Click here for Lab Member Activities and Achievements

Doctoral Students

Kathryn M. Benavidez (



Above: KMB handling a mongoose on a dairy farm in Puerto Rico


The cumulative results of globalization, fossil fuel consumption, and urbanization are undoubtedly causing a barreling cascade of environmental change on a global scale. This change is so powerful that scholars have proposed the introduction of a new epoch known as the Anthropocene. Consequences of the Anthropocene, as illustrated by recent events such as Hurricane Maria, threaten the wellbeing of humans around the world. However, the negative effects extend beyond humans to affect biodiversity at various scales. My previous and current research illustrate how human activity affects wildlife, and how this in turn affects human experience. These research areas include [1] biosocial research discussing ocelot conservation along the Texas-Mexico border, [2] zoonotic disease pathogen surveys of introduced mammals on dairy farms in Puerto Rico, and [3] my current research which is designed to show how environmental change affects the physiology and microbial diversity of howler monkeys on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Each of these study sites have unique characteristics that are entirely shaped by human activities and each are specifically designed to promote economic growth. Taken holistically, my research shows how aspects of the Anthropocene are affecting life from the macro to the micro scale. Since biodiversity is closely linked to environmental health, it is important to raise awareness of the significance of the Anthropocene to better incorporate human influences when measuring and describing ecological phenomena. If ecologists are able to elucidate these human-wildlife interactions, then perhaps society can make intentional decisions that positively affect the future of biodiversity.

Tessa Steiniche (


Above: TS at her field study site in Kibale National Park, Uganda.


Tessa is a PhD student in Biological Anthropology. Her research focuses on interactions between primates and endocrine-disrupting chemicals in their environment. Tessa conducts her fieldwork at Kibale National Park, Uganda, combining methods in ecology, toxicology, remote sensing, and environmental chemistry to understand how land use change is linked to primate exposure of anthropogenic pollutants, and the ecological and evolutionary implications of these interactions.


Undergraduate Students

Kathryn Tafoya (

In the field 2

Above: KT conducting fieldwork at the Osa Peninsula.


Kat is pursuing an Animal Behavior B.S. and minors in Biology and Geographic Information Science & Remote Sensing at Indiana University Bloomington. Her research interests include conservation biology, endocrinology, primate cognition and development, habitat planning, and resource sustainability.

In 2017, Kat surveyed the food resource distribution, abundance, and utilization for howler monkeys, capuchins, spider monkeys, and squirrel monkeys in a fragmented secondary rainforest in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. She is currently researching the ontogeny of mirror self-recognition in infant orangutans at the Indianapolis Zoo and working in PEEL, where she studies the role of phytosteroids in the reproduction cycle of red colobus monkeys. Outside of the lab, Kat enjoys working on the set of operas, musicals, and ballet at the Musical Arts Center.

Alec Iruri-Tucker (


Above: AIT conducting his fieldwork in Costa Rica.


Alec Iruri-Tucker is a Bloomington-native pursuing an Animal Behavior B.S. with minors in Biology, Anthropology, and Environmental Science. In 2014, Alec joined a research project examining Danio spp.(zebrafish) shoal behavior and positive rheotaxis with Drs. Emília Martins and Piyumika Suriyampola. After initial exposure to animal behavior research, Alec became interested in exploring the impacts of anthropogenic factors on behavior and physiology. He transitioned to the PEEL lab to pursue these interests in 2016. He is now studying how behavior, endocrinology, toxicant presence, and prevalence of antibiotic-resistant enterobacteriaceae differs across primate populations in Costa Rica. Alec would like to continue to pursue academic research and educational media, especially documentaries, to reach scientific and non-scientific audiences.

Alec enjoys outdoor recreation in his spare time. Alec supplements his love for the outdoors by co-instructing whitewater kayaking and backpacking classes though Indiana University’s Outdoor Adventure program.

Iris Thompson (

Version 2

Above: IT in Bloomington, IN.


