Dr. Valerie McKenzie, Principal Investigator

I am an Associate Professor in the EBIO department at CU. My research interests combine the fields of parasitology, disease ecology, microbiology, and conservation biology. I work in a variety of places ranging from locally in Colorado to tropical rainforests. Many of my current projects involve fieldwork, labwork, meta-analyses, and applied conservation activities.

Holly Archer (M.S.), Professional Research Assistant
Keeping the McKenzie Lab running

My main research interest is in disease ecology, or how diseases adapt and change based on environmental factors. I am also fascinated with earth’s biodiversity and love studying the other creatures that we share our planet with, particularly parasites. I mainly use molecular biology to answer these research questions with a bit of fieldwork thrown in. On a typical day in lab you can find me with my trusty multi-channel pipette setting up an Illumina pyro-sequencing run, performing qPCR, and wrangling bacteria, lab orders, or undergraduates.

Tiffany Prest-Hoefs, Senior Research Associate


Tiffany’s research is focused on bacterial succession patterns. She uses amphibian systems to ask questions about how communities change over time following disturbance, and how this affects probiotic use in treating emerging disease.

Christine Avena, PhD Candidate

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I have a broad interest in disease ecology and how the microbes that reside in and on us (the microbiome) interact with pathogens. I also have a strong interest in conservation biology and the ways in which disease has an impact on populations at risk for extinction. I have a background in conservation medicine, wildlife disease, and microbiology. My research seeks to understand how the microbiome of bats is shaped by their ecology (environment, life history, and physiological state) and exposure to the recently emerged pathogen, Pseudogymnoascus destructans.


Timothy Korpita, PhD Student


I am generally interested in microbial ecology as it relates to amphibian conservation. Specifically, I am interested in how the chemical environment of amphibian skin determines which microbes can live there. I also have some applied projects working with Colorado’s endangered Boreal toad. Teaching is also a significant focus for me, and I currently serve as the Graduate Teacher Program lead for the EBIO department.


Alexandra Alexiev, PhD Student


I currently study the fungal and bacterial microbiome on amphibian skin, as well as how probiotics can be better optimized in amphibian hosts. I am broadly interested in microbial community interactions and how these affect host health. I also like to think about how we can apply microbial community ecology concepts from one system or host species to many others. In between projects and teaching, I like to do outreach and science communication.


Melissa Chen, PhD Student


I am broadly interested in understanding how and why certain microbes live where they do. Microbes— including bacteria, fungi, and protists— are found in association with almost all plants and animals, and they often provide essential functions for their host. However, the mechanisms that determine why certain microbes succeed on certain hosts (while others do not) are not well understood. My research looks at the various factors that control microbial assembly, invasion, and persistence in host microbiomes by using a combination of experimental and modeling approaches.



Jessica Metcalf, Assistant Professor at Colorado State University: Jessica uses ancient DNA clean lab methods to directly sample genes from the past to answer questions in ecology, evolution, and forensics. She also applies these clean lab methods to microbiome research to understand the human microbiome during life and after death. She has since started her own lab!

Se Jin Song, Former Senior Research Associate: Se Jin studied the gut bacterial microbiome across various mammalian groups and the factors that contribute to differences between these groups.

Lisette Arellano, Former PhD Candidate at University of Colorado Boulder: Lisette’s projects focused on land-use change and parasite ecology in amphibians and mammals. Science communication and outreach are her other major areas of work. Lisette now works for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy as the Community Science Program Manager for One Tam, an interagency land management partnership in Marin County, California.

Jordan Kueneman, Former PhD Candidate at University of Colorado Boulder: Jordan completed his PhD in the McKenzie lab in Fall 2015. His dissertation spanned various topics involving microbial pathogen defense against Bd. His research interests include disease ecology, amphibian conservation, skin microbiome, microbial ecology, probiotics research.

Dr. Doug Woodhams, Assistant Professor at University of Massachusetts Boston: Doug was a postdoc in the lab for 2 years before launching his own lab!  Website:

Graham Goodman, PhD Candidate at the University of Utah: Graham is now working on avian parasites. Website:

Anna Peterson (M.S.), PhD Candidate at Tulane University: Anna’s thesis explored what it means to be a biotic disease reservoir using field studies and experiments with amphibians and Bd from the Colorado Front Range ecosystem. She is currently in New Orleans studying disease ecology of peri-domestic rodents in neighborhoods affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Cerrise Weiblen, Undergraduate Honors Thesis mentee: Cerrise’s thesis explored the genome of Janthinobacterium lividum, a bacteria that is a top candidate for many amphibian probiotic trials.

Abby Kimball, Undergraduate Honors Thesis mentee: Abby’s honors thesis explored microbial communities on Colorado’s boreal toads. She’s currently a research assistant at CU Anschutz.

Julia Moy, Undergraduate Honors Thesis mentee: Julia worked as a laboratory/field assistant conducting DNA extractions, qPCR, and coyote scat surveys. Her honors thesis explored bullfrog parasites to examine biogeographic patterns of parasite loss in the invasive range of bullfrogs globally.

Alexandra Fresch, Undergraduate Honors Thesis mentee: Ale used her double major in EBIO and Creative Writing to produce an honors thesis that explores the reasons we find parasites gross and disturbing. Her thesis was a novel integration of psychology, biology, and humor.

Paige Littman, Former Undergraduate Researcher: Paige completed her MS at Colorado State University with Dr. Janice Moore. She studied parasite ecology in turkeys.

Robert Adams, Undergraduate Honors Thesis mentee: Robert did his honors thesis on paleoparasitology and studied 1500 year-old parasite eggs discovered from human mummy coprolites.

Nicolas Goulet, Undergraduate Honors Thesis mentee: Nic’s honors thesis explored ecological factors associated with the spatial distribution of West Nile virus cases in Colorado.