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)
Georgios Artavanis
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.
Sarah Drohan
GS (PACM; co-advisor Bryan Grenfell)
I am interested in mathematical modelling of infectious diseases, and in particular the dynamics of vaccination and spatial spread for acute, immunizing childhood infections.
Laura Elsler
GS (Stockholm University/Stockholm Resilience Centre)
Bernat Guillen
GS (PACM; co-advisor Charles Fefferman)
I am interested in trying to find understandable, usable meaning in data. More precisely, I am interested in applying Topological Data Analysis, Manifold reconstruction and function interpolation techniques to problems that arise in evolutionary biology and complex networks where our information is, at best, unreliable.
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.
Jude Kong
Postdoc (Rutgers University, DIMACS; Princeton University)
I am interested in formulating and analyzing mathematical models to answer key ecological and epidemiological questions. My primary focus at the moment is on formulating and analysing stoichiometry based models for the dynamics of phytoplankton and bacteria in a stratified lake. The main objectives here are twofold: Firstly, to examine how the key features of a stratified lake, such as the depths of epilimnion and hypolimnion, nutrient and light availability, affect the persistence, extinction and biodiversity of algae and bacteria in a stratified lake; Secondly, to dicuss how human activities, such as nearby agriculture or industrial pollution, cause harmful algal blooms (HAB) in a stratified lake.
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.
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.
Theresa Ong
I am broadly interested in theoretical agroecology, especially in the setting of urban gardens. My work focuses on how biocomplexity influences the resilience of these agricultural systems to both ecological and policial perturbations.
Chadi Saad-Roy
GS, (QCB; co-advisors Bryan Grenfell, Ned Wingreen)
I am interested in using mathematical models to study viral evolution, as well as disease transmission dynamics. My current work is focusing on the evolution of influenza A.
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
My main work concerns the problems of emergence and sustainability of Cooperation and the tools used therein.
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.
Talia Young
I have two primary research interests: (a) how to better understand and support resilience in fishing communities in the face of changing environments and markets, and (b) how aquatic trophic interactions among predators (illuminated through chemical tracer analysis such as stable isotopes and fatty acids) can help us improve our understanding, management, and conservation of aquatic species and ecosystems. At Princeton, my research focuses specifically on the ecological, economic, and social effects of US community-supported fishery (CSF) programs. I used to teach high school science and continue to work to engage young people (especially students of color and those who are first in their families to go to college) in research biology.