John Stella, Ph.D.

John StellaJohn Stella

Associate Professor

Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
One Forestry Drive, Syracuse, NY 13210
Phone: 315-470-4902

Curriculum vitae (PDF)

Department of FNRM homepage

Student Bios

Grad students:

Alex Kua

Alex Kua joined the Stella Lab (and co-advised by Dr. John Farrell) in 2017 after graduating from the Ohio State University with a major in Evolution and Ecology and a minor in Classics. Alex completed an undergraduate honors research thesis on "Water warming effects on the behavior of the African cichlid, Julidochromis ornatus" at the Ludsin Lab and Hamilton Lab. Prior to starting his graduate studies at SUNY-ESF, Alex worked at the Aquatic Ecology Laboratory as the head technician for a project working on the quantification of cyanotoxin levels in fish from Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys. For his Masters research, Alex is studying the effects of water regulation changes on aquatic wetland community of the St. Lawrence River. The main objectives of the study will focus on the hydrologic fluctuation effects on muskrat occupancy and the subsequent interactive effects of muskrat disturbances on the aquatic community. This project is part of a long-term ecosystem monitoring project by the Farrell Lab at ESF's Thousand Islands Biological Station (TIBS). To contact Alex email

Lissa Pelletier


Melissa Rhode

I am a freshwater scientist at The Nature Conservancy, and my PhD research is focused on sustainability thresholds for groundwater dependent ecosystems. For more info, you can see my blog, Reflections on Water.

Mike Rosenthal

Mike Rosenthal graduated from Cornell University in 2016 with a B.S. in Natural Resources. Prior to ESF, his experience with Mianus River Gorge Preserve, Arnot Teaching & Research Forest, and Gotham Coyote Project has centered on coyotes, hardwood forestry, maple syrup production, deer mitigation and management, and beech tree takeover of regenerating forests. Mike's goal for his Masters research at ESF is to combine his interests in forest ecology and wildlife conservation by studying the community-level interactions between wildlife and habitat. His research examines the effects of beaver foraging activities upon small rodent, weasel, shrew and bat biodiversity and habitat selection in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

Jared Williams


Rachel Zevin

Rachel Zevin joined the Stella lab in the summer of 2017 after graduating from the University of Vermont with a major in Natural Resource Ecology and minor in Geospatial Technologies. Rachel completed an undergraduate research thesis on "Effect of wind disturbance intensity on Carabidae assemblages" in UVM's Forest Ecosystem Health lab. Before coming to ESF, Rachel worked as a GIS technician for the State of Vermont's Agency of Agriculture and the New England Division of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. For her Masters research at ESF,  Rachel is developing geospatial models to predict areas well-suited for beaver occupancy in the Adirondack Mountains as well as tradeoffs between positive impacts of beaver disturbance, such as enhanced biodiversity and biogeochemical cycling, versus negative impacts to human infrastructure and forest health. This will be done using a combination of field data, collected by Rachel and other past and present members of the Stella Lab, and geospatial data products. Concurrently, Rachel is also pursuing a Masters in Public Administration through a joint program between ESF and Syracuse University. To contact Rachel email


Mike Mahoney (B.S. in Forest Ecosystem Science, Fall 2018) is an undergraduate student in the Stella Lab working on his honors thesis. He is interested in the larger role beavers play within forest ecosystems, both from an ecological and a natural resources management perspective. He is studying how beaver foraging impacts forest health, including aspects of both forest structure and non-monetary values such as aesthetics and tree architecture.

Giselle Schreiber (B.S. in Environmental Science major with Marine Science minor, Spring 2018) completed her senior capstone project on the influence of several abiotic factors (temperature, precipitation, sediment depth, etc.) on the growth rate of Populus fremontii  (Fremont cottonwood)a keystone riparian tree species in the Sacramento River Valley of California. She was raised in Miami, Florida and has experience working with freshwater and marine fish and invertebrates.

Will Fernandez (B.S. in Environmental Science major, Spring 2018) completed his senior capstone project on the impacts of beaver on riparian forest communities surrounding lakes at the Huntington Wildlife Forest in the central Adirondacks.

Margaret (“Maisie”) Baronian (B.S. in Environmental Science major with Mathematics minor, Spring 2018) focused her senior capstone project on  how seasona precipitation events impact instream conductivity levels in an urban stream. Conductivity concentrations in streamwater can be used as an indicator for road salt, which is widely applied in the region as a de-icer in winter. She used the statistical software R to model hydrologic conditions in Meadowbrook Creek in Syracuse, NY, using data collected from automated stream gauges.

