Fairchild Graduate Fellows 

Alexander Levine was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale and returned to Florida after receiving his BS in Environmental Studies at UNC Asheville. Although his undergraduate research focused on eastern hellbenders — threatened giant salamanders — his lifelong love of birding and avian ecology led him to FIU. Alex is pursuing his PhD in Biology while examining how migratory birds utilize South Florida’s fragmented hardwood hammocks. While birds will be the focus of Alex’s academic research, he also hopes to explore other aspects of how South Florida’s unique flora and fauna cope with ever-increasing challenges.

Nichole Tiernan received her BS in Biological Sciences from The University of Connecticut, where she studied the systematics of New World Piperaceae with Dr. Felix Coe. Her studiesbrought her to Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Belize where she cultivated a love for Tropical conservation and plant diversity. She spent several years at The New York Botanical Garden working on several NSF funded projects, exploring the world of herbarium botany. Her work as Research Assistant to Dr. Fabian Michelangeli, on the NSF funded Planetary Biodiversity Inventory: Miconieae (Melastomataceae) project was monumental in inspiring her to pursue her PhD at FIU. She plans to study Caribbean plant systematics with Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega and Dr. Brett Jestrow focusing on Plumeria (Apocynaceae). She plans to specifically work with a phylogeny that needs to be understood for Conservation purposes. Webpage.

Graduate Students Hosted by Fairchild


Born and raised in the Miami heat, Haydee Borrero is passionate of the local fauna and flora. She received her BSc in Environmental Studies at Florida International University in 2013. She has worked on a variety of projects that have restoration and conservation implications, namely in south-western China working with orchids at the Yachang National Orchid Reserve and in Navarino Island, Chile working on Magellanic woodpeckers and migratory bird surveys. She is currently enrolled as a PhD student at Florida International University and is being advised by Dr. Hong Liu. She is interested in the pollination ecology and distribution of state-listed endangered orchids in South Florida. Taking into account how climate change has or will affect south Florida populations and the implications of that for conservation and restoration projects.


Catherine Bravo obtained her Master's degree at FIU under the supervision of Dr. Ken Feeley in 2013, and was also a Fairchild graduate student. She did her research in the cloud forest of Manu National Park in Peru, focusing on plant functional traits of mountain trees along an elevational gradient. She has 4 years of experience working in education and capacity building for organizations such as The Organization for Tropical Studies, Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners, and Tropical Andes Alliance. Catherine is working in Dr. Feeley’s lab developing her research in Peru looking at plant community assembly in mountain forests.


Belén Fadrique earned her BS in Biology from the Universidad del País Vasco (Spain) and her MSc of Biodiversity of Tropical Areas and Conservation from Spain's Universidad Menéndez y Pelayo and Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC). For her thesis research, Belén  studied the distribution of lianas along an altitudinal gradient in Podocarpus National Park, in the Ecuadorian Andes. She has participated in several internships on neotropical forest, including in Perú, Ecuador and Panamá. Belén is currently working with Dr. Kenneth Feeley. Belén is interested in forest dynamics and plant species distributions driven by gradients and climate change. She is especially concerned about how undergoing global change will affect interactions between species and how communities will respond.

Jonathan Flickinger earned a BS in Plant Sciences from Cornell University in 2012. While there, he held a work-study position imaging herbarium specimens that sparked his interest in the worldwide diversity of plants. Afterwards he worked in the field of horticulture and gained experience with plant curation and record keeping at public gardens. He is now pursuing his interests in plant systematics and conservation as a PhD student advised by Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega. His graduate research focuses on systematics of Myrtaceae from the Caribbean Islands. He is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Timothy Perez graduated from the University of Vermont in 2010 with a BSc in Plant Biology. Before joining the lab of Dr. Kenneth Feeley, his interests in ecology developed from his participation in a myriad of projects such as sage grouse habitat assessments, clearwing butterfly ecology research, a chronosequence tree census, and development of an environmental education curriculum. The time that Tim spent in the Neotropics galvanized him to study the effects of climate change on processes including tropical forest dynamics, biodiversity, community ecology and phylogeny. Through science education, he hopes to share what he learns beyond the academic community.

Christine Pardo received her undergraduate degree at Florida International University where she founded the award-winning undergraduate ecology club.  She worked as a research assistant for Dr. Ken Feeley in Peru and for Dr. Steve Oberbauer in Alaska and as a summer REU research assistant at Harvard Forest.  She started her doctoral program with Dr. Ken Feeley in 2016.  Christine's dissertation research will explore biological invasions. Specifically, she will investigate why some species succeed and others fail to invade South Florida with a specific focus on introduced woody plants. Her plan is to analyze multiple factors of invasiveness such as introduction history, propagule pressure, species traits, and habitat characteristics to answer her research questions. The overarching goal of her proposed research is to provide a new perspective on local invasions to allow for management agencies to better predict and control for the effects of species invasions. 

