

Becky Nesnevich, Zoology BS 2018

Honors College thesis research: Tested for differences in microbial communities between five different tissues of healthy and sick sea stars affected with Sea Star Wasting Disease.

Currently: Fisheries catch inspector on ships off the coast of Massachusetts.

Heidi Hargarten – Our former Lab Tech extraordinaire!