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The Young Lab 



Research in our lab lies at the intersection of community ecology, ecosystem ecology and conservation biology.   Specifically we focus on understanding the effects of wildlife loss and human disturbance on community structure and ecosystem function. Recent work has focused particularly on effects of wildlife loss on human health and well-being. 

We look at these questions in a variety of systems, including sites in East Africa, Pacific Islands, and coastal California.  We work at both local and global scales, and use a range of observational, experimental, and meta-analytical approaches.

News from the lab


Check out this article about Sophie Nebeker, an undergraduate who worked with our second-year grad student Kate Culhane in the field this summer! Sophie received a scholarship through the College of Creative Studies in order to pursue a joint research and art project, exploring concepts about the local debris flows through both science and the creative process.
Congratulations to undergraduate student, Megan Oza, who recently presented her campus pollinator monitoring research at the Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research (SCCUR) in Pasadena earlier this month. Megan worked on the UCSB campus last year, studying pollinator species and abundance across different habitat types.
Our PhD student Georgia Titcomb is looking for students interested in learning about African mammals and doing camera trap classifications! Students that are interested to get volunteer experience can reach out to gtitcomb@ucsb.edu. We can offer research credits in exchange for your time.

Congratulations to Michelle Lee who was awarded the following grants:

  • Sierra Science Learning Center Research Grant Program
  • UCSB EEMB Graduate Student Research Grant (EEMB Block Grant)
  • Worster Award with undergraduate student, Angela van Winden (UCSB '20)
  • University of California Valentine Eastern Sierra Reserve Graduate Student Research Grant
Congratulations to John Parsons who was awarded the Dean Bazzi Memorial Award. This award was established in 1985 by the Santa Barbara Audubon Society, is given annually to an outstanding Junior or Senior in the area of aquatic biology, environmental biology, or zoology, to perpetuate the memory of Dean Bazzi, a 1980 graduate in biological sciences.
Congratulations to Carina Motta who was awarded and award from the Audrey Lynn Copeland Memorial Fund for 2018.  Established in 1985 by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Copeland, their family, and friends, this award is given annually to an outstanding student in the biological sciences, to perpetuate the memory of Audrey Lynn Copeland and her appreciation of nature, enthusiasm for life, and enjoyment of her UCSB experience. Carina will use these funds to travel to Brazil this September and assist with research in Wesley Silva’s lab at Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP).
Invasive omnivore rats have a profound effect on native biodiversity on islands. Rat eradication has shown positive effects on vertebrate conservation in island ecosystems but there are not many studies on the impact on plant communities. Our ongoing study has focused on comparing the native and non-native tree and palm seedling abundance before and after eradication of invasive rats from Palmyra Atoll. Are you curious to learn more about the increased seedling recruitment after the rat eradication in 2011? Read our paper here.
We have new insights to what drives variation in the way that large mammalian herbivores influence plant communities and ecosystem processes. Learn more about our long-term, controlled, replicated experiment that explores the consequences of African savanna fauna decline and it's replacement with livestock here.
What are the ecological and evolutionary consequences of hosts avoiding parasites? Just like prey adapt defensive strategies against predators, so do parasite hosts. Learn more about the 'ecology of disgust' and how it affects parasites and hosts alike here
May 2018 - In our 2017 PRSB paper, we found that tick abundance and risk of tick borne disease nearly double in experimental plots where large wildlife have been experimentally removed.  Could this be an artifact of 1 ha plot size of the experiment?  Read the debate and our reply here.
March 2018- Does migration make a species more or less prone to extinction?  To population declines? How does this vary across taxa and habitats?  Look for the answers in the new paper out now on "Migration in the Anthropocene"  in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.  

March 2018 - While wildlife are declining globally, livestock are increasing rapidly, more than replacing the biomass of large animals in the landscape.  Our lab group works extensively in the Kenya Long-Term Exclosure Experiment (KLEE), which examines how wildlife and cattle vary in their ecological impacts.  In our latest review paper, now out in Rangeland Ecology and Management, we compare effects of these two groups on a range of responses from more than 20 years of research in KLEE. 
March 2018 - Hosts fear parasites just as prey fear predators - we often call this phenomenon disgust.  But how does that fear shape the ecology and evolution of communities?  Check out this weeks Science Podcast highlighting our new perspective piece in Science asking if there is a landscape of disgust just as there is a landscape of fear! Do you want to learn more? Find our paper here.
March 2018 - A new paper from our lab out in Science explores the ecological and evolutionary implications of parasite avoidance.  The landscape of disgust created by parasites may strongly impact host behavior to reduce disease transmission, which may then drive ecological cascades and ecosystem scale consequences. Read the paper here.

