UCLA La Kretz Center Partners with the US National Park Service and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to Hire Postdoctoral Fellows

The La Kretz Center’s primary mission is to promote and enable the strongest possible science that helps conserve the biodiversity of California and its ecosystems. One of our most tangible successes has been in our La Kretz Postdoctoral initiative. Each year, our goal is to fund at least one new postdoc who will work collaboratively between academic research labs at UCLA and one or more off-campus partners to identify and solve pressing problems at the interface of basic and applied conservation science.

Dr. John Benson and Dr. Elizabeth Long
Dr. John Benson and Dr. Elizabeth Long

This year, the La Kretz Center is proud to partner with the National Park Service and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to co-fund two exceptional new postdoctoral fellows. John Benson and Elizabeth Long work at the opposite ends of the organism spectrum, but their research falls squarely within the overarching mission of all three organizations to fuel conservation efforts for California’s biodiversity.

John Benson will be co-funded by the La Kretz Center and the US National Park Service to develop a population viability model for mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. John is no stranger to helping conserve large mammal populations—he worked on endangered black bears in Louisiana for his Masters research and hybridization between wolves and coyotes in Canada for his PhD at Trent University. Along the way, John has also worked as a state research biologist, studying endangered panthers in Florida and predator-prey dynamics between moose, wolves, and bears in Alaska. John is broadly interested in ecology and conservation biology and often focuses on understanding links between demography, behavior and genetics of carnivores. At the La Kretz Center, John will be developing a population viability model of the small, isolated population of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. His research will integrate demographic, behavioral and genetic data collected by the National Park Service and UCLA to model the viability of our small, but critically important lion population. John will join us in September 2014 and will work closely with Seth Riley (US National Park Service) and Robert Wayne (Dept. EEB, UCLA).

John had this to say about the La Kretz Postdoctoral Fellowship - “I was motivated to apply for the La Kretz Center postdoctoral fellowship by my desire to conduct research that will contribute directly the conservation of California wildlife as well as to theoretical understanding of links between behavior, demography, and genetics of wild animal populations in general. I’m excited to join the outstanding research community of the La Kretz Center and the strong partnership between UCLA and the National Park Service to conduct innovative research that will facilitate conservation of healthy ecosystems in human-dominated landscapes of southern California.”

Elizabeth Long will be co-funded by the La Kretz Center and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA) to better understand the health of our rich butterfly fauna in southern California. Elizabeth received her M.S in Biology from the College of William & Mary investigating a conservation conflict between threatened Peregrine Falcons and their potential prey, many of which are also threatened or endangered. For her PhD work in Ecology from the University of California Davis, Elizabeth switched gears to work on mimicry among several butterfly species. Elizabeth’s research interests focus on ecology, evolution, and genetics of butterflies, and she will continue that line of investigation as a La Kretz postdoc,. Her goal is to use landscape genomics coupled with intensive field surveys to determine butterfly species richness and abundance in the southern California area, with special emphasis on the Santa Monica Mountains and urban Los Angeles. This analysis of butterfly species richness, plus the extensive historical butterfly records available at the NHMLA, will allow her to document the health of our butterfly fauna, including those species that are in greatest decline. Elizabeth will join the La Kretz Center in September 2014 and be working with Brad Shaffer and Greg Grether (Dept. EEB, UCLA) Brian Brown (Curator of Entomology, NHMLA) and Katy Delaney (US National Park Service).

Elizabeth had this to say about the La Kretz Center Postdoctoral program - “The La Kretz fellowship offers a unique combination of strong institutional support for research plus the opportunity to do public outreach. The UCLA/NHMLA collaboration opens the door to link historical records with modern research methods to understand how biodiversity is shaped in a rapidly changing urban landscape. I was also attracted by the fact that both institutions have a strong incentive to communicate science to a broad audience. There's so much important science being done in the area, and the greater LA community makes a fantastic audience to hear about and participate in that science.”