Current Lab Members

Luke Tornabene - Assistant Professor and Curator of Fishes

My wider interests include the biology, taxonomy and evolution of fishes. I am specifically interested in how changes in morphology, ecology, and life history impact the tempo of fish diversification. I have a strong interest in phylogenomics and the use of next-generation sequencing technology to provide elegant answers to evolutionary questions at or below the species level. My current research projects include:

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  • Biogeography, community structure, phylogenetics, and adaptation in deep reef fishes

  • Speciation in coral reef fishes of the Indo-Malay Archipelago.

  • Phylogenomics of bony fishes, including the use of NGS datasets obtained via targeted gene-capture

  • Evolution and ecology of cryptobenthic reef fishes

  • Evolution of unique life-history traits and reproductive strategies in gobioid fishes

  • Systematics of gobioid fishes (Teleostei: Gobioidei)

  • Character evolution, systematics and habitat association of the American seven-spined gobies (Tribe Gobiosomatini)

  • Assessing extinction risk of Caribbean and tropical Eastern Pacific shorefishes using IUCN Redlist criteria

  • Biogeography and systematics of groundfishes of the eastern North Pacific ocean.

  • Using new technology and or innovative ideas to expand the use of natural history collections to address questions in fields beyond systematics, including parasitology, historical ecology, climate change, fisheries biology, population dynamics, and anthropology.


Katherine Maslenikov - Collection Manager

My interests center around building and curating the University of Washington’s Fish Collection and supporting the ichthyology community through access to the UW’s specimens, tissues, and data. I strive to provide greater access to specimen data through partnerships with bioinformatics initiatives (iDigBio, GBIF, VertNet, OBIS, etc.). I value community outreach and education, and partner with local STEM programs to reach the K-12 audience in addition to the university community. My research interests include the systematics, taxonomy, and biogeography of the ichthyofauna of the eastern North Pacific, with ongoing projects with the family Liparidae as well as projects documenting species distributions.


Marta Gomez-Buckley - PhD Student

It is very exciting to be part of the Ichthyology Team at SAFS and the Burke Museum. I am a proud UW alumna, and I am back at SAFS as a pre-doctoral student. I did my Master degree, under Professor Bruce Miller in 2000 on trophic dynamics of juvenile rockfish (S. diploproa and S. nigrocinctus) associated with drifting algal mats in the San Juan Archipelago. I also received a Secondary Science Teaching Certification from UW Tacoma in 2008. My interest has expanded to cryptobenthic coral reef fishes, especially gobies from the genus Eviota. For my doctoral research, I am focusing on the phylogenetic analysis and functional ecology of this group of fishes. Their diversity, small size and short life cycles give them a high potential to be key coral reef ecosystem indicators of environmental changes. I am currently working on the morphological identification and DNA sequencing of samples from 400 cryptobenthic reef fishes I collected in April 2017 from the Vava’u Archipelago, Kingdom of Tonga. One of the things I enjoy the most is taking science underwater by research SCUBA diving. I have ‘blown bubbles for science’ in many different ecosystems, ranging from the Canary Islands, Spain, where I am originally from and where I did my undergraduate degree in Marine Sciences, to Puget Sound, Alaska, the Caribbean, Micronesia, Fiji, and of course, Tonga. I am very excited about participating in outreach programs at SAFS and the Burke Museum. The recently awarded IRES grant, a three year undergraduate mentoring program at three south Pacific locations, will be a great opportunity to apply my eight-year experience teaching science.


Calder Atta - Masters Student

My research interests are centered around the evolution and diversity of fishes. As of 2017 I am a graduate student in the Tornabene lab and a research assistant in the UW Ichthyology Collection. My primary work in the collection involves facilitating the transferal and archival of larvae and egg specimens from NOAA’s annual Alaskan ichthyoplankton surveys. My fascination with nature and the ocean was inevitable given my childhood in Hawaii, but I became immersed in the world of fishes starting in 2014 with my undergraduate thesis at Boston University. My thesis work focused on the relationship between feeding behavior and jaw mechanics of flooded forest fishes (in the families Cyprinidae and Serrasalmidae). My current research topics in the Tornabene lab include understanding the distribution of Alaskan flatfish from an evolutionary perspective using both genetic and morphological tools, and characterizing the incredibly diverse reef fish communities in the northern Red Sea. As a fish taxonomists in training, I am continuously studying how to identify fishes from all over the world. This journey has taken me from the vibrant coral reefs in Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the Red Sea, to tropical river systems in South America and Southeast Asia, and now to the frigid North Pacific coasts. I believe that every organism has a story to tell, that teaches us to appreciate the beauty on this finite planet and about our role in understanding and protecting its invaluable resources

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Jennifer Gardner – Masters Student

I worked in the UW Fish Collection from 2010-2014, after meeting Katherine at an incoming freshmen event and all but begging her to let me volunteer. My work in the collection led me to do my capstone research project on snailfish, trying to identify which species lay their eggs in king crabs. This work led to a publication which won Best Student Paper in Copeia for 2016.  I then took a three year hiatus from systematics and worked with Dave Beauchamp’s lab as part of the Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. I worked on multiple different projects in this lab focusing on food web ecology of lakes, reservoirs, and Puget Sound. When the time came to return to school I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return to systematics. I am very excited to be part of the Tornabene lab and to be returning to the UW Fish Collection. My research is going to be on systematics of snailfish of the genus Careproctus. Additionally, I hope to do some research looking at snailfish eyeballs and potential novel evolutions within them. My hobbies outside of research include hiking, backpacking, dog sitting, and rock climbing. 