February 2018- Our lab will be hosting three REU students this summer for projects ranging from developing pollination interaction networks here at UCSB to work in Kenya on developing and deploying robotic sensors to measure carbon flux as a response to herbivore loss.  Contact us if you are interested in applying for an REU position in our lab.

February 2018- A new paper from our lab group, just out in Biology Letters, shows how eradication of invasive rats has led to the system wide eradication of the Asian tiger mosquito on Palmyra atoll via the loss of preferred hosts .  Read more about this work here and here.

September 2017 - Congratulation to Georgia Titcomb for her recent publication "Interacting effects of wildlife loss and climate on ticks and tick-borne diseases" in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B! It was recently featured in UCSB's The Current, and can be accessed online here.
August 2017 - Our most recent paper, Limited trophic partitioning among sympatric delphinids off a tropical oceanic atoll, is out in PLOS One, and was recently featured in the UCSB current. It was written in coordination with researchers from UCSB, NOAA, and Scripps, including our former undergraduate student Katie Nigro.
June 2017 - Congratulation to Elizabeth Forbes who was awarded NSF-IGERT funding for a field project exploring real-time measurements of soil carbon flux in the KLEE plots at Mpala using microprocessors and carbon sensors!

June 2017 - Congratulations to Devyn Orr, who was awarded the Fiona and Michael Goodchild Graduate Mentoring Award! This competitive award recognizes graduate students who have distinguished themselves as mentors of undergraduate students.

June 2017 - PI Hillary Young was awarded an Academic Senate Faculty Research Grant for work on missing foodweb links at Palmyra Atoll. Graduate student Ana Miller-ter Kuile will be leading the fieldwork.
June 2017 - Congratulations to incoming grad student An Bui, who received a grant from the Sage and Sea Audobon Society!
June 2017 - Congratulations to our undergraduate student Bella Mayorga who has been accepted into the Smithsonian Scholars Channel Islands research experience program! Bella will be travelling to Santa Cruz Island to gain hands on experience in research.
April 2017 - A new special issue on "Conservation, Biodiversity and Disease" co-edited by Hillary is out this week in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Read the introduction here.
April 2017 - Our lab's latest article on disturbance disease dynamics in Kenya out today in the new special issue of Philosophical Transactions documents strong but highly context dependent benefits of conservation on human health. Available online here.
April 2017 - A new global analysis on drivers of change in infectious disease burden, co-authored by Hillary in the latest issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, documents the benefits of urbanization in improving health over the past 20 years. Available online here.
April 2017 - Graduate student Georgia Titcomb has a coathored publication in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Societ B which proposes a framework to better understand how conservation measures can affect public health and well-being, a research area that requires more comprehensive data and consideration of human behavior and economics. Available here.
April 2017 - We are happy to welcome Kat Culhane as a graduate student this fall! Kat will be starting out on a project studying fire intensity effects on food web structure in the Sierra Nevada. She is more broadly interested in fire ecology at the community level, and will be co-advised by Max Moritz.

Congrats to graduate students Sara Weinstein and Georgia Titcomb for the great new article now out online early in Ecology on parasite responses to large mammal losses in an African savanna.  Check it out here.
April 2017 - Welcome Michelle Lee, incoming graduate student of Fall 2017. Michelle will be studying the effects of nutrient and trophic cascades on plant communities and their associated pollinators. She was also awarded an NSF GRFP, so many congratulation to Michelle!
April 2017 - We're happy to welcome An Bui from UCSB as a graduate student this fall. An will be exploring the relationship between genetic diversity and community structure, combining her love for population genetics and broad ecological questions, and will be co-advised by Tom Turner.
April 2017 - Congratulation to our graduate student Devyn Orr who was awarded a four year fellowship from the Department of Defense (NDSEG) to support her work at Tejon!

March 2017 - Congratulations to our graduate student Ana Miller-ter Kuile, who received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for her research!!
March 2017 - Congratulation to our undergraduate student Isabella Mayorga who was been selected as a UC LEADS Fellowship to study anthropogenic impacts on pollinator networks at Tejon!
March 2017 - Congratulations to our undergraduate student Carina Motta for receiving an NSF REU grant to assist with our project on Palmyra Atoll!

January 2017- Our new paper Conserving the World’s Megafauna and Biodiversity: The Fierce Urgency of Now, a follow-up to of our 2016 publication Saving the World's Terrestrial Megafauna, been published in Bioscience (PDF, Link).

January 2017- Check out this exciting coverage of our work on the effects of large wildlife loss on human health and livelihoods, covered by Pulitzer Prize winning author Elizabeth Kolbert, and featured on Emmy winning documentary "Years of Living Dangerously".

