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Juan Z

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at University of North Carolina Wilmington


Ornithology, evolution, ecology, biology, physiology, climate change


I am a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and I study evolution, physiology, and ecology. More specifically, I study these subjects in the context of the thermal biology of birds. My passion for avian biology began when I volunteered at the local bird rescue in my home town. There, I was introduced to the vast diversity of avian biology, and I got to work directly with everything from small and delicate songbirds to large and hardy waterbirds. Later on in college, I began researching different aspects of birds' biology. During my undergraduate studies I researched the migratory behavior of Seaside Sparrows, an elusive bird that inhabits the salt marshes of the east and gulf coasts of North America. Now, my dissertation research focuses on the methods that birds use to regulate body temperature, a task that is becoming increasingly difficult as temperatures rise and heat waves become increasingly common. These are challenges faced not only by birds, but by all organisms inhabiting thermally challenging environments. I look forward to working on projects with birds as well as other organisms that face the ever-present threats of climate change and human expansion. In addition to learning about thermal biology, I am also passionate about teaching. During my studies, I have worked extensively as a tutor, and I have worked in multiple outreach events in collaboration with my lab and the university. As both an educator and as a student, I firmly believe that learning is a two way street. I am therefore excited not only for what I may teach you, but for what you may teach me. I look forward to learning about all the exciting work that students are conducting, and I am thrilled to share my passion for research and science.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

The Canvas and Paint Brush of Natural Selection: Traits and Pressures

The traits of an organism are the characteristics that shape their biology, while evolutionary pressures are the environmental challenges that have shaped these traits over time. In this project the student would select an organism and then explore the sources of evolutionary pressure that have shaped that organism's traits. The goal of the project is to build a comprehensive understanding of how evolution takes place by exploring the student's species of interest. We will dive into the biology specific to the species of interest, all while framing this exploration in the context of broader evolutionary concepts. Broader Evolutionary Concepts: - Species and their formation - Natural selection - Sources of pressure - Evolution: past, present, and future

Coding skills

R statistical software

Languages I know


Teaching experience

I worked as a tutor for two years in Wilmington North Carolina, where I taught math and science to students ranging from middle school to early undergraduate college. I also taught test prep classes for ACT while working as a tutor. Additionally, I have mentored 2 Directed Independent Study (DIS) students, one Honors Thesis student, and 3 lab technicians who have conducted studies on behavior, thermoregulation, and thermal imaging.


Work experience

Mind Over Math (2018 - 2020)
Futuros En STEM (2023 - Current)


University of North Carolina Wilmington
BS Bachelor of Science
Concentration in Terrestrial Conservation
University of North Carolina Wilmington
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Integrative, Comparative, and Marine Biology

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