Lab Members

Graduate Students

Joe Jackson


I am a community ecologist that is also interested in the roles that foundation and keystone species play in their environment. I specialize in coastal marine environments, most prominently in estuaries along with some experience in the rocky intertidal. I earned my B.S. at Sonoma State University looking at physiological responses to stressors in mussels, which is where I found my passion for coastal ecosystems. However, I knew my goal would be to pursue a career in ecology from the start. My Master’s project will be looking into how the presence of non-native species in estuarine ecosystems can impact the prey items and recovery speed of top predators (Enhydra lutris).

Maddy Sanchez


I received my B.S. in Biological Sciences with a concentration in Ecology from California State University San Marcos. As an undergraduate, I developed a passion for wildlife ecology and conservation while studying wildlife corridors in San Diego County. I am currently a first-year graduate student at Sonoma State University with interests in southern sea otter foraging behaviors. For my thesis project, I will be exploring predatory soundscapes and the ability of audio recorders to quantify southern sea otter predation on crabs in the Elkhorn Slough estuary (Monterey, CA). I hope to continue research and field work in wildlife ecology after completing my Masters.   

Undergraduate Students

Natasha Higuera

I am a fourth year undergraduate biology student. I have a concentration in ecology and evolution and have been focusing on the field marine ecology. Growing up on the Mendocino coast in California pushed me to want to know more about our ecosystems. The small town I come from is heavenly dependent on fisheries and tourism, two things that have to find a balance in order to be sustainable. My research is thus typically involving organisms or ecosystems that affect the public. Currently, my research is focused on kelp forests, primarily bull kelp. 

Luke Vanderkar

Hey! My name is Luke Vanderkar and I’m finishing up my Biology degree at Sonoma State University with a concentration in Marine Biology. I’m also a certified advanced scuba diver. My main interest is in marine mammals and their ecological interactions. I have an extensive passion for the ocean and am very excited to get out in the field and be able to contribute to sea otter recovery.

Byron Whittle

Hi I’m Byron and I am just finishing my degree in biology with a concentration in marine sciences. I have a passion for marine life and the different species interactions, both on the macro and micro scale. I am excited to join this team and explore the North Pacific intertidal, more specifically the predator prey relations that take place. Just grab a tank and get in the water to unveil the mysteries that await.