Iris is working on completing her Anthropology B.A at Indiana University Bloomington. Her research interest is in the human diet/hormone/immune system relationship. More specifically, Iris is interested in understanding how the consumption of synthetic and natural endocrine disruptors affects the human immune system. She us currently working on a senior thesis that is researching the presence of phytoestrogens in the diet of a hunter-gatherer group. Outside of the lab, Iris figure skates with the Indiana University Figure Skating Club and coaches figure skating in Bloomington



Lab Technicians

Dr. Emily Chester (


Above: EC with her super pup, Cassie!


Dr. Emily Chester explores patterns of variation in hormone levels, immune measures, and social behaviors. Currently, she works to develop and validate techniques to measure biomarkers of health and reproductive functioning in human women and non-human primates. Her work supports research by Dr. Virginia Vitzthum, Kinsey Institute Senior Scientist and Dr. Michael Wasserman, Department of Anthropology.

Chester’s predoctoral research examined an animal model of long-term consequences of maternal stress on offspring behavior and physiology.

Alicia Rich (

20292573_10102839203710032_8116297103689092111_n (2)

Above: AR conducting lab work at Indiana University.


Alicia Rich is temporarily managing general operations for the PEEL lab setup at Indiana University, but will begin managing the PEEL Kibale project in Uganda as of November 2017. Alicia completed a BA in Biology and Anthropology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania through the Robert E. Cook Honors College and an M.A. in Anthropology at Indiana University Bloomington. She also successfully defended her doctoral dissertation through IU Anthropology in August of 2017. Alicia is a previous member of IU’s Anthropological Genetics Laboratory and a former fellow at IU’s Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior. For her dissertation research, she studied the population genetics of chimpanzees living in the open-mosaic habitat of Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve in western Uganda. Alicia is currently focused on integrating genetic, spatial, and ecological perspectives to study the effects of habitat fragmentation and human proximity on the health and viability of tropical primates, with special attention paid to Uganda’s potential “chimpanzee highways” that could maintain connectivity beyond the boundaries of protected areas. In her spare time, Alicia is also a competitive trail/ultrarunner with an affinity for the 50-mile distance.

Bradford J. Westrich (

Above: BJW somewhere in East Texas with a trapped opossum.

Originally from the remote town of Edgewood, NM, Bradford Westrich joined PEEL as a lab technician in Fall 2017. His research career started during middle school when he studied the behavior of bees and was subsequently named a finalist in the 2001 Discovery Young Scientist Challenge. In 2010, Brad went on to receive his Bachelor of Science in Conservation Biology from New Mexico State where he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellow primarily studying local mammal conservation. While an undergraduate he also lived in Belize where he conducted a 9-month research project conducting surveys for Scarlet Macaws. After all of this exciting academic work, Brad took a hiatus from the university and pursued a life on the job market. He worked for many years monitoring threatened and endangered fish populations with Utah Division of Wildlife as Wildlife Technician, and then secured a spot with the University of Florida Cooperative Research Unit where he served as a Field Supervisor for the endangered snail kite monitoring program. After several years on the job, he chose to go back to school in 2015 to earn his Master of Science in Wildlife Biology at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX. For his MSc, Brad conducted mammal surveys across East Texas to assess the prevalence in Lyme Disease in these mammal reservoirs. Currently, along with his many duties as lab technician for PEEL, Brad serves as the Assistant Furbearer Biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Fun fact: Somewhere out there, in the depths of the universe…Brad has a minor planet named after him!

C. Eric Johnson (

Above: CEJ checking a passive air sampler while doing fieldwork in Costa Rica.

Eric hails from the sundrenched Hill Country of Bulverde, Texas, and began working with plant species as an undergraduate biology student at Southwestern University. He became increasingly interested in how careful measurement and analysis of the plant community’s response to anthropogenic disturbances can be a powerful indicator of how we are changing the world. He focused on restoration ecology during the obtainment of his Master’s degree in Environmental Management & Sustainability at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, by assessing mechanical removal methods of the invasive plant species, Ligustrum spp. (privet), in riparian zones at a wilderness preserve. He currently has taken his passion for utilizing plant species as storytellers of global change down to the Neotropics, by studying Ficus spp. (fig tree) viability in the face of forest fragmentation in Costa Rica. He joined the PEEL lab in the Fall of 2017 as a technician to help with the overarching Costa Rica project, and is continuing his project on how fig tree success and diversity can indicate differences in fragment health and habitat suitability for arboreal primates.