Our Team

I am excited to announce that I have started a lab in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington in Seattle. In the Behavioral Ecophysics lab, we study organismal mechanisms (e.g., physiology, biomechanics) in light of biotic and abiotic interactions. If you are interested in joining the lab as a student (grad or undergrad), tech, or postdoc, please send me an email to colibri (at) uw (dot) edu


Research interests: Functional morphology and evolution

Energetically constrained animals have evolved adaptations to enhance caloric intake. On the other hand, animal competition sometimes turns into physical combat, and particular weaponry evolves. I perform theoretical and empirical research on each of these fronts, and study an unexpected case of their intersection: hummingbird bill weapons. My recent discoveries revive questions dating back to Darwin and Wallace about how these birds budget energy gain and expenditure to enable hovering, the most expensive form of locomotion, establishing coevolutionary relationships with flowers, and a peculiar adaptive radiation. These novel perspectives of a data-rich mutualistic system, open the door to quantitative and comparative assessments of trade-offs between energy optimality and fighting proficiency. I translate the insights from this work into testable hypotheses for a plethora of nectar-feeding animals, and the evolution and constraints of the evolution of combat traits in nature. My research is question-, rather than technique-driven; thus, I pursue cross-disciplinary approaches aimed to achieve a more complete integration across biological levels of organization.

Madza Farias-Virgens


Research Interests: Population genomics, brain transcriptomics and evolution of neurobiology.

I specialize in using molecular techniques to delve into the complexities of avian evolution. During my doctoral research, I employed population genomics and brain transcriptomics to uncover the biological processes that drive phenotypic alterations arising from domestication in a songbird model species (Lonchura striata domestica, common name: Bengalese Finch). My ongoing post-doctoral research focuses on utilizing advanced phylogenomic tools to unravel the intriguing phenomenon of nectar-feeding evolving independently in multiple occasions within the avian lineage. Concurrently, I am actively engaged in a collaborative effort aimed at studying the distinctive ultrasonic vocal communication observed in a hummingbird species native to the Atlantic Forest known as Black Jacobin (Florisuga fusca). I hold a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences from State University of Santa Cruz in Brazil, a Master of Science in Genetics and Molecular Biology from Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, a Master of Art in Anthropology from UC Berkeley, and a PhD in Molecular Cellular and Integrative Physiology from UCLA.  My graduate research received sponsorship from significant governmental institutions in both Brazil and the US. This included an award from the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel in Brazil and a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation in the US. The outcome of this work was acknowledged as a “Hot Topic in Neuroscience” at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Additionally, I was honored with a nomination to the Society for Systematic Biologists Excellence Symposium at Evolution 2021, a prestigious event held jointly by the American Society of Naturalists, the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the Society of Systematic Biologists.

Kiley Garcia Kellum

Research Tech

Research Interests: Structural morphology, biomechanics, ecomorphology

I am a recent engineering graduate from Brown University passionate about the complex intersection between the physical and biological worlds. I believe that the most impressive designs are often found in the natural world around us, and studying how and why such intricate systems and phenomena that shape biology can, in fact, inspire solutions to many human issues. One of such phenomena is how different organisms have evolved structural morphologies specifically adapted for flight, and the physical limitations that define this adaptation. Along with my current work in elucidating the mechanochemical efficiencies of hummingbirds feeding with the Ecophysics Lab, I have likewise studied avian evolution with the Clarke Lab, and additionally, the biomechanics of bat flight in the Aeomechanics and Evolutionary Morphology Lab (Swartz Lab). My undergraduate thesis involved analyses of leading-edge wing structures and their influences on wing camber during steady bat flight.


Alyssa Sargent

PhD Candidate

Research interests: behavioral ecology, movement and foraging ecology, advanced wildlife tracking

I am highly interested in leveraging technology to enhance traditional, ornithological field techniques. I have studied a wide variety of birds around the world, from owls in Canada, to seabirds in Portugal, to songbirds in Australia and the United States. This experience has allowed me to understand the ways in which advanced wildlife tracking can strongly complement behavioral ecology around the world. For my PhD, I am focusing on hummingbirds in the tropics, where much of their natural history remains a mystery, especially their daily movement patterns. Alongside this, I am heavily invested in outreach and communicating my work with the broadest audience I can—I believe that this work is equally important to the scientific research I conduct.

