The Kurle Lab
Applied Conservation, Community Ecology, Foraging Interactions, Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry
University of California, San Diego, Division of Biological Sciences,
Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution Section

Dr. Carolyn Kurle

Carolyn grew up near Seattle where her family’s frequent camping trips in the western United States and Canada taught her a love and appreciation for the outdoors. She has Zoology and German Literature degrees from the University of Washington where she cemented her ambition to be an ecologist during a field quarter in the San Juan Islands at the UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories. She earned a MS from Texas A&M University, then worked as a Research Biologist for NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory before returning to school at UC Santa Cruz for her Ph.D. in Ecology. She did her Post Doctoral research at UC Santa Barbara and started at UC San Diego in 2010. She prefers to work in marine systems, but is open to most foraging ecology research that informs community ecology and population trajectories, and has a conservation application.

Graduate Students
Dr. Cali Turner Tomaszewicz

Cali, a Colorado native, studies habitat use and foraging behaviors of

marine animals using time series of stable isotope values extracted from

accretionary tissues, such as tooth growth layers from marine mammals

(i.e. Northern Fur Seals, Callorhinus ursinus) and humerus bone growth

rings from marine turtles. This approach, developed during her

Ph.D., provides important information that is directly applicable to

national and international marine conservation. Her postdoctoral research

with the Kurle lab is in partnership with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries

Service and the Marine Mammal Laboratory at the  Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, as well as the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla. She completed her Ph.D. in Biology at UCSD in 2016, and her dissertation was titled, "Tracking turtles back in time: Linking stable isotope analysis with skeletochronology to determine life history patterns in endangered sea turtles". She has a Masters degree from UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, and a Bachelors degree from Claremont McKenna College in Environment, Economics and Politics. Cali enjoys spending time with her family, reading, watching movies, and exploring the outdoors.

Check out Cali’s blog on San Diego sea turtles!

People in the Kurle Lab Undergraduate Students

The Kurle lab has been very fortunate to work with many talented undergraduates on several different projects and we welcome inquiries from motivated students to come work with us.


Thank you to the following students who have contributed to the Kurle lab:


Kirsten Bates, Marcus Bobar, Tricia Mae Caraig (Scripps Undergraduate Research Fellow), Kristina Cary, Ashley Cunningham, David Dannecker, Nicholas Duffield, Rosario Marroquin Flores (Scripps Undergraduate Research Fellow), Lauren Hughes, Kira James, Christina Kelleher, George Lapole, Carly Lindley, Andrea Liu, Shanean Ludwar, Erin Manaigo (Howard University and UCSD Summer Training Academy for Research in the Sciences Fellow), Michelle McCartha (Scripps Undergraduate Research Fellow), Gillian McDivitt, Celeste Medina-Ontiveros, Rohan Mehta, Annika Nabors, Kimberly Narel, Emily Parng, Kristen Richardson, Lisa Robison, Wendy Rogers, Anji Shakya, Christina Souto, Ronnie Steinitz, Brandon Guell, Andrea Liu, Tanner Howard, Sophia Su, James Benge, Shreya Banerjee, Ponteah Pirouzan, Jalyse Cuff (Howard University and UCSD Summer Training Academy for Research in the Sciences Fellow), Michelle Yasutake, Ziyi “Iris” Wang.



Elizabeth Hetherington (Ph.D.)

Liz grew up in New York City where she developed a love of wildlife and marine science at an early age. Liz received her BS from the College of Charleston in S. Carolina, then taught high school chemistry and worked as a research assistant at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center for several years. Her research at NOAA fostered an interest in stable isotope ecology, and, in 2010, Liz began a Masters program in the Marine Science program at the University of San Diego. Her thesis research focused on using compound-specific nitrogen isotopes to evaluate food web structure in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. For her Ph.D. Liz continues her work in isotope ecology, elucidating mechanisms driving a trophic dichotomy between leatherback turtles from different regions of the world and incorporating the use of compound specific stable isotope analysis of amino acids.

Kurle Lab Alum

Shreya Banerjee (BS/MS; 2016-2017):In collaboration with the Marine Turtle Genetics Program at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Shreya determined the effect of multiple paternity on size variation in leatherback sea turtle clutches from St. Croix, USVI.

Dr. Cali Turner Tomaszewicz (Ph.D.; 2011-2016): Cali is a conservation ecologist who developed and utilized multiple methods to apply stable isotope analysis and skeletochronology to determining the foraging dynamics and habitat use of green and loggerhead sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean. Chapters from her dissertation are currently published in multiple journals with additional papers forthcoming. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Kurle lab.

Dr. John (Jack) Hopkins (post doctoral researcher, 2015-1016): Jack is a wildlife biologist, stable isotope practitioner, and conservationist. Jack and Carolyn’s research interests intersect at applied ecology and stable isotope biogeochemistry. They investigated intra- and inter-population niche variation in invasive rats in Alaska and black bears in Yosemite and dietary preferences and niche modeling in grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Jack is currently an Assistant Professor at Unity College in Maine. Click here for his website.

Christina Kelleher (BS/MS; 2014-2016): Christina determined growth rates of northern fur seal juvenile whiskers to better assign time values to whisker segments and better understand movement patterns of multiple age groups of juveniles during the non-breeding season in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean.

