Photo: Former Levin Lab graduate students Lisa McManus (left) and Charlotte Chang (right) doing research in Brunei, as part of EEB 521: Tropical Ecology. Photo by Andrew Tilman.
Levin Lab - Research Interests
Simon A. Levin, Director
James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
My research interests have been in complexity, and in understanding how macroscopic patterns and processes are maintained at the level of ecosystems and the biosphere, in terms of ecological, behavioral, and evolutionary mechanisms that operate primarily at the level of the organisms. In recent years, I have turned my attention to the parallels between ecological systems and financial and economic systems, particularly with regard to what makes them vulnerable to collapse, and to the evolution and development of structure and organization. Of particular interest to me are discounting, intergenerational and intragenerational equity, cooperation and social norms. I have been especially interested in the management of public goods and common-pool resources. Much of my ecological research is concerned with the evolution of diversification, the mechanisms sustaining biological diversity in natural systems, and the implications for ecosystem structure and functioning. The work integrates empirical studies and mathematical modeling, with emphasis upon how to extrapolate across scales of space, time, and organizational complexity. The essential mathematical challenge is the development of macroscopic descriptions for the collective behavior of large and heterogeneous ensembles that are subject to continual evolutionary modification. Specific attention is directed to the evolution and ecology of collective behavior, from the movements of flocks of birds and schools of fish to human decision-making. Current ecological systems of study include plant communities, as well as marine open-ocean and intertidal systems. In related work, I have been interested in the dynamics of infectious diseases, and in particular in the self-organization of strain structure in influenza A, and in the dynamics of antibiotic resistance. In addition, I have been involved in issues of sustainable development, with emphasis on the linkages between environmental and socio-economic systems. My book, Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons, is an introduction to my view of the issues underlying the dynamics and management of ecological systems, with broad analogies to socioeconomic systems.
Lab Members
(in alphabetical order)
Madeleine Andrews
I am interested in how collective learning and memory affect animal movement on a heterogeneous, dynamic landscape. Ultimately, I hope to apply this understanding to inform more productive, practical wildlife management policies.
George Artavanis
I am interested in explaining the relationship between the structure and function of the human microbiome, in particular, I am using theoretical models and data to understand the temporal dynamics and stability of microbial communities under constant disturbance, and how that relates to human health.
Andrew Carlson
Postdoc (PEI)
Resilience in the global food system; contributions of fisheries and aquaculture to food security; fisheries ecology, management, and governance; coupled human and natural systems; complex adaptive systems; telecoupling; metacoupling.
Samuel Cho
I am studying the life history strategies of bird migration and the game theoretic decisions that lead to collective behavior.
Nicolas Choquette-Levy
GS (STEP; co-advisor Michael Oppenheimer)
I am interested in how complex systems theory can inform better policymaking for global environmental challenges. In particular, how can governments create adaptive policies that keep pace with rapidly changing knowledge, impacts, and technology related to climate change? Potential applications I am exploring include: low-carbon technology policy; the evolution of cooperation between governments on climate mitigation; and planning for climate impacts on human migration. More broadly, you can read more about my research interests and musings on complexity, current events, and culture on my personal blog, Pine Tree Republic.
Daniel Cooney
I am studying in using PDEs and probablity theory to describe how interactions between individuals lead to interesting emergent dynamics at the population level in models of evolution, epidemics, and social systems.
Laura Elsler
GS (Stockholm University/Stockholm Resilience Centre)
Theo Gibbs
I am interested in how species interactions allow diverse ecosystems to assemble and stably coexist. I aim to identify the mechanisms of species coexistence by using mathematical models to understand experimental data from plant and microbial communities.
George Hagstrom
Dynamics and diversity of marine ecosystems, collective behavior, kinetic and fluid descriptions of animal aggregates, active media, interactions between the climate and the oceans, theoretical ecology, applied mathematics.
Mari Kawakatsu
GS (PACM; co-advisors Naomi Leonard, Corina Tarnita)
I am interested in using mathematical and computational modeling to study collective behavior in human and animal groups, particularly the role of inter-individual differences, stochasticity, and population structure.
Rutwik Kharkar
Very generally, I am interested in how to incentivize people to do conservation. More specifically, I want to look at whether ecosystem services can be used as biodiversity conservation tools. Humans depend on natural ecosystems for a number of vitally important services, such as pollination, pest control, and water purification. While recent research suggests that biodiversity might not be very important in protecting these and other services, I want to study how projecting these services might in turn maintain or even enhance biodiversity. I am also broadly interested in dynamical systems and how small or large perturbations to these systems affect their equilibrium points.
