Vanessa Weinberger

From Santa Fe Institute Events Wiki

Hi everyone!

I graduated November 2008 in Biology at Universidad Simón Bolívar (USB), Venezuela. I obtained my degree and started the Masters program at USB. By means of many different personal, academical (and political) reasons, I decided to search for PhD Programs outside my residency Country while studying the master. I was accepted at two different PhD programs in ecology: at PUC in Chile with Dr. Pablo Marquet and at Texas A&M in USA with Dr. Masami Fujiwara. After A LOT of thought, I decided to choose the latter option, and will be starting my PhD at Texas A&M this August 2010.

Maximal Expression of my spirit as a Biologist


Main Academical Interests

I am fascinated with nature and am really concern about how it is being impacted by anthropogenic development. I am interested in understanding the patterns and processes driving both the dynamics and the maintenance of diversity in natural communities. In particular, I would like to use approaches framed within complex systems theory to unravel what are the main general processes that explain the invariant biodiversity distribution patterns described for different scales. I believe that by contributing to this knowledge base will give important insights in the understanding of how anthropogenic processes affect ecosystems.

I trained in experimental ecology and experimental design during my undergraduate work. My undergraduate thesis project was about the ecology and genetics of two snails morphs at an artificial rocky shore: [in press:[1]]. However fruitful this experience was, I wanted to learn more about the mechanisms structuring communities, and wanted to taeckle this area with theoretical and simulation approaches (although I LOVE the field, I became aware of the many limitations that we have there to achieve proper conclusions: I prefer to search for processes through theory, and then, if possible, I would go to the field and test them).

I am particular interest in studying the properties of complex Food Webs (and how they could be altered by anthropogenic perturbation). However, the more I read about theoretical community ecology, the more different interesting areas I find to study and am open to any kind of project.


I gained a lot of expertise in statistics through my whole bachelor degree. As I feel particulary comfort learning it, I have always been trying to be involved in project that apply it: currently, I am working with the [Nagisa Project:[2]] at USB on a paper that describes the different scales at which the variability of intertidal gastropod assemblages appear and the different environmental drivers that explain. This project involve a lot of multivariate statistics, as is common in community ecology.

I learned to program in the master degree, and have been trying to improve it ever since. My first computer project dealt with Nowak's ideas in evolutionary dynamics on graphs [Liebermann et al, 05:[3]], where I analyzed the probability and time for fixation of a mutant allele (of different fitnesses) in two different scale-free network topologies and under two different update rules. Based on this experience, I proposed that this type of network-interaction topology could be seen at the intertidal communities and wanted to test if the allele fixation dynamic there has also an effect of the topology. However, this project is currently in "stand by".

Finally, I am also currently working as a research assistant of Dr. Diego Rodriguez, at the Theoretical Community Laboratory. There, I learn how to model time series of incidence data to unravel the dynamics of malaria in northern Venezuela. Here, I learned how to program in Matlab, and this is the job that has taught me the most of mathematical models in ecology: it introduced me to the analysis of dynamical systems.

I think my main expertise is that I have been taught to think of a particular problem or question and then to look for the proper mathematical tool (or experiment) to unravel it, not the other way around. Therefore, I am always aware of the importance of the question and applicability of the model.

Hope to Learn in the CSSS

almost everything!! It is really difficult to find biologist interested in the theoretical area here in Venezuela, and it always help A LOT to just chat with people that are capable of integrating knowlegde in different areas. Actually, I think this experience will certainly expand my knowledge, understand more about theoretical and mathematical tools and help me decide which specific topic to taeckle through my graduate studies. I cannot think of a better way to start my doctorate!

Any Project?

I think I am just oppened to assist at any biological problem that appears in the course...I have had some little projects in mind during the master degree (I could propose the one about the interaction network at the intertidal marine system, or another one inspired in the work of Blasius et al, 1999...but we could talk about them later...

Side Interest and Expectations

I am an outdoor person: I love hiking and camping and outdoor sports!

I love the sea (I dive, and tried to do surfing, kayak and windsurf) and since 2 years ago switch to mountain outdoors activities: I am in pretty good shape for long walks and I have been climbing for a little more than a year from now, and am starting to lead 5.9-5.10a sport routes.

I will love to go around Santa Fe to climb, hike or camp, as I already "google" the place and is AMAZING!! would love to have company to join!!!