Lab members


The Diademed Sifaka

Study Site: Tsinjoarivo

Tsinjoarivo's Biodiversity




Mitchell Irwin

Mitch is currently an Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department at NIU, where he has been a member of the faculty since 2012. He received his BSc from the University of Toronto, and his MA & PhD from the Interdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences, Stony Brook University. He has been an NSERC postdoc at McGill University, and a visiting scholar at the University of Queensland, Australia. His research integrates primate behavior, ecology, and measures of physiological health to understand seasonality and the impacts of habitat change on wild lemurs. Mitch teaches Anthropology courses at NIU, including a study abroad program based at Tsinjoarivo (more detail here), and is an associate member of the Institute for the study of Energy, Sustainability and the Environment. He is one of three co-founders of the NGO Sadabe, which promotes research, conservation and development at Tsinjoarivo.

Current Graduate Students


Katie Heffernan - PhD Student (co-advisor)

Katie earned her bachelors in Biology at University of Wisconsin - Parkside in 2009, and then received a M.S. with a specialization in Human Anatomical Sciences in 2011 from Northern Illinois University. Her PhD thesis focuses on dental macrowear in Malagasy lemurs. She currently teaches anatomy labs at NIU while pursuing her Ph.D. [website]


Laurie Spencer - Past MA Student, Current PhD Student

Laurie earned her BS in Biological Sciences at DePaul University, and entered NIU's MA program in Anthropology in 2012. She has worked as an animal keeper and research intern at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Laurie conducted her MA fieldwork in 2014, measuring the incidence of Cryptosporidium and Giardia parasites in lemurs, livestock and humans at Tsinjoarivo. Her lab analyses combined traditional microscopy techniques with immunofluorescence. In January 2017 Laurie began her PhD research in the Dept. of Biological Sciences [researchgate]

Maharavo Razafindraseta - MS Student (co-advisor)

Maha is a student in the Department of Animal Biology at the University of Antananarivo; his main supervisor is Dr Lydia Rabetafika. He completed fieldwork with Dr Irwin in 2014, focusing on parasite transmission in three lemur species (diademed sifakas, brown lemurs and bamboo lemurs). In the field he quantified the positional behavior of lemurs during defecation and the pathways for contamination of vegetation; his labwork will quantify the helminth parasites found in each species.


Amanda DuBour - MA Student

Amanda graduated from the University of South Florida in 2015 with a BS and began her MA work at NIU in Fall 2015. She completed fieldwork in 2016 - a study of nutrient intakes and balancing in the red-bellied lemur (Eulemur rubriventer) at Tsinjoarivo.

Shallu Prasher - MA Student

Shallu graduated from the University of Toronto in 2015 with a BSc in Biology and Anthropology. She plans to conduct fieldwork in 2018.


Vololona Rahalinarivo - PhD student (co-supervised with Dr. Jeannot Randrianasy)

Vololona is a primatology student within the "Anthropobiologie et Développement Durable" Mention, Faculty of Sciences, University of Antananarivo. During her DEA degree her fieldwork focused on dwarf lemurs at Tsinjoarivo. Her dissertation will examine the impacts of environmental factors on brown lemur activity patterns and cathemerality.


Amanda Hamrick - MA student

Amanda graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2017 with a BSc in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior and a BA in Anthropology. She has studied in Kenya (examining effects of takeovers on De Brazza's monkey) and Panama, and completed a study of European Starlings. She plans to conduct fieldwork in 2018.


Emma Thurau - MA student

Emma graduated from California State University, Los Angeles in 2017 with a B.A. in Anthropology. She has studied in Costa Rica and the Los Angeles Zoo, conducted labwork in lemur genetics, and volunteered for the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership in Summer 2017 (conducting fieldwork at Kianjavato). She plans on conducting MA fieldwork in 2018.

Past Graduate Students

Kim Foreit - MA Student

Kim graduated from Loyola University with a BS in Anthropology in 2010. She has previously worked as a Reseach Intern and the Lincoln Park Zoo, both in data collection on captive apes and digitizing wild chimp data from Gombe. Her MA thesis, completed in 2016, examined subtle manifestations of female dominance in bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur griseus) - specifically focusing on leadership of group movements, group geometry, and displacements.


Safidy Rasolonjatovo - MS Student (co-advisor)

Safidy earned her masters degree in the Department of Animal Biology at the University of Antananarivo; her main supervisor was Dr Lydia Rabetafika. Her fieldwork was completed in 2014, and her thesis focused on the group movements, group leadership and expression of female dominance in multiple groups of diademed sifaka.

Brandon Semel - MA Student

Brandon earned his bachelors of Science in Environmental Science and Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University in 2013, and earned his MA degree at NIU in 2015. He had previously trained in Madagascar with an SIT study abroad program, conducted independent research at Makira, and worked as a teaching assistant for Operation Wallacea study abroad programs. Brandon's MA thesis work tested hypotheses for the function of geophagy in diademed sifakas and brown lemurs at Tsinjoarivo - a project incorporating nutritional ecology, parasitology and behavioral ecology. [researchgate]


Molly Fitzpatrick - MA Student

Molly completed fieldwork at Tsinjoarivo in 2013 and earned her MA degree in 2014. Her study examined two groups of bamboo lemur (Hapalemur griseus), quantifying their diet, cyanide consumption and parasite load.

Graduate Student Committees, Past and Present

Margaret Buehler (MA, NIU 2016) -- "Inter-sexual Social Interactions in Cebus capucinus"

Jessica Ritsche (MA, NIU 2016) -- "Do Folivores Deplete Patches? Feeding Ecology of Costa Rican Mantled Howlers (Alouatta palliata)"

Xiaoying Zhong (MA, NIU 2016) -- "The phylogeny of Homo erectus"

Anna Kordek (MA, NIU 2014) -- "Stress and Behavior of Male Bonobos in Groups of Varied Sex Ratio"

Sylvia Orellana (MA, NIU 2014) -- "Balancing the Scales: Diurnal Temporal Variation in the Feeding and Foraging Patterns of Saguinus fuscicollis"

Holiarimino Vololonoro (DEA, University of Antananarivo) -- "Étude comparative des activités du Hapalemur griseus griseus (Link, 1795) entre la forêt fragmentée et la forêt continue de Tsinjoarivo-Ambatolampy Madagascar"

Jean-Elvis Rakotomalala (DEA, University of Antananarivo) -- "Impact de la Fragmentation des Habitats Naturels et des Activites Humaines sur les Populations Lémuriennes de la Forêt Classée d'Ankadivory (Tsinjoarivo)"

Undergraduate Advisees, Past and Present

Meredith Keeley (Independent Field Study 2014; graduate of Queen's University of Charlotte, NC, USA)

Kim Lein (BA, NIU; Kim, a USOAR grant recipient and advisee of Dr Irwin, conducted a study of the spatial dynamics of scentmarking in diademed sifakas and bamboo lemurs)