UNR Logo


My research group focuses on collaborative projects at the interface of applied mathematics, statistics, and the biological sciences.

A Note to Prospective Students

I am currently seeking a Ph.D. student to begin in Fall 2020. For details see the ad below.

Prospective graduate students should contact me by e-mail. I can advise graduate students in the Ph.D. and M.S. degrees programs offered by the Mathematics & Statistics Dept., and the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Ecology, Evolution & Conservation Biology (EECB).

Undergraduates interested in pursuing research projects (either for fun and/or to fulfill program requirements, e.g., an Honors Thesis) should contact me by email and perhaps set up a time to meet in person to discuss options.

Graduate Students

M.S. student, Amy Robards

Amy Robards

Project: Absolute Frequency Data for Statistical Computing: A Comparison With
               Sample-Based Approaches and Guidelines for Improving Software Implementation.

Mathematics M.S. (Statistics Emphasis) September 2019
Current Position: Scientific Games, Reno, NV

Former Group Members

Undergraduate student, Catalina Medina

Catalina Medina

Project: Host-pathogen dynamics: Insights from analyzing data with
               Nonlinear Mixed Effect Dynamic Models

Mathematics B.S. (Specialization in Statistics; Biology minor) awarded May 2019
McNair Scholar
Co-advisor: Deena Schmidt (Secondary)
Current Position: UC Irvine, Ph.D. Program in Statistics

Undergraduate student, Narae Wadsworth

Narae Wadsworth

Project: Constructing Continuous Time Markov Chains From Empirical Hitting Time Distributions
Mathematics B.S. (Specialization in Statistics) awarded May 2018
Economics B.A.

Co-advisor: Deena Schmidt (Secondary)
Current Position: UC Berkeley, M.A. Program in Statistics

Undergraduate student, Jace Gilbert

Jace Gilbert

Project: Incorporating Bifurcation Information into Statistical Methods for Fitting Dynamic (ODE) Models
Mathematics B.S. (Specialization in Statistics; Economics minor) awarded December 2017
Current Position: UNC Chapel Hill, Ph.D. Program in Biostatistics

Undergraduate student, Adam Kirosingh

Adam Kirosingh

Project: Generalizing the Linear Chain Trick for reducing integral equations to ODEs.
Molecular Microbiology & Immunology B.S. (Mathematics minor) awarded May 2017
Current Position: Stanford University, Ph.D. Program in Microbiology & Immunology

Undergraduate student, Amanda Fredrickson

Amanda Fredrickson

Honors Thesis: Analyzing and Comparing Choreographic Structure in Dance from Laban Notated Scores
Mathematics B.S. (Specialization in Statistics; Minors in Dance, Business Administration) May 2017
Graduated with Honors
Co-advisor: Deena Schmidt (Primary)

Open Position: Ph.D. student, to begin Fall 2020

Application Deadline: February 1st. More details at

We are seeking one Ph.D. student interested in mathematical modeling of biological systems to start in Fall 2020 at the University of Nevada, Reno. The modeling work is related to a collaborative, NSF-funded project exploring the formation and consequences of novel associations between parasites and their insect hosts. This research investigates the interaction between a virus that infects butterflies on both their native food plant and a recently-adopted exotic plant, as well natural enemies including parasitic wasps. Research will involve the development of novel population models of multispecies interactions that include phytochemical mediation of those interactions, and that will facilitate making predictions at lab and mesocosm scales. The mathematical modeling research will include the development and analysis of multiple related eco-epidemiological models using tools from continuous- and discrete-time dynamical systems, and related areas of applied mathematics.

We are looking for students broadly interested in quantitative biology, with specific interests in disease ecology, and/or the mathematical modeling of populations and multi-species interactions. We are an interdisciplinary group of ecologists and evolutionary biologists; more information about representative research activities can be found at webpages for the various faculty participants (Smilanich, Dyer, Forister, Hurtado, and Teglas; http://www.unr.edu/eecb/people).

UNR has a strong new Ph.D. program in Mathematics (with Pure and Applied options available; http://www.unr.edu/math/) and a strong interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology (http://environment.unr.edu/eecb/). Graduate students in good standing will be given top priority for financial support through Teaching Assistantships (TAs) which includes health insurance and an out-of-state tuition waiver. In addition, funds associated with this project are available for summer support, two years of Research Assistantships (RAs), and for data collection associated with specific doctoral dissertation projects.

University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) is a Tier I research university located in a spectacular environment at the intersection of the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The faculty and graduate students at UNR are highly interactive and include an internationally known group of evolutionary biologists and ecologists. We are also located in an ideal setting for field-based science in the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada regions, allowing enviable access to spectacular montane and desert ecosystems. Reno is 45 minutes from Lake Tahoe, offers a high quality of living, an excellent climate, and is a large enough city to offer diverse activities and amenities. World class rock climbing, skiing, and mountain biking opportunities are in extremely close proximity.

Interested students should visit the links above, and contact all of us via email (phurtado@unr.edu, asmilanich@unr.edu, nolaclimber@gmail.com, mforister@unr.edu, mteglas@cabnr.unr.edu) with a description of your interests, qualifications and preliminary application materials (CV, GRE scores, names and contact information for three references). Applicants may apply through either the Mathematics (preferred) or EECB (secondary preference) Ph.D. programs, with a target start date of Fall 2020, however Spring and Summer applicants may be considered.

Project abstract:

Collaborative Research: Novel trophic interactions determined by phytochemistry, pathogen infection, and parasitoids
Award details: https://nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1929522

In a rapidly changing environment, the value of understanding the complexity of species interactions cannot be overstated. This includes the formation of associations between parasites and novel hosts. This research investigates the interaction between a virus that infects butterflies on both their native food plant and a recently adopted exotic food plant. This newly discovered virus has unknown consequences for populations of butterflies. However, prior research suggests that the chemistry of the food plants may have therapeutic effects. How does the outcome of viral infection on individuals and populations of Baltimore checkerspot butterflies depend on the choice of a native or exotic host plant? The research also will study parasitic wasps that attack the caterpillars. Parasitic wasps may alter the entire set of interactions between the butterflies, food plants and the virus. By understanding disease dynamics within human-altered environments, detrimental impacts on species can be mitigated. This project includes a museum exhibit on the diversity of viruses, a symposium on insect-virus ecology, and the inclusion of undergraduate and graduate student research.

All consumers use a subset of the organic resources in their environment. Understanding which resources are used by a particular consumer, and the limitations of those resources, are issues that are both foundational to the ecological sciences and important for understanding rapid global environmental change. Herbivorous insects are central to general theory to understand dietary niche breadth. The relevant resources (food, or hostplants) are discrete and experimentally tractable, and herbivorous insects are key to terrestrial ecosystem function. A relatively understudied element of dietary breadth is the process of host expansion, when new hostplants are adopted into the diet of an insect herbivore. This project takes advantage of a recently formed interaction between the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton, Nymphalidae) and the exotic narrow-leaved plantain (Plantago lanceolata, Plantaginaceae) to develop mathematical models for macro-parasite population dynamics on a novel plant species. Predictions will be tested using laboratory and mesocosm experiments that include infection with butterfly “enemies”, a naturally-occurring entomopathogenic virus and parasitoid wasp, both of which attack caterpillars of the butterfly. The overarching question of this project is: Can we predict persistence of the butterfly populations from the interactions with enemies on native and exotic host plants? While addressing this larger question, the study will improve our empirical understanding of virus and parasite ecology by investigating dose dependent effects of the pathogen, virus transmission, and caterpillar survival mediated by hostplant chemistry.