Meet the Team

The Urban Nature Research Center is staffed by dedicated NHMLA scientists and educators devoted to exploring, studying, and sharing their discoveries of L.A.’s incredible biodiversity with you!

Dr. Brian Brown

Curator of Entomology
UNRC Co-Director

Brian has pursued an interest in insects since he was five, when he created an insect zoo in his backyard in Toronto, Canada. He received both his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and then earned his doctorate at the University of Alberta. He joined the Museum’s staff in 1993. Brown's research centers on the systematics, evolution, and natural history of phorid flies, especially the parasitoid species known as "ant-decapitating flies" and "bee-killing flies." He has collected specimens and conducted research in many countries, especially in Central and South America. He has discovered and described about 500 new species of phorids, and investigated their varied lifestyles.


Dr. Greg Pauly

Associate Curator of Herpetology
UNRC Co-Director

Greg has been passionate about reptiles and amphibians for as long as he can remember. As a kid, he rehabilitated Southern Alligator Lizards rescued from the neighbor’s cats. Later, he began studying reptiles and amphibians during his Bachelor’s degree at the UC, Davis and then for his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. Greg studies the natural history, evolution, and conservation of reptiles and amphibians. Since joining the Museum in 2012, he has increasingly studied the impacts of urbanization on wildlife. Greg developed the Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California (RASCals) community science project as a way to compare modern records with historical Museum records to understand how species ranges have shifted with increasing urbanization.


Dr. Jann Vendetti

Assistant Curator of Malacology

Jann spent many childhood summers exploring the tide pools of coastal New England and backyards of northern New Jersey, intrigued by invertebrates of all kinds. As an adult, being in nature or a Natural History Museum tied for her favorite way to spend a day. Jann received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. At NHMLA, she studies the evolutionary biology and systematics of snails and slugs. She began the SLIME project (Snails and Slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments) to document the largely understudied snail and slug fauna living here. Through SLIME, she collaborates with community scientists to record the molluscan biodiversity. These data are compared with NHMLA’s snail collection to learn about species range changes, populations, introductions, and extinctions.


Dr. Enjie (Jane) Li

Postdoctoral Fellow

Jane joins us following her PhD at Utah State, where she specialized in using spatial analysis to understand how water and land use patterns may be integrated to inform sustainable urban planning in the western United States.  Jane holds a joint appointment between NHMLA and The Nature Conservancy conducting spatial analyses to understand factors structuring urban biodiversity as part of the Biodiversity Analysis in Los Angeles (BAILA) Initiative.

 


Dr. Bree Putman

Postdoctoral Fellow

Bree received her Ph.D. in Ecology from San Diego State University and UC Davis, and is now an NSF postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Greg Pauly of the UNRC and Dr. Dan Blumstein of UCLA. She is a behavioral ecologist and herpetologist with an interest in understanding the causes and consequences of fear in animals. Her current research examines whether fear of humans affects lizard species persistence in urban habitats. 


Dr. Benjamin "Max" Adams

Postdoctoral Fellow

Max joined the UNRC in 2018 after completing his Ph.D. at the University of Louisville, where he studied communities of ants living in the canopies of tropical forests.  Working on the BioSCAN project, Max will be taking an ecological approach to determine how environmental variation and urbanization affect the distribution of insects across Los Angeles County. 


Lisa Gonzalez

Assistant Collections Manager

Lisa, who has been working on the BioSCAN project for three years as an Assistant Collections Manager, received a B.S. in Entomology from the UC Riverside. She considers the Museum her second home in L.A.; she started as a volunteer in 2001 in NHMLA’s Insect Zoo. These days, she spends time driving around L.A. visiting the BioSCAN sites, checking in with folks who volunteer their time and space in their yards for the project, and gets to peek inside the samples that are chockfull of wondrous microscopic little creatures. A day spent with eyes glued to her microscope is a day of blissful Zen. She gets great pleasure out of studying the insects that live in the backyards of her fellow Angelenos, a habit that began in her own suburban yard as a small child.

 


Estella Hernandez

Assistant Collections Manager

Estella received her bachelor’s degree from Whittier College in Biology, but entomology was not initially on her radar as a career option; her knowledge and experience pre-BioSCAN come mostly from the healthcare field. After joining the BioSCAN team, however, Estella quickly found that working with a team as dedicated, passionate, daring, determined and personable as the entomologists in BioSCAN made working with insects as equally rewarding as staining human tissues.


Maria Wong

Entomology Research Assistant

As soon as Maria joined the BioSCAN Project in 2015, she started learning about the local phorid fauna of L.A. from entomologist Emily Hartop. Maria has now taken over the challenge of identifying the "impossible" genus Megaselia and spends most of her days looking under the scope, looking at phorids from around the world and as well as the BioSCAN samples from urban backyards across Los Angeles. As part of the UNRC, Maria also works on digitizing the land and freshwater snail collection in the Malacology Research Department. Maria holds a B.S. degree in Biology from Purdue University.