December 2016- Our paper on the impacts of coconut palms on abiotic and biotic conditions at Palmyra Atoll was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology (PDF, Link).
December 2016- PI Hillary Young, along with other collaborators from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and the U.S. Forest Service will study the impacts of megafires on food web network and pollination networks. Funding for this project comes from the University of California 2017 Research Catalyst Award, awarded to UC Davis conservation biologist Rahel Collman. Follow the links for more information about the award and project.
December 2016- Our new paper featuring the results of sequencing African wild dog genomes to understand their demographic history is currently in press (PDF Link), and was recently featured on Genome Web.
October 2016- We have a new paper out in Trends in Ecology & Evolution that considers the effects of introduced species on biodiversity-disease relationships. (PDF Link)
October 2016- We collaborated on a paper just out in Royal Society Open Science that investigates the threat to mammals posed by bushmeat hunting, and it is covered by the Huffington Post and Science. (PDF Link)
October 2016- Georgia Titcomb and Elizabeth Forbes have passed their qualifying exams and are now official Ph.D. candidates! 
October 2016- We have a new publication out in Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics exploring the patterns, causes, and consequences of Anthropocene Defaunation. Read it here.
August 2016 - Our most recent publication on de-extinction from an ecological perspecitve has received press from Popular Mechanics, The Science Explorer, Nature World News, New Atlas, and Science Index. You can read the original publication here.
August 2016 - Our paper detailing the development of an assay to simultaneously identify ectoparasites, host blood meals, and pathogens has been featured on the cover of Molecular Ecology Resources. PDF. Link.
August 2016 - Our new paper A mammoth undertaking: harnessing insight from functional ecology to shape de-extinction priority setting was recently published in Functional Ecology, and can be read here.

August 2016 - Interested in learning more about what i's like to conduct research at the Young Lab and UCSB?

You can read here about our PhD student Elizabeth Forbes' research experiences in Kenya. Elizabeth has also posted about her research on Voices for Biodiveristy, which can be read here.

The website Roots to STEM, written by a number of women in the EEMB department, is a great resource for those interested in entering the field of science and research.

(Video shows a bear capturing a wild piglet, consider lowering your volume before watching)

This wildlife trap-camera video was recorded by masters student and Tejon Ranch Conservancy biologist Ben Teton and undergraduate student Gabby Najm as part of a long-term study of invasive wild pigs and their impacts on the native ecology of Tejon Ranch. The recording captures the predation of a wild piglet by a young female black bear.
It is extremely rare to capture a predation event of any kind within the small frame of a trap camera, and an event as dramatic and illuminating as this is almost unheard of. Trap-camera footage like this provides a rare and intimate look at what these animals face every day in their struggle to survive in the wild. 

August 2016 - Hillary Young, in collaboration with over 40 other researchers, recently published the paper Saving the World's Terrestrial Megafauna, which is available to read on the open acess journal BioScience. Click here to read.
July 2016- Congratulations to our undergraduate student
Bella Mayorga who received the Gene and Susan Lucas Undergraduate Fund. This fund supports on-site work experience in a research environment for undergraduate, first-generation college students at UC Santa Barbara in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).  Bella will be working with Devyn Orr on her research at Tejon Ranch.
July 2016- Congratulations to our undergraduate student Carina Motta who was accepted into the the EUREKA! Internship Program which is focused on introducing first year students to the broader science community on campus by providing exposure to research through academic year internships.  EUREKA! is hosted by the Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships (CSEP) at the California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI).  It's goal is to nurture student's academic achievement through financial support and opportunities to actively engage in the science community through early preparation that addresses the academic skills, social networking, and career exploration needed for success in the sciences. 
May 2016- Congratulations to graduate student Devyn Orr who has been awarded a Bloom-Hays Grant from the Sage and Sea Audubon Society to understand how climate change and herbivory by wildlife and cattle may impact bird communities in California grasslands through changes in habitat structure and food resources.
May 2016- Congratulations to our undergraduate student Gabby Najm for receving the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Award to study mammal communities at watering holes at Tejon Ranch using camera trap data.
May 2016- Graduate students Elizabeth Forbes, Ana Miller-ter Kuile, Devyn Orr, and Georgia Titcomb's review of Serendipity by James A. Estes has been published in the May 2016 edition of Science magazine. PDF available here.

March 2016- Congratulation to graduate student Elizabeth Forbes for being awarded NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship and Devyn Orr for receiving honorable mention!

