Avon, NC

Fish Team

Learn about us and our research!

Alex Dornburg, Ph.D.

My research takes an integrative approach to explore the factors that underlie the origin and maintenance of biodiversity in ray-finned fishes (Actinopterygii). Actinopterygiians comprise over half of all living vertebrate species and a better understanding of their history will shed light onto some long standing questions in evolutionary biology. Why are some clades more diverse than others? Are there general trends that govern the diversification dynamics of lineages in different communities? To answer these questions, my work crosses traditional boundaries between molecular phylogenetics, morphology, paleontology, and ecology. This approach to research facilitates a broader understanding of not only how ecomorphological diversity has accumulated in ecosystems ranging from coral reefs to the Southern Ocean of Antarctica, but also illuminates the factors that influence patterns of vertebrate diversification.

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Current Interns and Volunteers

Rita Chen

Tim Curtis

April Lamb

I am a M.Sc. student in the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University, where I work on invasive carp (Cyprinus carpio) in a shallow lake ecosystem. In general, I am interested in the ecology, physiology, and diversity of marine and freshwater fishes. Here at the museum I have been involved in a number of projects including: (1) examining the diversification dynamics of Antarctic fishes, (2) investigating how urbanization impacts the natural history of geckos native to Curaçao, and currently (3) examining morphological and ecological diversity in reef fishes. In addition to this, I assist with maintaining and databasing collection specimens.

Richard Morris

Katerina Zapfe

I am a born naturalist with a B.S. in Marine Science and minor in Plant Biology from NC State University. My love for the natural world began early. A childhood snorkeling off Grand Cayman introduced me to the world below the waves and I went on to become involved with study abroad research in the Bahamas, animal husbandry through The Maritime Aquarium and marine biology education with the Sea Turtle Camp. These experiences fueled my passion for marine science. Since working at the Fish Lab, I have become interested in both the adaptive radiation of Antarctic icefish and patterns of morphological evolution in trigger and filefishes. When I am not working at the research station, I enjoys orchid keeping, SCUBA diving and merging my passions for science and fine art in the form of detailed biological illustrations. I aspire to attend graduate school and inspire others to develop their own passion for marine life.

Former Interns and Volunteers


Willa Brooks

I graduated from Emory University in 2014 with a bachelors in Environmental Science and a minor in math. My primary interest lies in marine conservation and I have worked in several areas of marine science education and outreach, fisheries management policy analysis, and field and lab based marine research. Working with the fishes unit I am developing a foundation in phylogenetic and biogeographic analyses as we investigate a complex pattern of cryptic species diversity in Caribbean blennies. Understanding patterns of species diversity forms the critical foundation for much of organismal biology, and I look forward to utilizing the skills and knowledge I gain in the ichthyology unit to develop new perspectives on contemporary issues in marine conservation.

Abagail Burrus

I am currently getting my feet wet in phylogenetic studies by constructing a Lycopod Tree of Life and also studying the possible effects of Madagascar’s hypervariable climate on the community-level organization its endemic trees. I’m interested in pursuing projects in plant phylogenetics that unite integrative taxonomy, herbarium research, and applications towards conservation. What can the history of flora found in our natural history collections tell us about impending (or active) changes in the floral landscape due to factors like climate change? What other novel uses arise for collections such as herbaria when a researcher combines modern data analysis with such historical datasets? What new strategies and biological understandings can combined molecular and morphological phylogenetic analyses give us by illuminating more branches (or new pathways) on the evolutionary trees of various plant groups?


Joseph Flores

I am a 2014 graduate of the University of North Carolina Wilmington with my B.S. in marine biology. My primary interests are in marine life and conservation and I enjoy both field work and hands on data gathering. I am currently collecting morphometric data to better understand biodiversity patterns in several species of fish, both in fresh and salt water. Quantifying morphological change within or between species can gleam valuable insights into a range of topics including the discovery of cryptic diversity and correlations between form, function, and life history. I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of fishes and ultimately finding a career in this field of study.

Leela Rao

I hold degrees in Zoology from NC State University, a Masters in Coastal Environmental Management from Duke University, and a degree in Veterinary Medical Technology. I love championing less celebrated species, especially those that have a profound influence on our natural ecosystems. Fishes are one such example, often seen only through a consumer lens. I seek to reveal the extraordinary and diverse characteristics of these taxa, and bring awareness to their plight for a more sustainable existence alongside humanity. Working in the fishes unit, I am involved in a study assessing the evolutionary dynamics associated with transitions between activity patterns, and am helping the unit develop a research program in fish hematology in collaboration with the museum’s veterinary staff. I also have a guinea pig named Hubble, named after the telescope that has arguably provided data for the most groundbreaking scientific discoveries in the history of humankind, and a puppy named Simba.He is fluffy and goofy, and has been taught to be wary of estranged uncles bearing gifts.