Former Members of the Stella Lab

Andrea Irons

M.S. 2016, Environmental Science (Water and Wetland Resource Studies)

Research Interests: I am studying riparian forest dynamics along California's Sacramento River. I love both forests and rivers, and am interested in how they affect one another. I hope to analyze the relationship between flow regimes and tree recruitment and succession, particularly focusing on the Fremont cottonwoods native to the area. Utilizing GIS, hundreds of tree cores, and sediment data, I hope to draw a picture of how the riparian forest has changed in relation to management of the Sacramento River over time.

Li Kui

Ph.D. 2015, Environmental Science (Water and Wetland Resource Studies)

I am currently a Research Specialist at UC Santa Barbara. For my PhD, I studied the reciprocal influences between river disturbance regimes (flooding and sediment transport) and riparian tree populations. My research is a part of a three-university cooperative project funded by NSF: Quantifying feedbacks between fluvial morphodynamics and pioneer riparian vegetation in sand-bed rivers (PROJECT LINK). My work integrates full scale flume studies at the Outdoor Stream Lab at the University of Minnesota (St. Anthony Falls Laboratory), field studies on the Bill Williams River in Arizona, and geospatial analysis of vegetation and geomorphic change over time.

Carissa Alza

M.S., Graduated 2014, Environmental Forest Biology (Conservation Biology); Co-advisor Stacy McNulty

I am currently a Research Coordinator at The Nature Conservancy of Pennsylvania. My Masters research examined how avian species richness, composition, and guild diversity vary between beaver-impacted and non-impacted riparian zones within the central Adirondack Mountains. I am also examining how avian community structure changes as beaver ponds undergo successional changes. I will also be looking at vegetative structure and habitat variables to make links between beaver impacts and witnessed avian usage.

Stefan Karkuff

M.S., Graduated 2014, Environmental Forest Biology (Conservation Biology); Co-advisor Kim Schulz

I am currently a habitat biologist at Pheasants Forever in Central Pennsylvania. My Masters research focused on understanding the nutrient benefits of allochthonous leaf litter in Northeastern US vernal pool ecosystems. My goal was to quantify the nutritional value of various leaf species using physical, chemical, and biological indicators. These unique microecosystems are typically found in heavily shaded forests, and therefore lack the primary production benefits of most larger wetlands. Thus, this project will contribute significantly to our understanding of the controlling influence of stand composition and structure on forest wetlands. My results have direct relevance to agencies engaged in vernal pool creation and wetland mitigation.

Tyler Hall

M.P. S., Graduated 2013, Natural Resources Management

Jess RiddleJess Riddle

Dendroecology Lab Manager

Research Interests: I am studying the climate-growth relationships of eastern redcedar and its close relative common juniper. The species grow together at my study sites where redcedar approaches its northern range limit and common juniper approaches its southern range limit. In general, I am interested in anything that lives in forests and doesn't run away from me: trees, herbaceous plants, lichens, and other fungi are all fair game. Currently I am working on influences of physical river processes on the population structure of Fremont cottonwood, a dominant riparian tree along the Sacramento River, California PROJECT LINK as well as dendroecology and stable isotope indicators of of riparian tree health in semi-arid ecosystems PROJECT LINK.

Elizabeth Harper, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Harper

Post-doctoral Research Fellow, 2008-2010

Elizabeth is now a Lecturer at Paul Smith's College.

Previous Degrees: Middlebury College B.A. in Biology;
University of Missouri - Columbia, Ph.D. in Biological Sciences

Research Interests: I am developing patch-based population models for Fremont cottonwood stands on the Sacramento River in California's Central Valley. The models will be used to predict the effects of climate change and changes in flow regime on the riparian ecosystem. PROJECT LINK

Sara Scanga, Ph.D.

Sara Scanga

Post-doctoral Research Fellow, 2009-2010

Sara is now an Assistant Professor in Biology at Utica College.

Previous Degrees: Drew Univerisity, Madison, NJ, B.A. in Biology; SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Ph.D. in Ecology

Research Interests: I am broadly interested in plant and wetland ecology. My dissertation research (Dr. Don Leopold, major professor, SUNY-ESF) concerns the population ecology and conservation of the rare wetland plant Trollius laxus, which grows in fens in the northeastern US. In the Stella Lab I examined riparian tree seedling establishment patterns along aridland rivers. PROJECT LINK

Alex Fremier, Ph.D.Alex Fremier

Post-Doc, 2008

Alex is now an Assistant Professor in the School of the Environment at Washington State University

Previous Degrees: University of California, Davis, Ph.D. in Ecology; Geography;
Principia College, Elsah, IL, B.S. in Environmental Science & Mathematics

Research Interests: Riparian Ecology and River Restoration; Landscape Ecology of Large Rivers; Semi Arid River Systems; Watershed Scale Dynamics of Large Woody Debris; Modeling of Landscape Genetics; Geographic Information Systems; EcoAgriculture. PROJECT LINK

Laura Schifman

Laura Schifman

M.S., Graduated 2010

Laura is now in the Ph.D. program in Geociences at University of Rhode Island.

