Current Graduate Students

Angelo Soto

Angelo Soto-Centeno
PhD student - Biology Department

I am fascinated by population genetics, phylogeography, distribution modeling, and the application of computer software to solve population level evolutionary problems. I use distribution models, fossils, and genetics to study how climate change affects populations of bats on Caribbean Islands. DNA serves as a distinctive marker for each population and can give us information about evolutionary processes that occur today and in the past. I analyze DNA under a coalescent framework (i.e. projected towards the past) to understand island bat population sizes, movement of bats among islands, etc., over time. Also, I use current and fossil-validated population distribution models to understand the changes that may have occurred in populations and their available habitat as climate changed. The combined use of DNA, coalescent methods, distribution models, and fossils is very powerful and allows me to learn about the evolutionary processes that shaped island bat populations and how bats reacted to climate change in the past, which is very important to have an understanding of what happens to these bats today and to be able to predict what may happen to them in the future.
Personal website:

Jorge Pino

Jorge Luis Pino
PhD student, Reed & Phelps Labs - Biology Department

My research focuses on the singing mice of Mexico and Central America. Specifically, I am examining the phylogeography of the genus (Scotinomys) and investigating patterns of gene flow. These mice are very interesting because the two species are known to segregate based on elevation, and the habitat that they live in seems to be very heterogenious throughout their distribution. I’m using a combination of molecular markers and GIS modeling to better understand how genes are moving between populations over this complex landscape.
Personal website:

Carson Phillips

Carson Phillips
PhD student, Reed & Robinson Labs

My research focuses on the impact humans have on the ecology and transmission of parasites and emerging infectious diseases. The human population is growing exponentially and, as a result, human impact on the environment is inevitable. To meet the rising resource demands, humans alter the environment to make room for agriculture and urban development. My research investigates how different types of land use (e.g., cattle pasture, village) affects the small mammal community and how the change in their community affect the parasites they carry. Small mammals such as rodents are known to cohabitate and thrive in urban settings. Most importantly, small mammals act as main sources of emerging diseases for humans (e.g., plague). With the application of GIS and genetic analysis, I am able to investigate the impact humans have on parasites and emerging infectious diseases on a broad scale that enables us to make predictions on what impacts we can expect in other geographical regions.

Bret Boyd

Bret Boyd
PhD student - UF Genetics Institute

I am interested in applying genomic data to understand how lice capture and retain new bacterial symbionts. Louse-bacterial symbiosis is a perfect system in which to test questions of animal-bacteria symbiosis, because the symbiosis has arisen multiple times in closely related louse species. I am currently investigating the possibility that horizontal gene transfer may facilitate symbiont replacement in lice. This research focuses on a small bacterial chromosome that encodes for de novo synthesis of pantothenate found in human lice. Pantothenate is considered to be an essential product that the symbiont produces for the louse and acquisition of the plasmid might facilitate symbiont replacement. I am also developing methods to sequence and assemble whole genomes of louse symbionts. I am currently investigating whole genomes from nine different louse symbionts and comparing them to one another. From this work I hope to determine if distantly related louse symbionts are converging a similar set of genes and genomic features, even though these symbiont are not closely related. I suspect convergence on similar genomic characteristics might facilitate retention and stasis of new louse symbionts.

Kelly Speer
Masters student - Biology Department

I am interested in understanding the evolution and community dynamics of hosts and their parasites. My current research is focused on examining population structure of free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) and the implications of this structure for obligate blood-feeding ectoparasites called bat flies (Streblidae). Bat flies are interesting ectoparasites in that they display some degree of host-specificity despite having functional wings (in some cases) and spending a third of their lives off of their host. My Master’s thesis focuses on island populations in the Bahamas, which provide a controlled system to analyze fragmentation and migration.

In the past, my research has focused on the phylogeography of northern latitude montane populations of shrews (Sorex) and voles (Clethrionomys and Alticola) in North America and Asia. In the future, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. further developing my interest and knowledge of phylogeography, biogeography, host-parasite coevolution, and phylogenetics.