Elisabeth Krueger
Postdoc (PEI)
I am interested in the driving mechanisms of human-environment interactions across spatial and temporal scales, in particular those that are mediated through built infrastructure and human institutions. My current research is focused on resilience, adaptation, and systemic risk in the context of urban sustainability. To understand the underlying processes that lead to the dynamics and evolutionary trajectories of these coupled natural-human-engineered- systems, I aim to integrate tools and knowledge derived from ecology, economics, psychology, sociology, and sustainable urban design.
Wenying Liao
GS (co-advisor Lars Hedin)
Biogeochemistry and ecosystem ecology, with a focus on applying empirical and theoretical methods to develop an understanding of the nitrogen cycle in terrestrial ecosystems.
Lisa McManus
Visiting Postdoc (Rutgers University, Pinsky Lab)
Mayank Sarika Misra
I am a lawyer and policy practitioner with a background in socio-economic rights and civil liberties. I am interested in the effects of legal rights stuctures on ecological systems, societal and resource dynamics, and common pool resource problems.
Chai Molina
Chai studies how differences between countries and the relationships between them affect the coalitions forming in international environmental agreements, and the gains these coalitions can achieve. [Collaboration with Erol Akcay (University of Pennsylvania), Ulf Dieckmann (IIASA), and Elena Rovenskaya (IIASA).] He is also interested in evolutionary theory and in infectious disease modelling.
Dylan Morris
Zoonotic disease, theories of cooperation, and mathematical and statistical modeling.
Malin Pinsky
Visiting Faculty (Rutgers University)
I study the ecology and evolution of global change, particularly in the ocean or across realms. I aim to understand how species cope with climate variability and change and how these impacts scale up to communities and social-ecological systems.
Joshua Plotkin
Visiting Faculty (University of Pennsylvania). Will arrive Fall 2019.
Andrew Puy
I study the environmental impact and the sustainable management of agrarian systems. I merge historical and anthropological frameworks with methods from the environmental sciences (e.g., soil physicochemical analysis), ecology (e.g. allometry, modelling) and statistics (e.g. uncertainty/sensitivity analysis). The specific project I conduct in the Levin Lab aims at defining the implications of size for the sustainable management of irrigation systems using models and global sensitivity analysis.
Chadi Saad-Roy
I am interested in mathematical models for the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, at and across all scales. More generally, I am interested in species interactions and co-evolution, with an emphasis on mathematical descriptions of these instances processes.
Fernando Santos
My research interests lie in understanding collective dynamics, specifically in what concerns the evolution of non-trivial behaviors such as cooperation and fairness. I have been studying the role of reciprocity, social norms and reputation systems in that process, through computational and mathematical models.
Edward Schrom
GS (co-advisor Andrea Graham)
The interface of evolution, ecology, and immunology.
Edward Tekwa
Visiting postdoc (Rutgers University, Pinsky Lab)
Evolutionary principles operate at multiple levels, from microscopic point masses to human societies. Selection at the lowest level can generate global patterns, while selection at the human social level can decide the fate of life below. My research employs cross-disciplinary mathematical, experimental, and comparative approaches to explain biodiversity under pressure from evolving human institutions.
Vitor Vasconcelos
Postdoc, The Andlinger Center, Princeton University; Visiting Scholar, PIIRS, Princeton University
Vitor Vasconcelos finished his Ph.D. in Sciences at the University of Minho, in Portugal, in 2017. His research agenda is on the role of institutions for managing social-ecological systems. It covers the management of public goods, the resilience of ecological systems, and evolutionary biology by using and developing tools and resources in the areas of mathematical ecology, complex systems, stochastic processes, game theory, scientific computing, network science, and numerical methods. Besides extending the theoretical work that is showcased in his previous research, he is now working on three central practical systems of global environmental importance: the global and local food systems, the sustainability of the Coral Triangle, and the ecological, social, and technical bottlenecks of rapid decarbonization of the energy system in India.
Luojun Yang
GS (co-advisor Bryan Grenfell)
Cross-scale dynamics of infectious diseases, including but not limited to: the effect of heterogeneous host immune responses on disease transmission and viral evolution, individual decision making of vaccination and antibiotic use as public good games. More broadly, I am interested in understanding emergent phenomena in complex networks.
Jizhong Zhou
Visiting Faculty (University of Oklahoma)