Hannah Hayes

UNRC Research Intern

Hannah hadn't seen a future in entomology until she arrived at Occidental College, where she realized that she could merge her love for science and nature. Hannah is currently a BioSCAN and UNRC research intern where she studies local bee diversity and how urban environments are affecting bee populations. She has worked to familiarize herself with the over 1,000 bee species that are native to California. She spends her time catching bees in Los Angeles gardens or making sure that bee specimens are looking beautiful in the lab. Hannah hopes to show the world how exciting and beautiful the bees in our city can be! 


Lila Higgins

Community Science Senior Manager

Lila is a museum educator with 13 years of experience in museum education and community science programming. Her fascination with nature started early; she grew up on a farm in the U.K. where she spent her time chasing butterflies, playing in hollow trees, and pretending to be a badger. Lila, at NHMLA since 2008, was a lead educator on the Museum’s newest nature-themed exhibits—the Nature Lab and Nature Gardens. She holds a bachelor’s degree in entomology from UC, Riverside and a master’s degree in environmental education from California State University, San Bernardino.


Richard Smart

Community Science Manager

Richard Smart is an environmental educator with 14 years of experience in environmental education and community science programming. He joined the Museum in 2012. To advance community science at the Museum, Richard works closely with the different sections such as School and Teacher Programs, Public Programs, Interpretation and Training, Volunteer Program, as well as the Marketing and Communications Department, Advancement Department, and the Research and Collections Department. Communicating directly with the Museum’s community scientists is also a primary responsibility. Richard holds a B.S. in Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University, and a M.S. in Environmental Science from the University of North Texas.


Miguel Ordeñana

Community Science Manager

Miguel Ordeñana, who joined NHMLA in April 2013, is an environmental educator and wildlife biologist. As a community science manager, Miguel promotes and creates community science projects, and recruits and trains participants. Miguel utilizes his mammal research background by conducting urban mammal research in L.A. and co-leads NHMLA’s Southern California Squirrel Survey. Miguel continues to work, locally and internationally, on carnivore and bat research, including a jaguar project in Nicaragua. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Southern California, and a M.S. in Ecology from the UC, Davis.


Maiz Connolly

Community Science Coordinator


Maiz spent countless childhood hours exploring the fields, foothills, and tidepools of Southern California, and has loved natural history for as long as she can remember. She earned a BS in Geology from Wesleyan University, spending her summers doing field work in Montana and Wyoming. Maiz incorporates the skills that she acquired as a field researcher, world traveler, professional photographer, science educator, children's book author, and parent in her work at the Museum as a Community Science Coordinator, where she now enjoys helping people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with science and the natural world.


Jessie N. Jennewein

LEARN CitSci Project Coordinator

Since 2009, Jessie has been working within the museum family in varying capacities, most recently joining NHMLA's Research and Collections' Citizen Science office. Prior to that, Jessie was a Gallery Interpreter within the Museum's Education Department. As an undergraduate, Jessie attended UCLA where she completed a degree in Anthropology, focusing on visual ethnographic work. Jessie is currently enrolled at Miami University, O.H., for a Masters in Biological Conservation. Her graduate research looks at visual media and social media uses in conservation and outreach, in particular as a supplementary tool in aiding equitable scientific access for marginalized communities and developing science-identities that may lead to advocacy or activism in relation to their environment


Former UNRC Members

 

Emily Hartop

Assistant Collections Manager

Emily, who received her B.S in Entomology from UC Riverside, was constantly turning over rocks as a child looking for insects. She kept a dead bug collection, rather than necklaces and bracelets, inside her childhood jewelry box and at an early age learned to rescue misunderstood "stink beetles" (aka Pinacate beetles, darkling beetles, or Eleodes) from harm's way. At NHMLA, she has turned herself into something of a specialist on the genus Megaselia. She enjoys the challenge of working on an "impossible" group of small flies, but occasionally takes the time to look up from the microscope and enjoy larger insects, wildlife, and even other people.


Dr. Chris Thacker

Curator of Fishes

Chris obtained her bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley, master's degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. A California native, she was horrified by the Midwestern winters, so she was thrilled to take up a position at NHMLA in 1998. Her ichthyological research focuses on gobies, a hugely diverse group of fishes that is found around the world, in nearshore marine, estuarine, and freshwaters. She is interested in understanding large, wide-ranging patterns and processes in nature. Her work with the UNRC encompasses analysis of the form and distribution of urban species. She is also the creator and host of NHMLA’s video series The Curiosity Show.