Our new paper discussing the development of an assay which simultaneously identifies ectoparasites, host blood meals, and pathogens has been accepted by Molecular Ecology Resources and is available online.
Our reply to a comment on our paper Does biodiversity protect humans against infectious disease? has recently been published in Ecology. The paper defends our critique of generalizing the dilution effect.
March 2016- The Young lab has been awarded a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant will fund two students' research to understand drivers of ecosystem structure and stability by using replicated empirical networks.
March 2016- PI Hillary Young has been awarded a grant from National Geographic to understand how climate change and wildlife decline may interact to determine prevalence of tick-borne diseases in East Africa.
March 2016- The Young lab has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the role of watering holes in concentrating parasites in a changing climate. PhD student Georgia Titcomb will be leading the field work in Kenya.
February 2016- The Young lab collaborated on a new paper that investigates the effectiveness of rat eradication for conserving various bird species in the Aleutian archipelago. (PDF Link)
October 2015- Graduate student, Elizabeth Forbes, was awarded a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant for her project investigating the effects of native wildlife loss on a Kenyan savanna's soil communities and ecological processes, and the role of domesticated cattle as they interact with these effects of wildlife loss.
September 2015- The Young lab received a grant from the Hellman Fellows Fund supporting research on wildlife communities, changing climates, and tick-borne disease in California.
September 2015- PI Hillary Young and PhD students Georgia Titcomb, Sara Weinstein, and Molly Hardesty-Moore are part of the Roosevelt Resurvey team in Kenya. Follow the expedition on Twitter: #RooseveltAfrica.
September 2015- The Young lab has a new paper in Functional Ecology discussing the effects of large wildlife removal on immune defenses in rodents. (PDF Link)
July 2015- PI Hillary Young wrote a piece in the current issue of Science discussing the institutional and structural burdens to women in science. (PDF)
June 2015- Congratulations to undergraduates Gabby Najm and Trevor Ayers who were both awarded Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships to do field work with graduate Devyn Orr this summer at Tejon Ranch.
June 2015- Congratulations to incoming graduate student Ana Miller-ter Kuile who won a UCSB graduate research opportunity fellowship.
June 2015- Congratulations to graduate student Devyn Orr who has won several awards, including a UCSB graduate research opportunity fellowship, and, in partnership with undergraduate Gabby Najm, a Worster summer research fellowship.
June 2015- The Young lab has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to continue research on foodwebs in Palmyra.
June 2015- Congratulations to Katie Nigro who was awarded a Dean Bazzi Memorial Scholarship for her excellence in independent undergraduate research.
May 2015- Congratulations to Ana Miller-ter Kuile who will be joining the Young lab team as a graduate student this fall!
April 2015- Hillary was just named an "Early Career Fellow" by the Ecological Society of America. See the full list of 9 fellows here.
April 2015- Congratulations to graduate students Georgia Titcomb for being awarded NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship and Elizabeth Forbes for receiving honorable mention!
March 2015- Our new paper studying the context dependent effects of large wildlife declines is featured on the cover of Ecological Applications, and is covered by Noozhawk. (PDF Link)
February 2015- Hillary's book review of Gaia Vince's Adventures in the Anthropocene is in the current issue of Science. (PDF Link)

February 2015- We have a new paper out comparing the prevalence of plague between conserved and agricultural landscapes in Tanzania, and it is covered by Scientific American, NPR, Science, Voice of America, and Discover. (PDF Link)

Click here for more media coverage.

January 2015- Our new paper examining the drivers of flea parasitism on small mammals in East Africa is out in Journal of Parasitology, and is covered by Noozhawk. (Link)

January 2015- We collaborated on a paper looking at the effects of introduced coconut palms on native trees on Palmyra Atoll.
(PDF Link)

December 2014- We have a new paper out in Biological Conservation that examines the potential of pelagic marine protected areas to protect foraging habitat for seabirds in the central Pacific. (PDF Link)
October 2014- Research from the Young lab informs creation of world's largest marine protected area, in the Central Pacific. Learn more here
September 2014- Our new paper exploring both positive and negative effects of an endangered parrotfish on reef ecosystems is on the cover of this upcoming month's issue of Conservation Biology, and is reviewed by BBC and The Washington Post. (PDF Link)
Cover image expansion

July 2014- Our new review featured in Science on vanishing wildlife, entitled "Defaunation in the Anthropocene," examines both the magnitude and ecological consequences of animal declines in an age of humans, and it's covered by BBC, The Washington Post, The Onion, and The UC Santa Barbara Current. (PDF Link)

Click here for more media coverage.

June 2014- The Young lab has collaborated on a new paper exploring the importance of sensitive lagoon habitats to the foraging of manta rays, and it is covered by The UC Santa Barbara Current and Stanford News. (PDF Link)
May 2014- Congratulations to undergraduate Sean Nguyen for receiving awards from the College of Creative studies AND from IGERT network sciences program for his research!
April 2014- Check out our new commentary piece in Biological conservation, and the paper on conservation at the edges of the world that instigated this discussion.

March 2014- Our new paper in PNAS examines the effects of wildlife decline on rodent-borne disease in Africa, and was covered by Noozhawk, Southern CA Public Radio, and the UC Santa Barbara Current. (PDF Link )