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Rachel Manning - Masters Student

I dove headfirst into the wonders of the UW Fish Collection (UWFC) in September 2015 as a senior undergrad working with the adult collection while helping describe a new species of snailfish from the North Pacific, Careproctussp. cf. melanurus for my undergraduate thesis. After receiving my B.S. in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences from UW SAFS, I spent a gap year facilitating an archival project with the UWFC’s ichthyoplankton collection. During this time, I was also gaining invaluable field and research experience on NOAA Fisheries surveys in the Aleutians, Gulf of Alaska, and along the US West Coast, and in a UW SAFS workshop in Hakodate, Japan. I’ve now graduated to level “Master’s in progress” in the lab and spend half of my time working on the systematics and evolution of an awesome new genus of Caribbean deep-reef gobies comprising seven putative new species. Through this research, I’ve had the chance to witness the beauty of deep reefs and their inhabitants via several dives on the manned submersible Idabelin Roatan, Honduras. The other half of my time I spend over at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center thinking about the frigid waters of the North Pacific and training NOAA at-sea observers in identification of commercially important groundfishes that live there, while also curating the training collection. My hobbies outside of my graduate work (though is it really considered work if you love every second of it?) include hangin’ with my crazy german shepherd pup, being outdoors, and fishing, fishing, aaaaand more fishing! . . . No wonder I chose research involving “fishing” for deep-reef gobies via manned submersibles in Roatan, Honduras!  

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Sam Ghods - Masters Student

I am beyond excited to be returning to the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences as a master’s student in the Fish Systematics and Biodiversity Lab. I began working at the UW Fish Collection in February 2016 as an undergraduate and I received my bachelor’s degree from SAFS in June 2017. My research project is examining evolutionary development and homology in male ceratioid anglerfishes (order Lophiiformes). More specifically, I will be examining the origin and development of the specialized apparatus that males use to latch onto females in the bizarre reproductive mode known as sexual parasitism. I hope to continue studying the mysteries surrounding the lophiiform anglerfishes and wish to someday explore the bottom of the ocean in a submersible. While my primary interests lie in taxonomy and systematics, I am fascinated by almost all aspects of ichthyological research and am always trying to learn more and step outside of my comfort zone. I am well versed in conducting molecular research and have aided Dr. Tornabene as well as my fellow lab members in DNA extraction, PCR, and sequence analysis for their research. I also have experience from my time as a curatorial assistant in the Fish Collection and enjoy training new and interested parties on the basics of collections work and operation. Outside of school, my biggest hobbies are playing guitar, playing basketball, exploring Seattle, drinking piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain. 

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Emily McFarland - Undergraduate Collection Staff

I began volunteering in the lab in the spring of my freshman year at UW in 2017 and I couldn't be happier to be on board. As corny or cliche as it may sound, I've felt almost called by the ocean ever since I was a little girl. Our ocean and the creatures that inhabit it are so vastly different than anything we can find on the surface—it's an alien world right here on Earth. I'm not entirely sure where I want my career path to go; for now I just plan on going wherever my lab work takes me. I know I'll be happy as long as I'm working in this field. Currently, I'm mostly working on goby phylogenetic projects, helping with the DNA extraction and sequencing processes. I've also had the pleasure of taking digital photos of goby specimens using a stereomicroscope, helping catalog specimens for the collection, and reviewing submersible dive videos. 


Jenna Barrett - Undergraduate Collection Staff, Senior Capstone Researcher

I'm a junior at UW currently studying Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Oceanography. I've dreamt about studying aquatic sciences since I was young, but now that I'm here I've yet to figure out what I actually want to focus on in such a vast field. So far, deep sea ecology has best sparked my interests. Working in the lab has turned out great in that aspect. So far I've been transcribing submersible fish surveys to look at changes in deep-reef fish communities with depth! Being able to see actual recorded submersible footage from St. Eustatius and Bonaire is incredible. Learning how these fishes are utilizing their environment is an awesome first-hand view of the intense biodiversity of our oceans.

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Jonathon Huie - Senior Capstone Researcher

My research interests center around the evolution of fish biodiversity and natural history. I prefer to take a comparative approach using functional morphology, physiology, and phylogenetics to better understand fish ecology and performance. Some of my past work has involved comparing the jaw biomechanics of scale-feeding fishes over ontogeny as well as examining the link between diet and morphology in phytophagous pacus. As part of the Fish Systematics and Biodiveristy Lab, I am currently conducting my SAFS capstone project on neon gobies from the genus Elacatinus, by comparing the cranial morphology of cleaners and non-cleaners. I am also pursuing a side project investigating the variation in goby gill raker and pharyngeal jaw morphology, with an emphasis on sediment sifting genera. In the future, I hope to apply my knowledge to a wide range of systems and continue studying how the most diverse group of vertebrates do what they do.

