Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Joy O’Keefe (She/Her)

Joy O’Keefe grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, the land of vinegar style BBQ and sweet tea, but always wanted to be from the Midwest, so it has worked out well that this has become her academic home. From a young age, Joy was passionate about conserving animals – first the voles the cat brought to the back door, then tigers were a passion, and finally bats captured her heart. She completed her B.S. in Zoology from North Carolina State University, with an undergraduate thesis on behavior of Coquerel’s sifakas. Then she moved to Kentucky to do her M.S. in Biology, studying Ruffed Grouse at Eastern Kentucky University. She headed south again to complete her Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University studying the ecology of forest-dwelling bats in western North Carolina. Joy has since led many large-scale projects studying bat ecology in the southern Appalachian Mountains and the Midwest. Understanding bat responses to forest management has been a major focus of her work, but she is also keen on other types of conservation-oriented work for the threatened and endangered bats of eastern North America. jmokeefe at

Master’s Students

Melissa Boman (She/Her)

Melissa Boman grew up in northern Minnesota, the land of 10,000+ lakes and endless rivers. She earned her bachelor of science in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology from the University of Minnesota Twin-Cities in 2015. During this time she became fascinated by small mammals typically left out of the spotlight – the uncharismatic microfauna. This interest led to a position with the Minnesota Biological Survey conducting small mammal surveys, where she was first introduced to bat research. Stumbling across bats ignited a new passion and unparalleled curiosity, fueling the desire to pursue a graduate project focused on aiding bat conservation. Her Master’s work focuses on investigating microclimate profiles of bat boxes and preference of bats for box types, as well as testing the utility of acoustic lures to promote box use by bats. Through her research she hopes to improve guidelines for bat box use as a mitigation tool in a northern climate. In addition to connecting to nature through science, Melissa also enjoys integrating appreciation of the natural world in her life as an artist and fly angler. boman2 at

Sean Obrochta (He/Him)

Sean Obrochta grew up in Chicago, Illinois, the land of the Cubbies and Italian beef. He received his undergraduate education at Northwestern University, where he majored in Biology. After watching Planet Earth II, he became fascinated by urban wildlife. For his honors thesis, he researched the differences in microbiome composition between migratory and resident urban Canada geese in Chicago. He did fieldwork with Blanding’s turtles in Toledo and the Chicago area in the summer of ‘21 before working with the Cook County Forest Preserves as an environmental educator and animal caretaker. He is excited to understand the role urbanization plays in bat ecology. His Master’s thesis will focus on evaluating the roosting and foraging habitat of bats in the Champaign-Urbana area, while also seeking to establish the determining factors of bat occupancy in urban habitats. Through his research, he hopes to provide recommendations for forest preserve and park district agencies to improve the management of bat habitats. sean3 at

Doctoral Students

Katie Fitzgerald (She/Her)

Katie Fitzgerald grew up in sunny San Diego. She earned her bachelor of science degree in Natural Resource Management and Conservation from San Francisco State University. After taking a field course on the ecology of bats, she was officially hooked. This interest led to working with various agencies, such as National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She had the opportunity to assist in bat research in southern Mexico, Borneo, and Madagascar. She completed her Master’s degree at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. Her Master’s work characterized seasonal variation of the diet of cave myotis (Myotis velifer) found in a historic fort in Presidio, Texas. Katie’s Ph.D. research will focus on monitoring the health of Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) to determine whether forest management practices affect populations. Managed sites that are effective may provide bats with various roosting habitats and minimize competition with conspecifics. In addition to connecting to nature through science, Katie enjoys backpacking and is a novice rock climber. kvf2 at

Reed Crawford (He/Him)