Previous Degree: Union College, B.S. in Biology

M.S. Thesis Title: Water stress response and plant survival in four shrub willow varieties across three sites with varying soil substrates in Central New York.

Research Interests: My research used stable isotopes to study the ecophysiological functioning of willows used in biomass crops and phytoremediation. PROJECT LINK

Anna Harrison


M.S., Graduated 2011

Anna now manages a research laboratory at the University of Michgan

Previous Degree: University of Michigan, B.S. in Biology

M.S. Thesis Title: Landscape influences on site occupancy by beaver and resultant foraging impacts on forest compositon and structure (Adirondack Mountans, NY, USA)

Research Interests:My research integrated a 30-year beaver occupancy dataset at Huntington Forest in the Central Adirondacks with extensive field work and geospatial analyses to quantifythe forest impacts associated with varying degrees of beaver occupancy. As part of this, I analyzed relationships between beaver occupancy and landscape topography, the quantity and quality of woody plant forage, and dam site mainenance costs. PROJECT LINK

Kacie Gehl

Kacie Gehl

M.S., Graduated 2010

Kacie is now a community watershed and environmental educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Syracuse, NY.

Previous Degree: State University of New York, Binghamton, B.S. in Biology

M.S. Thesis Title: Multi-scale analysis of synoptic streamwater chemistry and seasonal nutrient limitation in a mixed-use catchment (Onondaga Creek, NY)

Research Interests: I study the biogeochemistry and nutrient stoichiometry of the Onondaga Creek watershed in Syracuse, NY. I am interested in how water chemistry varies throughout a network with land-use and natural features such as tributary confluences, salt springs, and mudboils. I am analyzing gradients in nutrient loading and limitations for in-stream production at different catchment scales. My goal is to understand the most relevant perspective for evaluating stream physio-chemical gradients in a catchment with diverse land uses (forest, agriculture, urban) and cumulative impacts to water quality. PROJECT LINK

Cheryl Bondi

Ph.D. student

Previous Degrees: Salem State College, Massachusetts, B.S. in Biology. Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA, M.A. in Biology

Research Interests:My dissertation research focuses on the role of Calcium in northern hardwood forest floor ecology. I am studying community structure and trophic interactions between snails, arthropods and terrestrial salamanders in forests with varying levels of available Calcium in the organic soil horizon. In a landscape that has undergone historically high levels of acid deposition, this research will provide insight into the effects that Calcium leaching may have on the leaf litter fauna and bottom up processes in northeastern forests.

Laura Johnstone

M.P.S. student, Forest and Natural Resources Management (Watershed Management and Forest Hydrology)

Previous Degree: University of St. Andrews (Scotland), B.S. in Environmental Geoscience

Career Interests: Hydrogeology and groundwater management.

James Katz

M.P.S. student, Environmental Science (Water and Wetland Resource Studies)

Previous Degree: State University of New York, Cortland, B.S. in Biology

Career Interests: Watershed, stream and wetlands management.

Tyler TalucciTyler Talucci

M.P.S., Graduated 2010

Career Interests: I am interested in the dynamics and control of invasive species, particularly non-native aquatic macrophytes in lakes and rivers.

Johanna Duffy

Johanna Duffy

M.P.S., Graduated 2009

Career Interests: My interests are associated with wetland resources and the diversity and interactions of animal and plant species that are found within these complex ecosystems. I enjoy ecological sampling and wetland monitoring, especially if these actions relate to wetland protection issues and/or state and federal environmental regulations. My capstone seminar will focus on ecological sampling and wetland monitoring at landfill sites.

Rachel Ribaudo

M.S., Graduated 2009 (Co-major professor Laura K. Lautz, Syracuse University)

Rachel is now working for EA Engineering, Science and Technology in Syracuse, NY.

Previous Degree: University of Evansville, B.S. in Environmental Science

M.S. Thesis Title: Heat and chemical tracing of groundwater discharge to Ninemile Creek, New York

Lisa Kurian

M.S., Graduated 2009 (Co-major professor Laura K. Lautz, Syracuse University)

Lisa is now working for the US Forest Service in the Willamette National Forest in Oregon.

Previous Degree: Slippery Rock University, BA in Environmental Geoscience

M.S. Thesis Title: Winter hydrology and nitrogen export from a forested watershed of the Adirondack Mountains