Elizabeth G. King


Associate Professor

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


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.


Sara Meissner

PhD Student in Forestry & Natural Resources

Sara joined the lab in Spring 2022, and will be working on a research initiative focused on the conservation and restoration of the iconic coastal grass, Muhlenbergia sericea, commonly known as sweetgrass or pink muhly grass. This grass is culturally important to coastal Gullah Geechee people, and its populations have been drastically reduced due to coastal development in the Southeast.

Colin Peterson

PhD Student in Integrative Conservation and Ecology

Co-Advised by Charles Van Rees

Colin joined the lab in Fall 2023, with interests in avian conservation, climate change, and agricultural landscapes. As an ICON PhD student, his research will seek to examine and integrate the complexities of these intertwined issues using multiple disciplinary research approaches.

Caitlin Lyons

Masters Student in Forestry and Natural Resources

Caitlin joined the lab in Fall 2022 as an undergraduate student to gain research experience in studying wildlife responses to restoration ecology. Her independent project will use wildlife cameras to detect animal use and behavior in areas where dense understory of invasive shrubs have been removed.  In Spring 2023 she will begin the graduate portion of her Double Dawg program (combined bachelors-masters program), pursuing a Masters of Natural Resources in Warnell.

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..

Email: gabrielevolpato7 “at”

Gabriele’s Website on ResearchGate

Past Members

Dessa1Dessa (Dunn) Benson

PhD Student, 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. In Fall 2017 she'(re)joined the lab as a masters student. She continued to study restoration ecology and ecosystem services in UGA’s urban forests.  When she extended her scope to also examine multiple management objectives and decision-making in coastal maritime forests on Georgia barrier islands, it was clearly time to switch degree objectives to PhD! Her program of study developed a great skill set from ecosystem modeling, to empirical research, to stakeholder engagement!  Dessa completed her PhD in Spring 2022, and has  a postdoctoral scholarship with a multi-institution, multi-agency team, using structured decision-making to prioritize barrier island restoration in Louisiana.

Email: dessabenson “at”

Seth Carey

Master’s of Natural Resources Student in Forestry & Natural Resources

Seth joined the lab in Fall 2021, with interests in policy and sustainability. He conducted a project to identify innovative municipal ordinances that promote holistic vegetation management in urban areas. This work was in collaboration with the Athens Clarke County Sustainability Office to provide ideas for potentially policy pathways to promote native vegetation and urban ecosystem services in Athens.  He graduated in Spring 2022.

Krishna Sharma

Master’s Student in Wildlife Ecology, Forestry & Natural Resources

Krishna joined the lab in Fall 2019, with interests in wildlife and butterfly conservation, landscape ecology, and science communication — particularly through photography and videography. His research is investigating habitat use of migratory butterfly species on the previously undocumented seasonal flyway along the Georgia coast.  Krishna graduated in Spring 2021, and is successfully pursuing a career in science writing and journalism.  In 2022, he published a great essay in The Bitter Southerner (a fantastic online magazine covering the complexities of the U.S. South), on community resistance and environmental justice in a small Georgia town.

Kentrell Richardson

Undergraduate Student, Wildlife Area of Emphasis, Forestry & Natural Resources

Kentrell began working with the lab in 2019, helping our research team on Jekyll Island explore wildlife activity associated with planted live oak seedlings, which so far has revealed that for live oak restoration, enemy #1 is…the squirrel!  Kentrell graduated in Fall 2020, and is now pursuing a master’s degree, working on amphibian ecology and conservation at George Mason University.

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. Follow her field-work in a 2017 newsletter:

After completing her PhD, Kristen moved to Colorado, and is continuing her influential work at Bat Conservation International, where she leads their Agave Restoration Program

Publications: Torres, A., Brandt, J., Lear, K., Liu, J. (2017) A looming tragedy of the sand commons. Science, 357(6355): 970–971. doi: 10.1126/science.aao0503.

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. His dissertation, completed in Fall 2017, studied 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.  He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Lumière University, Lyon, France, and is continuing working on social-ecological dynamics of pastoralist systems in East Africa as a postdoc through SESYNC.  In Fall 2022, he embarked on a new position as a visiting fellow at European University Institute and working on a project on biodiversity and pastoralism.


Destiny Loyd

MS Student, Conservation Ecology & Sustainable Development

Destiny completed a 5 year Bachelors-Masters degree program in May 2018, culminating with an exciting thesis that explored the perceptions and attitudes surrounding the use of goats as an avenue for urban restoration, environmental education, and promoting environmental stewardship. You can watch her exit seminar HERE. She is now pursuing a Masters in Social Work at UGA, while also working as the Senior Program Manager for UGA mentor program, which links students with staff and faculty mentors to support their academic and life experiences at UGA.  Read about her work in this great article!

Email: dloyd909 “at”

kevin-tarner-smKevin Tarner – Graduated July 2018!

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”

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!

Rachel Hughes Masters Student, Forestry & Natural Resources

Rachel completed her Masters of Natural Resources in August 2015, focusing on environmental education. 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. Her incredible dedication and creativity in the classroom earned her a faculty position at University of North Georgia, where she teaches ecology.

Chelsea Welch
Masters Student, Forestry & Natural Resources

Pursuing her interest in Africa and conservation issues, Chelsea returned to East Africa after completing her masters, 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.

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. While working as a teaching and lab assistant in the Odum School of Ecology, she developed an educational program related to native medicinal plants and herbs. Once she received a graduate assistantship with the UGA Office of Sustainability, she found a new exciting research direction and changed degree objectives.  She is now studying the impacts of UGA’s new Sustainability Certificate on program participants, under the advisement of Kyle Woosnam in Warnell.

Email: raymelissa88 “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. With Doug and Joe as new advisors, he’ll be probing long-term data onecological determinants of growth in young Longleaf Pine trees.

Email: josephbhansen “at”

Ruth Cumberland

Field Research Coordinator, Coastal Research Initiatives.

Ruth worked with the King Lab from March 2017 to April 2018, and was essential to bringing our maritime forest research program to life. Her past research involvements prepared her to coordinate multiple project initiatives across the Georgia Coast, working closely with Lizzie, Hannah, and Dessa, as a crucial part of our coastal research team. She also worked independently, spearheading field research on maritime live oak forests and how they respond to environmental stressors.

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”

IMG_0371Kirstin Valdes

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

Kirstin was 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.