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Photo by Tom Bouyer

Our Research Group

Our team brings together complementary experience in ecosystem and community ecology, social science, science outreach and engagement, and project management

The Team


Deron Burkepile

Project Leader / PI

Dr. Deron Burkepile is a Professor at the 
University of California, Santa Barbara. Deron employs experimental and observational studies as well as large-scale data syntheses to address how global change drivers impact biodiversity, community structure, and ecosystem function. His research focuses on questions that provide fundamental understanding about the ecology of communities and ecosystems while also informing the conservation and restoration of these systems He has worked for over a decade in African savannas. 


Joshua Schimel

Senior Researcher / Co-PI

Dr. Josh Schimel is a Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a “Highly Cited Researcher” and Soil Ecologist, whose work explores how soil microbial communities function and how they, in turn, regulate global ecological processes. He is also author of Writing Science: how to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded, and the new book Your Future on the Faculty, both by Oxford University Press.


Johan du Toit

Senior Researcher / Co-PI

Dr. Johan du Toit is a Professor at Utah State University. His research interests focus on large mammals and their interactions with other animals and plants in terrestrial ecosystems. Born and raised in rural Zimbabwe, he has a particular fascination for the ecology of African savannas, while now also exploring solutions to conservation problems in western North America. He conducted his doctoral research on browsing ecology in Kruger, where he has also supervised several subsequent projects conducted by his students, and he was lead editor of The Kruger Experience: Ecology and Management of Savanna Heterogeneity (Island Press, 2003).


Nathan Lemoine

Senior Researcher / Co-PI

Dr. Nathan Lemoine is an Assistant Professor at Marquette University. Nathan uses a combination of laboratory experiments, field experiments, and theoretical modeling to understand the ecological and evolutionary ramifications of climate warming on plant and insect communities. He also studies the role of insect herbivores in North American grasslands, and how extreme drought strengthens or weaken insect contributions to biogeochemical cycling.


Aimee Tallian

Broader Impact Specialist / Co-PI

Dr. Aimee Tallian is a Wildlife Biologist whose research primarily focuses on large carnivores, predator-prey interactions, and predator-predator competition. She is also a Broader Impacts Specialist who is passionate about making science engaging, accessible, and equitable. 


Tercia Strydom

Researcher / Collaborator

Tercia Strydom is a Scientist with the Savanna & Grassland Research Unit in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Most of her research, including her current PhD project, focuses on soil science, in particular the effects of fire on soil and ecosystem function. 


Dave Thompson

Researcher / Collaborator

Dr. Dave Thompson is a global change scientist with the South African Environmental Observation Network and the University of the Witwatersrand. His current research interests include plant population dynamics and community-level responses to disturbances such as fire, herbivory and climate change in grasslands and savannas. He has over a decade of  experience working with the flora and fauna of the Kruger National park.


Izak Smit

Researcher / Collaborator

Dr. Izak Smit is the Science Manager for Systems Ecology, GIS and Remote Sensing for the Savanna & Grassland Research Unit in Kruger National Park. Most of his work can be described as applied conservation/ecology science, usually on topics with relevance to management of Protected Areas (e.g., fire management, artificial water management, ecosystem services). 

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Matthew Meng

Researcher / Collaborator

Dr. Matthew Meng is an Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. He is a social scientist whose previous experience working with not-for-profit organizations steered his research interests towards social marketing and sustainability.


Ryan Helcoski

PhD Student, USU

Ryan Helcoski will be studying the legacy effects of elephant carcasses on plant communities and vertebrate herbivores at Utah State University. He is a former Smithsonian dendrochronologist and zoology teacher from the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science.


Tom Bouyer

Videographer / Director / Collaborator

Tom Bouyer is the co-founder of Delmar Media and a film director. His primary aim is to create authentic media content, for he considers it to be the key to transforming the simplest of ideas into a full-body experience for the viewer. His creativity and beliefs represent the backbone to his sensitivity and expertise as a filmmaker and photographer.


Helga van Coller

Post-Doctoral Researcher, SAEON

Dr. Helga van Coller is a post-doctoral researcher with the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) who works closely with the Forb Ecology Research Group (FERG) at the North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa. Helga's current research will aid in understanding the effects of megacarcasses on the vegetation, especially the forb component of herbaceous layers, since the function of this life form is less known in African savannas.


Courtney Reed

Post-Doctoral Researcher, UCSB

Dr. Courtney Reed is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research focuses on scaling between trophic interactions and emergent ecosystem structure in African savannas. She is also interested in how abiotic factors such as climate and fire impact these structural outcomes. Courtney uses a combination of field experiments and molecular tools in her research.

Michelle Budny

Field Technician, Marquette University

Michelle Budny is the Lab Manager for Nate Lemoine at Marquette University. She oversees soil sample collection and measures soil respiration to determine how megacarcasses affect microbial communities, as well as providing support for other projects. 


Ally Mahori

Field Technician, Kruger National Park

Ally Mahori is originally from Lilydale but grew up in the park as both of his parents work for Kruger. He attended Skukuza primary and then went on to Sybrand Van Niekerk High School. He is now attending the Tshwane University of Tech and splits his time between field research and university studies.


Ndzalama Mkansi

Field Technician, Kruger National Park

Ndzalama Mkansi is from Areagh “A” Bushbuckridge. He was born in Phalaborwa and moved to the Skukuza region of Kruger National Park in 2012 to live with his parents. There, he attended Skukuza Primary and completed his matriculation at Sybrand Van Niekerk High School. He is currently enrolled at The University of South Africa (UNISA) and has begun ecological research within Kruger.


Mmathapelo Fumo

Laboratory Manager/Water Technologist, Kruger National Park

Mmathapelo Fumo is a Water Technologist, currently managing the Skukuza Scientific Services Laboratory in Kruger National Park. Though most of her research largely focuses on the use of diatoms as a biomonitoring tool, she also manages all laboratory aspects of the megacarcass project, from plant matter to insects.

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Muerel Baloyi

Manager, Skukuza Indigenous Plants Nursery, Kruger National Park

Muerel Baloyi manages the Skukuza Indigenous Plants Nursery where she oversees all aspects of soil and water management, and plant germination and growth. She has years of valuable experience both in the field and in the nursery.




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