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Kylie Sahota - Undergraduate Collection Intern

I am a freshman studying Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. I am originally from a small town near Vancouver, WA, where I earned an AA in Biology through the Running Start program. I have always loved the sea, and am especially excited to be attending the University of Washington because of its proximity to the ocean and all the amazing marine creatures which it supports. Though I love many aspects of marine science, I am particularly interested in the management aspects of fishery sciences, and the ways that the needs of both marine ecosystems and consumers can be balanced. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to gain experience in the University of Washington’s prestigious Fish Collection, and am looking forward to narrowing my interests in this setting. 

Past Lab Members

Quillen Tran - Undergraduate Collection Intern (graduated Fall 2018)

I am a senior in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, currently doing my capstone on the decorating behavior of Oregonia gracilis. Scientifically, I am most interested in decapod crustaceans, but more importantly, I am passionate about museums and museum-adjacent organizations such as aquariums. To me, these organizations represent an incredible opportunity for sharing knowledge about the marine environment, and in the case of museums and research collections specifically, they represent the safeguarding of history and the immense potential for the creation of new knowledge. This passion is what led me to volunteer at the UW Fish Collection, and it has been an incredibly fulfilling and educational experience so far. I work primarily in the wet-preserved adult collection on a variety of tasks, currently including the massive relabeling project, cataloguing new specimens, and giving tours to the public. After graduation, I plan to apply to the UW Museology program and continue my journey towards learning more about museums’ roles in public outreach and education—and hopefully, also continue working at the Fish Collection for as long as I can.

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Sarah Yerrace - Undergraduate Collection Staff, Senior Capstone Researcher

I started volunteering in the Ichthyology Collection at the start of my freshman year at UW in October, 2015. I help with cataloging incoming specimens, checking loans in or out of the collection, and basically any other house keeping jobs. I love helping out during events at the Burke, such as Behind the Scenes night. To me, the most awe inspiring thing about fishes is the diversity both across species and within a species. It blows my mind to see a tiny fish— for example, a yellow tang the size of a dime— and compare it to another tang the size of a dinner plate. At this point, I can't imagine doing anything else with my life other than studying the ocean.

Dara Yiu - Senior Capstone Researcher (graduated Spring 2018)

My interest in aquatic ecology, evolution, and biodiversity has led me to pursue research opportunities in diverse systems. As an undergraduate, I have spent time studying sockeye salmon ecology in the Bristol Bay watershed, juvenile sea urchin predation dynamics in the San Juan Islands, and the effects of shoreline development and restoration along urban waterfronts in Puget Sound. I am conducting my SAFS capstone project in the Fish Systematics and Biodiversity Lab where I have been investigating potential cryptic speciation in the Blackbelly Dwarfgoby species complex. Analyzing the morphologies and systematics of these small but widespread fishes has allowed me to study the processes influencing the cryptic radiations, rapid evolution, and the substantial diversity in the tropical Indo-Pacific region. I hope to continue studying phylogenetics, evolution, and ecology through a lens that will contribute to better understanding of global biodiversity.  

Katlyn Fuentes - Undergraduate Collection Staff, Senior Capstone Researcher (graduated Fall 2018)

I'm an Aquatic and Fishery Science student new to the University of Washington, where I am also minoring in Anthropology. Previous to my attending the University of Washington, I was studying Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I've always been a little crazy when it comes to anything related to plants/animals, so I jump at any and all chances to get involved with hands-on research/fieldwork!  While at UH, I had some amazing opportunities to delve into the wonders that are natural history museums! I've had experience  collecting specimens for the University Herbarium, imaging specimens from the University Entomology Museum, and also assisting with the Hawaiian Rare Plant Program at the Lyon Arboretum Seed Conservation Laboratory. I started working at the Ichthyology Collections in February of 2017, and thus far, I've been helping with labeling and organizing specimens from the otolith collection. I am eager to explore more facets of the collection - like the Dry Skeleton Collection - and get involved in as many projects as I can get my hands on! In particular, I'm really looking forward to learning more about the inner-workings of operating museum collections, and also learning more about the biodiversity and phylogeny of Pacific Northwest fishes.

Jalene Weatherholt - Undergraduate Collection Staff (graduating Winter 2019)

Jalene is a senior majoring in Environmental Science Resource Management and an intended Marine Biology double major. Her interest in Ichthyology sparked during a tour of the collection in the beginning of her freshman year and has grown through her time volunteering and working in the collection. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the marine world has always fascinated her; this passion continues now at the University of Washington. Jalene's activities outside of the collection include playing for the UW Women's Water Polo Club team and acting as a student Ambassador for the College of the Environment.