Reed Crawford is originally from the small town of Riley in west-central Indiana. He completed his Bachelor’s in biology in 2018 at Indiana State University, during which he worked on several Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) related projects in central and southern Indiana. In 2020, he completed his Master’s at Eastern Kentucky University, studying Indiana bats and artificial roost usage in northern Kentucky and central Indiana. Reed’s PhD research focuses on the thermoregulatory strategies used by Indiana bats in both artificial and natural roosts. Additionally, he is building a variety of rocket box style bat houses for future work. Reed is also interested in roost selection and studying ecological traps. reeddc2 at

Postdoctoral Researchers

Elizabeth Beilke (She/Her)

Lizz Beilke originates from Wisconsin, the land of beer, cheese, beer cheese, and other yellow foods. She earned her bachelor of science in ecology and environmental biology from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. There, her research focused on behavioral mechanisms of isolation in Bahamian pupfish and pedagogy in conservation biology. After graduating, she spent a few years working for USGS in North and South Dakota and then USFWS in Mississippi. After having studied assorted fish, bird, and insect species, she settled on bats for her Ph.D. Lizz is interested in a variety of ecological topics, but her thoughts are currently occupied by resource partitioning, foraging ecology, and trophic cascades. Her dissertation is focused on the ways different bat species share resources (time, space, and prey) and how bats affect the ecosystems they are a part of. She is also studying the diet, foraging ecology, and sexually-dichromatic fur color of the best bat, the Eastern red bat. ebeilke at

Andrew Bennett (He/Him)

Texas born but raised in the northeastern United States, Andrew Bennett has worked at the intersection of human and animal health for more than a decade. He studied ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, where he received his BS, and went on to earn a PhD in Comparative Biomedical Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For his dissertation he studied Ugandan bats and their ectoparasites–and the viruses they host–with the goal of better understanding what makes bats special in their capacity to host high-consequence pathogens. For his postdoc, he will develop field and laboratory methods to assess bat health in order to help inform management strategies and to further elucidate what makes bats special. andyb at

Clarissa Starbuck (She/Her)

Clarissa Starbuck is originally from the land of caves, springs, and toasted ravioli: Missouri. She has been fascinated by bats since at least the age of seven and has been involved in bat research since she was an undergrad at the University of Missouri. She also received her MS from Missouri, and then she spent five years in the much drier southwest to get her PhD from Northern Arizona University. Now she has returned to the Midwest and is working on a project to determine effects of forest management on Indiana bats in northeast Missouri. cstarbuc at

Essential Staff

Katrina Cotten (She/Her)

Katrina Cotten is from the Chicago suburbs. Growing up, she didn’t know much about the environment but has grown a particular interest in conserving wildlife species and understanding their ecology. Katrina has spent her summers doing restoration and forestry work in Cook County, which led her to an interest in working with bats when she found one on a tree that was cut down. She’s been working in the Human-Wildlife Interactions lab since Fall 2021. In December 2022, she graduated with a Bachelor’s in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Katrina is supporting the lab’s various projects as a full-time technician, while looking for future opportunities in wildlife research. kcotte3 at

James Cox (He/Him)

James Cox is from a small town in Indiana. He earned his Bachelor of Science in biology from Indiana State University in 2013. After 2 years as a lab research coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, James returned to Indiana State University to obtain a Master of Science in Biology, with a focus on bat ecology. James completed his master’s in 2019, having studied bat populations in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. James is currently data manager for the Midwest Bat Hub, a regional division of the North American Bat Monitoring Program. James enjoys gardening, carpentry, playing live music, and cooking. jhcox at

Saket Naik (He/Him)

Saket Naik is from Mumbai, India. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in Information Management. He has a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from VJTI Mumbai. His interest in data science and analytics started during his senior year in college, and since then, he has been fascinated by the field. After working for a year in the data analytics team at Capgemini, he decided to pursue his master’s to technically upskill himself. He’s passionate about developing impactful and effective solutions using data analytics. He is currently working for the Human-Wildlife Interactions lab, where he will help create optimized scripts and engaging dashboards for the Midwest Bat Hub species classification project. saketn2 at

