2023 Current Denizens 

Zach Dykema, PhD student

Originally from Michigan, Zach Dykema is a PhD candidate who joined the Welch Lab in January 2020. He received his B.S. in Ecology from Northern Michigan University, then served two years in West Virginia and Hawai’i doing field technician work through Americorps. His interests are in conservation and management of endangered species using reintroduction tools, and his project is exploring the genetic implications of iguana conservation translocations in the British Virgin Islands.

Blaklie Mitchell, PhD Student

Blaklie Mitchell is a PhD student who first joined the lab in Spring 2018 during her undergraduate studies at Mississippi State University. After graduating with her B.S. in Biological Sciences in May 2020, she remained at MSU to pursue her PhD in the Welch lab. In her time here, she has conducted multiple small projects across many iguana species, including I. delicatissima, I. iguana, I. melanoderma, and some Cyclura species. Her current graduate project includes an investigation of the invasive green iguana (I. iguana) in Florida. She intends to characterize the origin of these invasive iguanas and their primary modes of introduction into the region. She will also assess the role of concurrent hybridization amongst distinct native lineages on adaptation to novel environments, which could be facilitating the invasion of this notorious species across its non-native range.

Cecilia Paradiso, PhD Student

Cecilia Paradiso is a PhD candidate enrolled in a double PhD program with Mississippi State University in the Welch Lab and Rome-Tor Vergata University (IT) in the Gentile Lab. She is also enrolled in the University of Leeds (UK) as a visiting research assistant. She received her bachelor’s degree in 2016 in Biological Sciences at the University of Milano-Bicocca (IT) and her master’s degree in 2019 in Evolutionary Biology at University of Padova (IT). Her research is focused on evolutionary biology and conservation genomics/genetics of endangered species. Currently, she is working on demographic, phylogenic and selection analyses of Galápagos iguanas using genomic data.

Haley Miller, MS Student

Haley Miller joined the lab in August 2021. She received her B.S. in Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology from West Liberty University. She is interested in conservation management of threatened species and habitats. Her project is looking at fitness dynamics and genetic population structure of the Turks and Caicos rock iguana on Big Ambergris Cay.

Jimmy Wehsener, MS Student

Jimmy Wehsener is a Master’s student who joined the Lab in Fall 2021. He received a B.S. in Molecular Environmental Biology from the University of California, Berkeley and is interested in conservation, ecology, and animal behavior. His thesis research investigates how anthropogenic disturbance impacts nesting ecology and nest site selection in the Turks and Caicos rock iguana. Jimmy is also very passionate about science communication through social media (@wezwildlife), and runs a business focused on wildlife conservation (

Graduate Alums

Mallory McKinney, MS 2020

Jen Moss, PhD 2019

Chathurani Ranathunge, PhD 2018
Mikey Kartje, MS 2017
Giuliano Colosimo, PhD 2016
Rosanna Carreras De Leon, MS 2015
Armed Rasberry, MS 2015
Jessica Judson (nee Martin), MS 2015
Jamen Berk, MS 2013
Sreepriya Pramod, PhD 2012

Leah Simmons (nee Chinchilla), MS 2011

Greg Wheeler, MS 2014, Lab Technician

Visiting Professor

Yolanda Leon, PhD
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