Current Students

Dr. Ticktin advises both Doctoral and Masters level students interested in conservation and ethnoecology. Our students study a diverse range of topics, in various fields, and with research sites in multiple countries. Read their research summaries below for more information.


Doctoral Students


Georgia Hart


Influence of fire severity, climate change and harvest on the population dynamics and harvest quality of beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax Melanthiaceae) in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon

I am an ethnoecologist and population biologist who investigates the relationship between people and plants. My PhD work focuses on bear grass, a perennial forest understory herb in the Pacific Northwest.  I study the use of the plant in weaving traditions of Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest and the influence of fire and other environmental factors on its persistence.

With support from: US Joint Fire Science Award

Katie Kamelamela


Historical and contemporary forest gathering practices in Hawai‘i: Qualitative and quantitative cultural and economic value

Katie Kamelamela was born and raised on O‘ahu, and is completing her Ph D. dissertation in Hilo, Hawai‘i.  She has an undergraduate background in Botany and Hawaiian Studies, and a M.S. in Botany from UH Manoa with a research emphasis on imu (underground oven) plant gathering practices.  Her research focuses on the historical and contemporary forest plant gathering practices throughout the Hawaiian Islands, providing some insight to modern cultural and economic market values of mountain resources. To complete this body of work we collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service and State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Looking more into the impact of policy on resources Katie was selected as a representative for the inaugural Native Hawaiian Federal Service Fellowship 2016-2017 cohort.  She served in Honolulu, Hawai‘i and Washington, D.C. within Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s offices. While serving in Washington D.C. she collected her third year of data in Hawai‘i and was part of a team who facilitated a pilot “gathering of the gatherers” on O‘ahu.  The aim of this group is to evaluate potential proactive frameworks, as explored in Alaska, to support Native Hawaiian gathering practices.  She enjoys thoroughly enjoys photography, public service, facilitating community conversations around stewardship, and supporting Native Hawaiian organizations which invest in the next seven generations. She curates social media accounts on Instagram to spread awareness of science issues (@kulohelohemau) and community supported events (@manawakuponohawaii) in Hawai‘i.

With support from: Ford Foundation Fellowship and Native Hawaiian Federal Service Fellowship

Gioconda López


Ethnobotany of intertidal seaweeds in Central-south Chile, focusing on the carragenophyte species Mazzaella laminarioides (Rhodophyta, Gigartinaceae)

I am an environmental biologist with a MSc in ecology and evolutionary biology (University of Chile). My main interests are plant conservation and people-plant interactions. I have worked in projects related to native plants, fragmentation, pollination and environmental education. Currently, I am doing my PhD dissertation looking at traditional and current uses of seaweeds in South-central Chile, specifically focusing in nutritional potential and ecological effects of their harvesting.

With support from: Conicyt Graduate Fellowship

VU_Ashley (1).JPG

Agroforest resilience and contributions to nutritional diversity in Fiji

Agroforests are multi-functional land-use systems in which trees and shrubs are cultivated with understory crops and/or livestock. Among the most biodiverse ecosystems in the Pacific, agroforests are highly relied upon for livelihoods, and especially for staple and nutritious food. However, agroforests and the communities who rely on them are increasingly threatened by pervasive global change, including heightened cyclone activity and linked land-use and dietary shifts. In 2016, Fiji suffered the most severe cyclone on record in the Southern Hemisphere (category-5) and currently suffers the highest nutrition-related non-communicable disease mortality rate in the Pacific (84%).

Research in Fiji is critical for understanding the nature of agroforests and their potential to promote well-being and increase resilience to these global changes, which are expected to increase worldwide. Using interviews, biodiversity surveys, and dietary recalls, my research assesses the ecological and social factors that influence agroforest recovery and composition post-cyclone, as well as the impacts of linked land-use and dietary shifts on consumption patterns and food choice in Fiji.

With support from: Fulbright Student Research FellowshipForeign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, CPISNSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Zoe Hastings


A functional trait approach to characterizing the effects of agrobiodiversity on ecosystem services in Pacific Islands

I am passionate about conserving and restoring multi-functional, food producing systems that support healthy, resilient ecosystems and human communities. I am interested in using a functional trait framework to understand the synergies and ecological mechanisms underpinning the provisioning of ecosystem services in agroforestry systems. I aim to collaborate with diverse stakeholders to develop information and tools that inform innovative conservation practices.

Masters Students

Reko Libby 


Drivers of survival and growth of five endemic and endangered Hawaiian dry forest species

Dryland forests in Hawai‘i are considered to be severely threatened and currently their continued decline is impacted from the lack of natural regeneration and an understanding of their population dynamics (Cabin et al. 2000, Litton et al. 2006). Factors such as fire, drought, ungulate grazing, competition with invasive plants, and human development have been highly detrimental to their survival and dwindling biodiversity. Although restoration efforts of threatened and endangered species (T&E species) have been taking place for more than 20 years in some locations, there is still little quantitative information on if and how natural regeneration of these species is taking place today. With this gap in knowledge, I am looking at what factors may most affect regeneration, growth and survival rates of dry forest T& E species, and how this may change over time. At both Ka‘ūpūlehu Preserve and Pu’uwa’awa’a Forest Reserve on Hawai‘i Island, I am looking at rates of natural regeneration and some of their potential drivers, including canopy cover, soil moisture (water potential), and insect herbivory. Some of the T & E species that I work with include Halapepe (Chrysodracon hawaiiensis), Kauila (Colubrina oppositifolia), Hau hele ula (Kokia drynarioides), Uhiuhi (Mezoneuron kavaiensis), and Ma’o hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei spp. brackenridgei).

With support from: United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Emily Grave


Pollination biology and population structure of Hawaiian wiliwili (Erythrina  sandwicensis)

I am interested in studying one of the most iconic species of the Hawaiian dry forest, the wiliwili tree, or Erythrina sandwicensis.Where these trees once dominated the dry forests of Hawaiʻi, today little regeneration is observed. Like other native dry forest taxa, wiliwili faces threats to its survival and regeneration from introduced invasive plant and animal species, fires, potential loss of pollinators and dispersers, and habitat loss to development. Interestingly, little to nothing is known about the reproductive ecology of wiliwili, nor its current status in Hawaiʻi. Therefore, I am focusing my master’s thesis work on elucidating the breeding system and documenting the floral visitors of wiliwili, as well as reporting the status of significant populations in the islands. I am also interested in discovering the percentage of viable seeds that can be germinated after one year’s time. This will help to determine if wiliwili seeds may persist in the soil, which has been anecdotally reported as true.  My results will shed light on factors influencing wiliwili regeneration and help aid in conservation management strategies for this species.