Johnny Baakliny (He/Him)

Johnny Baakliny is an Architect turned Wildlife Conservationist. He grew up in Lebanon surrounded by pine forests and mountainous terrains of a highly biodiverse region of the Mediterranean, which sparked his early passion for the natural environment and concerns for conservation. Johnny is a passionate researcher, field herper, and wildlife photographer with a deep appreciation for the beauty and diversity of amphibians and reptiles. He is currently completing his Master’s of Landscape Architecture (MLA) with a cross-disciplinary focus on the relationship between humans and wildlife. His Master’s research examines management practices and public attitudes towards snakes in Southern Illinois, and the impacts of “Snake Road,” a distinct landscape with exceptional biodiversity that draws a large public, bringing them into close proximity with venomous snakes, namely Cottonmouths. Johnny also shares a deep passion for bat conservation and has worked as a Bat Field-Technician on several projects and currently assists Professor O’Keefe in her public education and outreach work at the Illinois Extension. Johnny believes in bridging ecological research and socio-political concerns to better inform conservation practices and influence public attitudes and perceptions towards wildlife. johnnyb2 at

Kat Soto (She/Her)

Katharina “Kat” Soto is from the Washington, D.C., area. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology from Towson University in 2020. She is currently a graduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign pursuing a Master of Science degree in the Program of Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology. Her research focuses on endangered species behavior, invasive species dispersal and behavior, and invasive species behavioral epidemiology and how it relates to metabolic rate. She is a Marine Corps veteran and is interested in combining her skills from the military and her science education by pursuing a career in consulting/government contracting. Kat is currently assisting Professor O’Keefe in her work in the Diversifying Master Naturalist Program at the Illinois Extension. Kat is passionate about increasing scientific outreach in underrepresented communities. kmsoto2 at

Shreya Mahajan (She/Her)

Shreya Mahajan grew up in Pennsylvania, the land of cheese steaks. She is pursuing a bachelor of science degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a secondary in Sustainability, Energy, and Environment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Shreya started to become interested in bats when she went bat watching on a whim one day. Ever since then, she got hooked and is now working with research on bat diets. Her goal is to learn more about bats and understand how they interact with the ecosystem. shreyam6 at

Joaquin Acevedo (He/They)

Joaquin Acevedo is from a western suburb of Chicago. He is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and is interested in learning more about wildlife conservation. After taking a summer field course on wildlife ecology in the United Kingdom, he became passionate about environmental science. He hopes to gain more field experience and eventually participate in research related to the conservation of Midwestern bat species.

Lab Alumni

Louis Hunninck, post-doc (2020-2022), Postdoctoral researcher, Stockholm University

Elizabeth Beilke, PhD (2016-2022), Postdoctoral researcher, Human-wildlife Interactions Lab, UIUC

Meredith Hoggatt, MS (2019-2022), Biologist, Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc.

Timothy Divoll, PhD (2014–2020), Data Scientist, Brown University

Francis Tillman, MS (2017–2019), PhD Student at University of Memphis

James Cox, MS (2017–2019), Data Manager, Midwest Bat Hub, UIUC

Julia Hoeh, MS (2015–2017), Environmental Scientist, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection

Vanessa Rojas, PhD (2013–2018), Asst. Professor at SUNY-ESF Ranger School

Caroline Byrne, MS (2013–2015), Biologist at Biodiversity Research Institute

Scott Bergeson, PhD (2012–2017), Asst. Professor at Purdue-Fort Wayne University

Joseph Pettit, PhD (2012–2015; co-advised by J. Speer), Asst. Professor at Minot State University

Joey Weber, MS (2013–2015), Biologist, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Zach Kaiser, MS (2012–2014), Biologist at Ecology and Environment, Inc.

Tara Thomson, MS (2011–2013), Admissions Counselor at Georgia Gwinnett College

Kristina Hammond, MS (2011–2013); Biologist at Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc.