Elizabeth G. King

Assistant Professor

Odum School of Ecology
Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources
Center for Integrative Conservation Research

Ryan Unks

PhD Student, Integrative Conservation and Forestry & Natural Resources

Ryan began his doctoral studies in Fall 2012, bringing with him a great mindset and background for integrative social-ecological research. He has bachelors degrees in both Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Political Science, as well as a masters in Natural Resources with a focus on Restoration Ecology. He is currently studying the influence of social and institutional factors on herding practices and how these relate to vegetation dynamics and livelihood transitions.  His main academic interests are landscape ecology and institutional analysis.


Kristen Lear

PhD Student, Integrative Conservation and Forestry & Natural Resources

Kristen is interested in, above all else, BATS! Co-advised with Jeff Hepinstall-Cymerman, Kristen started at UGA in fall 2014, and is interested in the ecosystem services that bats provide, particularly as pollinators dependent on the same agaves that are used to produce tequila and mezcal. She received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which supports her studies in the ICON program and in the field.  She has also received a plethora of additional research grants and awards to support her innovative research at the interface of bat conservation and rural agricultural land use in Mexico.


Hannah Morris

PhD Student, Integrative Conservation and Forestry & Natural Resources

Hannah entered the ICON program in Fall 2015. Hannah Morris is an archaeologist studying how humans and plants interacted in the past. She has worked in a number of sites and systems around the world, including the focus of her planned PhD research: St. Catherines Island on the Georgia coast. She and I share an interest in understanding how legacies of past land use affect ecosystem structure and function today and into the future.


Destiny Loyd

MS Student, Conservation Ecology & Sustainable Development

Destiny is in the final year of a 5 year Bachelors-Masters degree program, and helping us build a better understanding of the perceptions and attitudes surrounding urban-rural connectivity, specifically using goats as an avenue for urban restoration, environmental education, and promoting environmental stewardship.

Email: dloyd909 “at”

melissaraykinglabwebsiteMelissa Ray

Masters Student, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources

Melissa began her masters at UGA in 2016, with a focus in environmental education.  Her interests include ethnobotany, sustainable farming, and native plant conservation.  In addition to working as a teaching and lab assistant in the Odum School of Ecology, she is currently developing an educational program related to native medicinal plants and herbs.  With bachelors degrees in environmental science and anthropology, Melissa hopes to bring the link between people and planet into new light for her students. .

Email:  raymelissa88 “at”

kevin-tarner-smKevin Tarner

Masters Student, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources

Kevin began his Master’s in Natural Resources at UGA in 2016 with a focus in plant conservation, outreach, program design and environmental education. He is also a full-time staff member for UGA’s Plant Biology Department, where he tends various greenhouse research projects and an extensive teaching collection. In his free time, Kevin develops and teaches workshops for different organizations including the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. He also maintains a large personal collection of a wide variety of plants and actively assists with plant conservation efforts around the state. Kevin hopes to gain more insight into communicating scientific and conservation issues with the public as well as effective ways to implement programs and applied conservation management..

Email: kevintheplantman “at”

Dessa1Dessa Dunn

Masters Student, Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development (Odum School of Ecology)

Dessa received her B.S. at UGA in Environmental Engineering major, and worked with our lab since Fall 2015 conducting research on the ecosystem services in campus forests like Tanyard Creek and Driftmier Woods. Now in Fall 2017 she’s (re)joined the lab as a masters student! She will continue to study restoration ecology and ecosystem services in UGA’s urban forests, and also extend her scope to examine multiple management objectives and decision-making in coastal maritime forests on Georgia barrier islands. This program of study will give her an opportunity to apply her broad range of skills from ecosystem modeling, to empirical research, to stakeholder engagement! We’re delighted to have her back on the team.

Email: dessdunn “at”

joseph hansenJoseph Hansen

MS Student, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources

Joseph joined the lab in January 2017, with a keen interest in forest restoration and fire ecology. Though a Georgia native, Joseph studied forestry, and worked for several years in forest restoration, in Colorado.  (found this picture on the web, showing Joseph at work, explaining their innovations in lodgepole pine ecosystem management and restoration).  He started off exploring potential research avenues in the Georgia maritime forests, but during Warnell’s fire ecology field course with forest ecology heroes Doug Aubrey and Joe O’Brien, he began to find his calling in Southeastern Longleaf Pine ecosystems.  So while Doug and Joe will be advising, we’re happy he’s still hanging out in the lab.

Email: josephbhansen “at”

Gabriele Volpato, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Associate, Center for Integrative Conservation

It’s a great pleasure to have Gabriele as a colleague on our NSF-supported research on Social-Ecological Systems in Transition. He brings a fresh perspective, a great sense of humor, and a very valuable continuity of presence for our project in the field.

Research interests: Sociology, Anthropology, and Human Ecology of Natural and Subsistence Resource Use and Management, with special emphasis on Ethnobiology and Ethnobotany, Food and Medicinal Systems, Biocultural Diversity Studies, Cultural Studies, Migrant and Refugee Studies, Pastoral Systems, Ethnoveterinary Medicine and Human-Animal Relationships, and Social-Ecological Systems.

My interests include human-animal relationships, especially pastoralism and the ways in which pastoralists cope with social and environmental change across the globe. I am particularly interested in changes in pastoral social-ecological systems under different social and ecological pressures, and in the material and cultural roles of livestock among pastoral populations..


Gabriele’s Website on ResearchGate

Past Members

Liz Guinessey

MS Student, Ecology

Liz started at UGA in Fall 2013, with interests in wetlands and coastal ecosystem sustainability. She has a great range of perspectives on ecological conservation from her host of experiences in research, environmental education, outreach, and travel. She will be studying salt marshes on the Georgia Coast and mangroves in Costa Rica, with interest the concept of Blue Carbon, or the carbon sequestration potential of coastal vegetation. In Spring 2017, Liz successfully completed her masters while working as a Fulbright Scholar in Costa Rica!


Laura KeysLaura Keys

Laboratory Coordinator

Laura received her MS in Ecology from the Odum School at UGA in 2015, evaluating urban streams, green infrastructure, and stormwater management.

Email: keys “at”

Rachel Hughes Masters Student, Forestry & Natural Resources

Rachel just completed her Masters of Natural Resources in August 2015, focusing on environmental education.  Her incredible dedication and creativity in the classroom have already paid off; she will be starting a teaching position at University of North Georgia this fall! Rachel brought a wonderfully diverse background to the lab, with bachelors degrees in Sociology and Entomology, plus almost 3 years of lab experience working for Dr. Andrea Sweigart in the Genetics department.


IMG_0371Kirstin Valdes

Research Assistant, B.S. in Forest Resources, Emphasis in Wildlife Science

Kirstin has been an invaluable asset in the lab, tackling everything from tricky spatial analyses in R, to creative field apparatus construction, to coordinating  Ossabaw expedition teams, to building this website.  She’ll still be in touch, though, as we didn’t quite finish our fun manuscript on our crazy triangular transects and cross-variograms of marsh denizen distributions… Email:

Chelsea WelchMasters Student, Forestry & Natural Resources

Pursuing her interest in Africa and conservation issues, Chelsea recently returned to East Africa, working as Student Affairs Manager at the School for Field Studies in Kenya.  As of Feb 2017, I just heard from Chelsea that she is at last going to follow her dream to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa.  She is on her way to Zambia, where she will serve as an agricultural extension agent promoting sustainable agroforestry among smallholder farmers.  Bon Voyage and keep us posted!