Andrew Reeve received a BS in Biology with a concentration in Ecology and Evolution from the University of Washington in 2011. His interest in plants was sparked when he started volunteering at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden upon moving to South Florida in 2012. He has experience as a University of Miami Field Assistant in the outback of Western Australia, and experience as a Laboratory Technician working for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service at Chapman Field. Andrew entered the PhD program in Biology at the University of Miami in 2016 under the guidance of Dr. Barbara Whitlock. He is interested in studying the systematics and phylogeography.

Wyatt Sharber was the 2011 Lisa D. Anness Fellow in Tropical Plant Biology, co-advised by Dr. Barbara Whitlock and Dr. Carl Lewis. He graduated from Oklahoma State University with a BS in Botany and Zoology. While at Oklahoma State, he studied the species boundaries of the subtropical milkweed, Asclepias pringlei (Greenm.) Woodson. In his co-advised position at the University of Miami and Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, Wyatt plans to study the systematics of Ayenia (Malvaceae), particularly in regards to Caribbean biogeography.

Theses and Dissertations

James Stroud, PhD (2018) - Using introduced species of Anolis lizards to test adaptive radiation theory.


Emily Warschefsky, PhD (2018) - The evolution and domestication of the mango genus, Mangifera (Anacardiaceae).


Sara Edelman, PhD (2017) -  Morphology, architecture and growth of a clonal palm, Acoelorrhaphe wrightii.


Joanna Weremijewicz, PhD (2016) - Plant interactions across common mycorrhizal networks.

Jason Downing, PhD (2016) - Consequences of anthropogenic and global change on orchids: an emphasis on biotic interactions.

Brian Machovina, PhD (2015) - Sustainability of tropical agricultural systems under climate change.


Robert McElderry, PhD (2015) - Leafwing population dynamics (genus Anaea, Lepidoptera; Nymphalidae) and viability of the endangered Florida leafwing.


Evan Rehm, PhD (2015) - Factors determining current and future treeline in the high Tropical Andes mountains.

Vanessa Sanchez, MS (2014) - Characterization of Rhizobial diversity and relationship of Rhizobial partners and legumes performance in four South Florida rockland soils.

Rosa Rodríguez, MS (2014) - Generic diversity and conservation of Pseudophoenix (Arecaceae) in Hispaniola.

Tonia Fotinos, MS (2013) - The effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on four legume hosts in South Florida pine rockland soils.

Klara Scharnagl, MS (2013) - The Effects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on four legume hosts in South Florida pine rockland soils.

Catherine Bravo, MS (2013) - Analyzing root:shoot ratio and specific leaf area along an elevational gradient in the Peruvian Andes.

Cara Cooper, MS (2012) - Melinis repens seed bank longevity in Miami-Dade County.

Wuying Lin, MS (2012) - Comparative reproductive biology of a rare endangered orchid and its congeners.

Nora Oleas, PhD (2011) - Landscape genetics of Phaedranassa Herb. (Amaryllidacee) in Ecuador.

Jason Downing, MS (2011) - Impacts of the naturalized bee Centris nitida on a specialized native mutualism in Southern Florida.

Brett Jestrow, PhD (2010) - Phylogenetics, conservation, and historical biogeography of the West Indian endemic genera of the  Adelieae (Euphorbiaceae).

Karen Laubengayer, MS (2008) - Aiphanes minima (Gaertn.) Burret (Arecaceae): a morphological analysis of the Lesser Antillean species complex.

Jeremy Moynihan, PhD (2008) - Dioon Lindl. (Zamiaceae): perspectives from phylogeny and a population genetic study of D. edule.

John Geiger, PhD (2007) - Conservation implications of the reproductive biology of the endangered vine Ipomoea microdactyla Griseb. (Convolvulaceae).

Brian Sidoti, MS (2007) - A taxonomic revision of Tillandsia fasciculata Sw. (Bromeliaceae).

Julissa Roncal, PhD (2005) - Molecular phylogenetics of the palm tribe Geonomeae and differentiation of Geonoma macrostachys western Amazonian varieties.

Jennifer Trusty, PhD (2005) - Plant biogeography and conservation on a tropical island: Isla del Coco, Costa Rica.

Susan Carrara, MS (2004) - Genetic variation among cultivated selections of mamey sapote (Pouteria spp. [Sapotaceae]).

Elena Pinto-Torres, MS (2004) - The breeding systems and pollination biology of Jacquemontia reclinata (Convolvulaceae).

Hong Liu, PhD (2003) - Population viability analyses of Chamaecrista keyensis (Leguminosae: Caesalpinioideae), a narrowly endemic herb of the lower Florida Keys: effects of seasonal timing of fires and the urban-wildland interface.

Hannah Thornton, MS (2003) - Genetic structure and conservation of Jacquemontia reclinata, an endangered coastal species of Southern Florida.

Nicole Andrus, MS (2002) - The origin, phylogenetics and natural history of Darwiniothamnus (Asteraceae: Astereae), an endemic shrub of the Galapagos Islands.

Sherine El Sawa, MS (1998) - Pollination and breeding of jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam.) in South Florida.

Suzanne Kennedy, MS (1998) - The seed bank and seedling dynamics of Polygala smallii, the tiny polygala.