Claire Sanderson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Wildlife Disease and Conservation

Research Summary:

Claire Sanderson joined Dr. Alexander’s lab in September 2011 as a postdoctoral research fellow. She earned her PhD in Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney. Her work focused on the intersection of infectious disease, genomics, and immune gene diversity in the study of marsupials and monotremes. She has worked on diverse host-pathogen systems from DFTD in the Tasmanian devil to Mucormycosis in the platypus. Following her PhD, she moved to South Africa where she was a senior research assistant for the University of Zurich studying the behavioural ecology of slender mongooses and meerkats in the Kalahari Desert.

Her current research in Dr. Alexander's lab is directed at exploring behavior influences on host-pathogen interactions using the banded mongoose and the emergence of Mycobacterium mungi, a novel strain of tuberculosis. Dr. Sanderson also studies the role of Allee effects in social carnivore populations, the role of group size on functional gene diversity in African wild dogs and is currently working on Dr. Alexander’s NSF-funded project exploring the transmission dynamics of microorganisms between human and wildlife populations, and how this influences water quality in the Chobe region of Botswana.Her research interests broadly encompass behavioural ecology, disease ecology, conservation biology and population genetics. 


John Tyler Fox

PhD Student, Wildlife Conservation

Research Summary:

John Tyler Fox joined Dr. Alexander’s lab in fall 2012 to begin his Ph.D. researching water quality and health in Botswana. He earned his B.A. in Biology from the University of Maine at Farmington, with a research focus on potential correlates between lichen diversity and human health in Maine, and his M.S. in Biology from the University of Central Arkansas, investigating the impacts of agricultural chemicals on cave stream water quality in a large karst watershed in southeastern Missouri. Most recently, Tyler has been part of a multi-disciplinary team of researchers at Michigan State University, modeling long-term groundwater sustainability in relation to coupled landscape, atmospheric and socioeconomic systems (CLASS) in the High Plains Aquifer region of the United States.

Tyler has worked with government and non-profit organizations in the U.S. and Eastern Europe on a number of biodiversity and habitat conservation, water quality, and resource sustainability projects. Tyler’s research focuses primarily on the nexus of human-landscape interactions in relation to environmental health, plant and animal biodiversity, and limited natural resource availability. He is particularly interested in how human behavior and cultural practices, in combination with environmental stochasticity, impact water quality and use, and human, animal, and environmental health.


Kuruthumu Mwamende

PhD Student, Wildlife Conservation

Research Summary:

My research at Virginia Tech will focus on evaluating foraging behavior and habitat use of Sanje mangabey (Cercocebus sanjei) and yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) to identify effects of forest fragmentation and habitat change on foraging behavior, gastrointestinal parasite loads, maize (Zea mays ) raiding by these species, and the impact on food security. I am particularly interested in understanding the impacts of food resource abundance and habitat fragmentation on dynamics of foraging behavior and parasite prevalence to and evaluate feeding strategies that shape the species use of their habitat. The project will document maize damage and raiding; crop damage by primates in Tanzania has proved to exceed the damage by elephants and insects, thus threatening human food security. Further, as food security is increasingly becoming a global issue linked to development, environment and trade, and highly affected by current changes in the climate, the project will also investigate the links between crop production, damage by wildlife and food security by assessing ‘on farm’ and ‘on storage’ maize damage by baboons and mangabeys, their impacts on production and food security, and evaluate climate change adaptations mechanisms in the areas. The study will be conducted in the nearby Parks of Udzungwa and Mikumi in Tanzania. I will use a combination of direct observations of animals to record their use of the habitat and surrounding farms and noninvasive fecal sampling to identify parasite infestations and influences of raiding on parasite loads. Social network analyses will be applied to investigate how social contact may influence parasite transmission or antibiotic resistance for both species among ‘raiding and non raiding groups and social survey interviews will be done to learn about adaptation mechanisms. The projects aims to contribute to the overall goal of the USAID ‘Feed the future’ program which is under the umbrella of Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI)

Research & Extension Interests

Plant-animal interactions and wildlife damage issues.

Physiological and behavioral ecology of threatened and endangered species.

Spatial structure and social organization of primates especially mangabeys & baboons

Applications of Geographic Information Systems for biodiversity research &conservation

Human-wildlife socio-economic dimensions interactions in conservation.

Climate change impacts on rangeland and forest biodiversity.


Stephanie Joos-Vandewalle

Field Project Manager – Botswana Field Site

Stephanie Joos-Vandewalle joined Dr Alexander's Research Group in 2015 as a Field Research Manager. She has completed a BSc (Honours) in Environment, Ecology, and Conservation and an MPhil in Environment, Society and Sustainability. Her Master’s thesis, which investigated natural resource use along the rural-urban continuum, was completed in collaboration with Dr. Alexander, Virginia Tech and CARACAL. She has also volunteered for CARACAL in the past, assisting Dr. Alexander with a range of field projects. Stephanie is keenly interested in community and environmental sustainability. Her current work includes the management of field projects being conducted in northern Botswana under Dr. Alexander’s program. Stephanie will be coordinating the Alexander research program, particularly the human/environment interactions, community livelihoods, and conservation elements of this work. She will also facilitate undergraduate and graduate student activities at the field site.


Warwick Hendry

Educational and outreach program coordinator – Botswana Field Site

Warwick Hendry joined Dr Alexander's Research Group in 2015 as a Educational and Community Outreach Coordinator. He earned his Masters in Literature and Modernity at the University of Cape Town, where he has been teaching since 2012. He has taught English as a second language in Northern India, and joined the undergraduate teaching staff at the University of the Western Cape in 2014. He is an avid writer, blogger and journalist, passionate about teaching and community engagement. His work includes coordinating the Virginia Tech/CARACAL educational and outreach program - an environmental education operation focused on several junior schools in and around Kasane in Northern Botswana. These programs are designed to introduce and promote ideas of conservation and environmental ethics and sustainability in the next generation of Botswana. He will also  assist in producing quality media content that profiles the group's many research and outreach activities and programs in order to raise the profile and visibility of the team’s diverse contributions in this region of Africa. These efforts will facilitate a higher level of community engagement and investment (both local and international), bridging the gap between the highly specialized and rarefied nature of the group's research projects - conceptually and linguistically - and the comparatively lower register of the local and international media space.

Picture of Facilities Management

Sean Hill

Field Researcher and Facilities Management Botswana Field Site

My interest is focused on understanding connections between people, animals and the ecosystem and  implications to environmental sustainability and public health. A wise man once said, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better”. Our natural surroundings are the most fascinating and complex systems on earth, about which we understand only a small fraction. Everything is connected so intricately that if one could visualise the natural world as an object, it would look something like a spider web, each strand is connected either directly or indirectly to the next. If one strand were to break the integrity of the web will be compromised thus weakening the structure as a whole. Humans tend to forget that we are part of this web and our actions effect these connections both positively and negatively, which in turn will affect us. The more we understand the environment, its complexity and ourselves in it the more rigid and effective the web becomes and ultimately the survival of our planet in its current state will be solidified. The Alexander research program conducted in collaboration with  CARACAL is helping us understand these wonderful connections and the way our natural world works holistically. It is a great privilege to be involved with such fascinating research. The wise man, in case you were wondering, was none other than Elbert Einstein.