David Dannecker (BS/MS; 2013-2016): David used stable isotope analysis of pup and mother Antarctic fur seal whiskers to reconstruct their movement and trophic patterns during the non-breeding season in the southern hemisphere and to determine if isotope values from pup whiskers could be used as proxies to track their mothers.

Kristen Richardson (BS/MS; 2013-2015): Kristen used stable isotope analysis of a food web to determine that gigantism in iguanas on a Bahamian island was due to enrichment of the food web by marine subsidies via deposition of seabird guano.

Ronnie Steinitz (BS/MS; 2013-2015): Ronnie determined stable isotope discrimination factors for captive iguanas and examined dietery niche partitioning in two sympatric species of iguanas in the Dominican Republic.

Jennifer McWhorter (MAS/MBC; 2013-2014): Jennifer utilized her GIS skills in our creation of stable isotope maps or isoscapes of the southern California Bight using data collected for the Kurle lab from the CalCOFI Oceanographic cruises. These isoscapes reflect seasonal variability and provide a tool for understanding forces driving isotopic changes in marine systems and for better reconstructions of diet and migratory patterns of marine organisms utilizing the Southern California Bight. Jennifer now works for the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System.

Victoria Hanna (MS; 2012-2014): Victoria examined factors related to successful plant invasions using greenhouse experiments with black mustard and fennel.

Joseph Bowden (Post doctoral researcher; 2012-2014) Joe’s work focuses on determining population and community ecology of arthropods in the Arctic in response to climate change and other variables. He then went on to do a post doc at the Arctic Research Centre at Aarhus University in Denmark.


Kurle Lab at UC San Diego Tanner Howard (MS)

Tanner grew up in Pismo Beach, California with an inherent love for wildlife, nature, and the ocean, and this love led to him graduating with a BS in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution from the University of California, San Diego. His first exposure to research came in high school when he collaborated with other high school and college students in an astronomy seminar that focused on the observation of binary stars. While attending UCSD, Tanner worked as an assistant in the Marine Biology Research Division at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and also worked as an

Educator in the Zoological Department at SeaWorld San Diego. His research will focus on using data obtained from stable isotope analysis to track northern fur seal migration and foraging patterns around the Channel Islands, California.

in the Channel Islands. Tanner seeks to use this information to provide more information on how

the Channel Islands population fits into the archaeological record of northern fur seal

populations along the western coast of North America.


Andrea Liu (MS)

Andrea is analyzing prey species from Alaskan waters to expand the scales of our understanding of spatial and temporal variation in stable isotope values of prey in relation to top predators such as northern fur seals and Steller sea lions. Andrea is also helping construct a data base of oceanographic data from archives to better understand changes in productivity and other parameters in the Bering Sea and North Pacific and how these may relate to  marine species declines over the last century.

Stephanie Nehasil (Ph.D.)

Stephanie's interest in ecology started at a young age when she was exposed to the local wildlife and beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area. Her love for the mountains and ocean developed during frequent camping trips, hikes, and days at the beach with her family. Stephanie  has a BS in Evolution and Ecology and a BA in French from UC Davis. She developed a passion for teaching science through working as an instructor at the San Francisco Zoo and the Birch Aquarium. Stephanie received her Masters degree at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, then worked for NOAA Fisheries, where she studied the conservation and management of marine species along the Pacific coast. For her PhD, Stephanie studies the effects of environmental variability on marine ecosystems with a focus on trophic interactions between large predators and their prey in the California Current System.

Postdoctoral Scholars

Scripps Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF), Rosario Marroquin-Flores, presenting her summer research at the 2014 SURF Symposium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography with mentor and Kurle PhD student Cali Turner Tomaszewicz.

Anji Shakya presenting her undergraduate Environmental Systems (ESYS) Internship research performed in the Kurle lab at the ESYS spring research symposium at UC San Diego, Spring 2014.

Ziyi “Iris” Wang (BS)

Iris grew up in Nanjing, China, where her passion and curiosity for nature and wildlife arose from weekly hiking and frequent traveling with her family. She is currently an undergraduate majoring in Ecology, Behavior & Evolution and Mathematics & Computer Science. Iris is studying the trophic niche and forging ecology of sidewinder rattlesnakes (Crotalus cerastes) from desert sites in Yuma, Arizona and Mojave, California using stable isotope analysis on tissues samples from these snakes and their prey such as rodents and lizards. Her project is in collaboration with Dr. Rulon Clark of San Diego State University.

Hanh Nguyen (BS)

Hanh grew up in the countryside of Southern Vietnam and she is currently majoring in Biochemistry/Chemistry at UC San Diego. She was selected to participate in the prestigious UC LEADS (University of California Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees) Program, enhancing her undergraduate research experience and facilitating her future plans to attend graduate school. Her love of animals and nature began at a young age, and her passion to scientifically study the ecology of natural systems began with her entry into UC San Diego in 2016, especially as her concern for environmental issues, species extinctions, and conservation issues grew. She studies the diet of California sea lions using scat samples from rookeries at San Clemente Island and San Nicolas Island in the Channel Islands to better understand marine mammal responses to environmental change, monitor their populations, and manage human impacts to marine vertebrates and their prey base. Her work is done in collaboration with scientists at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center.