Amanda Hewes

PhD Candidate

Research interests: functional morphology, evolution

My broad interest is in the evolution of form-function relationships. Bird-plant coevolution is a fantastic system for studying this concept, as it requires a reciprocal form-function relationship between the avian nectarivores/pollinators and the plants they feed from. The multiple evolutions of avian nectarivory also provide replicates with which to study the repeatability of these form-function relationships, and understand which forces drive convergence versus divergence across avian pollination systems. For my PhD I will be studying Australian honeyeaters and their functional relationships with plants (feeding efficiency, pollination services) to better understand the structure of that pollination system, and I hope to compare these findings with what is known about the hummingbird pollination systems in the Neotropics. My publications and more details about specific projects can be found on my website.

David Cuban

PhD Candidate

Research interests: biomechanics, evolution, ecology

I am interested in investigating convergent evolution through the lens of biomechanics, morphology, and ecology. I focus on nectar-feeding birds as my study system as there are many avian clades that have independently evolved the ability to feed on nectar.  For my PhD I am studying sunbirds, a passerine family that shares many traits with those of hummingbirds while still having notable differences in feeding biomechanics and ecology. I hope to discover the details of sunbird feeding mechanisms and floral interactions/ecology utilizing high speed video, custom remote sensors, and ecological studies.

Yasmeen Erritouni

PhD Candidate
(Co-advised, main advisor Adam Leaché)

Research Interests: color evolution, biological pigments, iridescence, genotype-to-phenotype

I’m interested in the evolution of avian color, especially iridescence. Iridescent coloration plays crucial signaling roles in a wide range of avian taxa, but remains poorly understood from both evolutionary and genetic perspectives. I aim to understand both what factors drive the evolution of iridescence and what genes could be implicated in its expression. 
Andrea Bernal-Rivera

Incoming PhD student
(Co-advised, main advisor Sharlene Santana)

Research interests: physiology, ecology, evolution, behavior

I am interested in the integration of various biological disciplines (physiology, ecology, and evolution) in order to comprehend current species diversity and behavior. I focus on bats for answering questions due to their huge ecological, morphological, and anatomical diversity, as well as their unique set of extreme traits among mammals.

Laura L. Quinche

Incoming PhD student

Research interests: functional morphology, ecology, behavioral ecology, evolution.

I am interested in answering questions related to ecological and functional performance. Linking the functional design of organisms to performance and resource use is of great importance, as it allows to assess the evolutionary and ecological significance of biological variation. I am particularly interested in adaptive traits and mechanisms related to the feeding process in nectar-feeding bats and hummingbirds, especially those involving plant-animal mutualistic associations.


Kristiina Hurme


Research Interests: Behavioral ecology

For my dissertation, I studied maternal care in a neotropical frog, Leptodactylus insularum, in Panama. These large frog mommas often care for schools of 1000s of tadpoles in temporary ponds. I found that they reached metamorphosis surprisingly quickly, growing from egg to juvenile froglet in about two weeks! In order to grow and develop so fast, these tadpoles were constantly active and foraging. This activity attracted a lot of attention from predators, such as fishing spiders and herons, and I found that the only schools that survived to metamorphosis had a mother guarding them. These courageous moms not only fought off predators (even my hand!), but also communicated with the schools, guiding them to safe foraging areas. Some males have large and muscular arms with thumb spines (intrasexually selected weapons), and the only males I observed breeding were huge and covered in battle scars.

Orlando Combita


Research Interests: sexual conflict, functional morphology, systematics, symbiotic relationship.

I graduated from The Ohio State University in the Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology EEOB Ph.D. program on the renowned Acarology Laboratory at the Museum of Biological Diversity. I used mites as a model to study symbiotic relationships. My research focuses on how mite-host associations are maintained through time, how they can lead to mite speciation, and how symbionts respond to environmental changes. I had based my research on ecologically important mites such as water mites and mites associated with beetles to produce studies in biodiversity, lifecycle, reproduction, coevolution, and sexual selection. I specialized in the use of modern microscopy techniques such as Cryo Scanning Electron Microscopy (Cryo-SEM), Confocal Laser Scan Microscopy (CLSM), Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), Synchrotron X-ray microtomography (SR-mCT), and 3D modeling programs to produce quality images and 3D models for explaining evolutionary phenomena through the internal and external morphology of this tiny creatures. I am currently applying this knowledge and techniques to study a fascinating system on mites associated with hummingbirds and the plants that the hummingbirds pollinate.


Rosalee Elting

Former Lab Manager

PhD Student, University of Montana

Hermione Deng

Former Research Tech

PhD Student, Colorado State University

Melissa Morado (Mel)

Former Research Tech

Master’s Student, Colorado State University

Derrick Groom

Former Postdoc

Assistant Professor, San Francisco State University

Jay Falk

Former Postdoc

NSF PRFB Fellow, University of Colorado Boulder