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Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Dr. Pirmin Nietlisbach

Photo of Pirmin Nietlisbach

Phone: (309) 438-3669

Office: Science Laboratory Building – SLB 339

Pirmin graduated from the University of Zurich, Switzerland in 2010. He studied sex-linked genetic variation in orang-utan (Pongo spp.) populations for his MSc thesis research in the lab of Michael Krützen. In 2015, Pirmin finished his PhD on inbreeding and heterozygosity in song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) in the labs of Erik Postma and Lukas Keller at the University of Zurich, followed by a postdoc period. From 2017-2020, he was a postdoc in the lab of Michael Whitlock at the University of British Columbia. Pirmin joined the School of Biological Sciences at Illinois State University in Normal in September 2020.

Lab Manager

Jessica A. Krippel

Phone: (309) 438-8551

Office: Science Laboratory Building – SLB 338

Jessica obtained her Bachelor of Science from the University of Iowa in 2006, after which she worked as the behavioral husbandry coordinator at an AZA-accredited zoo in Asheville, NC. Her interest in studying animal behavior then led her to obtain a Master of Science in Biology with a focus in Animal Behavior from Western Carolina University in 2014. From there, Jessica moved to Vancouver, Canada, where she worked as a research associate at the University of British Columbia overseeing a long-term field study site, and started her own canine behavior consulting business Evolution Dog Training. Jessica joined the lab in October 2020.

Jessica is interested in understanding animal behavior from both an applied and evolutionary perspective. Her research investigates how consistent individual differences in behavior over time and contexts, also known as animal personality or behavioral syndromes, evolve and are maintained in populations of wild animals. Outside of academia, Jessica works in applied animal behavior, using applied behavior analysis to bring about behavior change in animals.

Here at Illinois State University, Jessica is in charge of keeping our lab up-to-date, supervising students in the lab and field, and helping the students to plan and execute behavior-related research projects. Outside of school, Jessica works on her behavior consulting business, hikes with husband and dogs, and rides her horse, Gabe.

MSc Students

Rachel Berg


Office: Science Laboratory Building – SLB 338

Rachel received a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior from the University of Minnesota in 2017. After graduation, she worked at a wildlife research and education facility in central Minnesota, where she participated in multiple research projects on gray wolves. Rachel is now a master’s student at Illinois State University. She joined the lab in May 2021.

Rachel is researching inbreeding in North American deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) populations located on the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, Canada. Investigating their genetic composition will give insight into impacts of inbreeding on isolated wild populations.

Lauren Leischner


Office: Science Laboratory Building – SLB 338

Lauren Leischner is a graduate student at Illinois State University in the Behavior, Ecology, Evolution & Systematics (BEES) section. She graduated from the University of Illinois Springfield with a Bachelor’s degree in biology in the spring of 2021. She joined the lab in the fall of 2021.

Lauren conducts research with the house wren population in the Mackinaw study area, collaborating with Charles Thompson and Scott Sakaluk. She studies the factors that contribute to whether an individual produces a second brood: timing and individual quality. Her work includes cross-fostering experiments in the field as well as analysis of the long term dataset.

Avery Dart


Office: Science Laboratory Building – SLB 338

Avery Dart graduated from the University of Asheville, North Carolina, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies in December 2019. After graduating, he spent most of 2020 bird watching and he became fascinated by bird behavior.

Avery joined the lab in August 2022 and is broadly interested in researching house wren ecology and behavior at the Mackinaw Study Area. He hopes to do conservation work in migratory birds after graduating.

Undergraduate Students

Vanessa Jensen


Office: Science Laboratory Building – SLB 338 and remote

Vanessa Jensen is an undergraduate student at Illinois State University majoring in animal science and minoring in environmental sciences.  She is also the Vice President of Black Girl Code. Vanessa joined the lab in January 2021.

Vanessa is contributing to the research in our lab by researching how to estimate the age of deer mice based on their weight. Approximate age information will be helpful for identifying parent-offspring relationships and thus for measuring reproductive success. The resulting pedigree will also be used to estimate inbreeding.

Hailey Burnett


Office: Science Laboratory Building – SLB 338

Hailey is an undergraduate majoring in conservation biology and environmental systems science and sustainability. She is the president of the Biological Sciences Student Assocation. Outside of school, Hailey enjoy running, reading, and yoga!

Hailey participated in field work in the summer of 2022 to collect data on the house wren population of the Mackinaw Study Area. In the lab starting in September 2022, Hailey will test microsatellite markers to conduct parentage assignments and pedigree reconstruction of the house wren population. These pedigrees will be useful in studying the evolution of extra pair paternity and other traits in house wrens.


Mary Schiltz


Office: remote

Mary Schiltz is an undergraduate at Illinois State University majoring in conservation biology. She is an ecological restoration volunteer in St. Charles, Illinois, and a member of ISU’s wildlife conservation club. Mary worked in the lab from October 2020 to April 2021.

Mary contributed to research in our lab by organizing deer mouse trapping data collected in the field. Analyzing these data will provide information about the preferred habitats and times of activity of the deer mice being studied. This information will be used to improve trapping success by pinpointing the best locations and timing for trapping mice.

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