Hurlbert Lab

Macroecology and Biodiversity

"Ecological patterns, about which we construct theories, are only interesting if they are repeated. They may be repeated in space or in time, and they may be repeated from species to species. A pattern which has all of these kinds of repetition is of special interest because of its generality..."

--Robert MacArthur, 1968


Graduate Students

I do not expect to accept any new graduate students for the Fall of 2023. That said, if you are interested in joining the lab, send me an email with a description of your general research interests and ideas for potential projects. While I don't expect my graduate students to necessarily work on existing lab projects or with any particular taxonomic group, I do expect their interests to share significant conceptual overlap with my own. I am also looking to see that you have an understanding of some of the important, unanswered questions in ecology and that you can conceive of novel approaches for getting at those questions. Research in the lab is currently focused along four related lines.

  • Avian macroecology using big data, exploring how environmental constraints shape patterns of distribution, diversity, and migration timing at continental to global extents.
  • Testing for large-scale causes and consequences of phenological mismatch in birds by uniting bird data with our own Caterpillars Count! citizen science project.
  • Empirically testing the generality and implications of a new biodiversity framework that uses community time series to identify core and transient species in ecological assemblages across a wide range of taxonomic groups (birds, plants, insects, fish, plankton, etc).
  • Developing and exploring eco-evolutionary simulation models of diversification across the latitudinal gradient, and using these models to perform stronger tests of existing biodiversity theory.

The ideal candidate has previous research experience, demonstrated writing ability, and some programming experience (e.g., R, Matlab, or Python). Students will ideally be supported on some combination of teaching and research assistantships contingent on lab funding. Applicants with strong research and academic records may be considered for a University fellowship, and of course you should already be considering an application for a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship!

The deadline for application materials submitted to the graduate school is December 14, 2021. Information on applying is available here. However, prospective students should contact me well in advance of applying to discuss research interests and relevant qualifications. In your contact email, please describe your GPA, GRE scores (optional!), previous research experience, current research interests, and how those interests relate to the Hurlbert Lab.

Graduate Mentoring Philosophy

By undertaking a graduate program in Biology, I assume your goal is to learn how to become an independent scientist, regardless of your ultimate career path. As a mentor my job is to help you achieve that goal. Specifically, I view my responsibilities as:

  • Fostering a positive learning environment in which all lab members are treated with respect and embrace the department's policy on diversity and inclusion;
  • Exposing you to foundational ideas and concepts in the field, and teaching you how to develop and test your own ideas that will advance our discipline;
  • Developing your quantitative toolkit for working with and analyzing data;
  • Improving your ability to communicate your science through oral presentations and written manuscripts;
  • Meeting regularly (weekly during the academic year) to provide a sounding board for your ideas and to ensure that you are making progress;
  • Helping you explore and strategize for suitable career paths;
  • Being supportive of your personal and professional growth in whatever ways I can.

In return, I view your responsibilities as:

  • Treating all lab members with kindness and respect as alluded to above;
  • Being intellectually curious, familiarizing yourself with and staying current with the scientific literature in your field;
  • Developing a plan, with help from me, for how to advance your research;
  • Working hard--focus on being efficient rather than on long hours (and this takes practice!);
  • Maintaining a balance with other interests and demands in your life;
  • Being a good lab mate--providing assistance and feedback to others, and helping to mentor those at earlier career stages;
  • Learning to solve problems independently, but also knowing when to ask for help;
  • Publishing your research in peer-reviewed journals.

Undergraduate Students

We welcome undergraduates who are looking to gain research experience by volunteering, for credit (e.g., BIOL 395 or ENEC 395), or through workstudy positions. Please contact me by email and describe any relevant coursework or experience, and explain why you are interested in working in this lab.


Prospective postdocs are encouraged to contact me by email to discuss research interests and potential funding opportunities. Also please note the two fellowship opportunities offered by UNC to see if you qualify:

Copyright © 2020 (Allen Hurlbert).