Meet the Team
At CREW, researchers work hard every day using science to learn and applying knowledge to save a future for wildlife.
“At CREW, we remain optimistic that science will withstand the test of our current societal shifts and will prevail to guide decisions on conservation, health, and environmental policies vital to the long-term existence of Earth’s amazing diversity of life.”
Dr. Roth earned both her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Animal Science at the University of California, Davis. She then was awarded a Board of Regents Fellowship at Louisiana State University, where she earned her Ph.D. in Animal Reproductive Physiology with a minor in Immunology. She conducted her post-doctoral training at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. before accepting the position of Director of the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in October 1996. Dr. Roth has conducted research with species ranging from toads to rhinos, but is most renowned for her scientific breakthroughs that led to the success in breeding Sumatran rhinos at both the Cincinnati Zoo and the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Indonesia.
Dr. Roth has served on the board of the International Rhino Foundation since 2002 and has published over 175 scientific papers and abstracts. She was the 2004 recipient of a Chevron Texaco Conservation Award, “Honoring Our Environmental Heroes” for her Sumatran Rhino work. She is also the subject of an award-winning young people’s book, Emi and the Rhino Scientist, and in 2010 was named a YWCA Career Woman of Achievement in Cincinnati, OH.
“Small wild cat species, such as ocelots and Pallas’ cats, historically haven’t received the same level of conservation and science attention as the larger cats, but our research at CREW is helping to correct that knowledge deficit. CREW’s science is now having a meaningful impact on our capacity to conserve many of these species within zoos but also increasingly in the wild.”
Dr. Swanson’s educational background includes a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Texas, a D.V.M. from Texas A&M University and a Ph.D. in Animal Science from Louisiana State University. Following graduate school, Dr. Swanson worked for five years at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park before beginning his employment at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1997. Over the past three decades, his research efforts have focused primarily on investigating the reproductive biology of domestic cats and endangered small-sized wild cat species to improve their breeding management and conservation, as well as evaluating non-surgical approaches to feral cat sterilization. His studies, conducted in the United States and 18 foreign countries, have involved research with over 30 felid species.
Dr. Swanson served for 10 years as Co-Chair of the Felid Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), helping to oversee population management programs for the 17 wild cat species maintained in ~230 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums. He currently serves as the Coordinator of the AZA’s Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP), reproductive advisor to the Felid TAG, and Ocelot, Fishing Cat, and Pallas’ Cat SSPs, and scientific advisor to the AZA’s Reproductive Management Center and the Michelson Found Animals Foundation.
“The challenge of conserving the world’s plant diversity is daunting, but one that we can face by combining science and collaboration to multiply knowledge and facilitate plant conservation on a global scale.”
Dr. Pence earned her B.S. in Biology (botany) at Mount Holyoke College and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Biology (plant developmental physiology). She then did 2 years of post-doctoral training in the Horticulture Department at Purdue University studying embryogenesis in cacao and another year in the Botany Department at the University of Florida studying in vitro nitrogen fixation. She then worked as a Senior Research Associate in Biology at the University of Cincinnati studying plant hormonal effects in vitro before accepting the position of Director of Plant Research at the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in 1987.
Dr. Pence has developed in vitro propagation protocols for several dozen endangered plant species and studied cryopreservation in seeds, embryos, gametophytes, pollen, spores, and shoot tips of numerous species. She is also interested in developmental abnormalities in vitro related to plant adaptations and how to overcome them. Dr. Pence currently serves on the Board of the Lloyd Library and Museum and has published over 188 scientific papers, book chapters, and abstracts. She has been the recipient of the Fellow Award from the Society for In Vitro Biology, and conservation awards from the Center for Plant Conservation, The Garden Club of America, and the Association of Zoological Horticulture.
“I’m fortunate to have the unique opportunity to help increase our understanding of species threatened with extinction and to develop methods to preserve and expand the genetic diversity of those species. Using my scientific training in conjunction with my commitment to and passion for helping wildlife, I plan to integrate innovative scientific approaches to non-invasively monitor and learn about polar bear physiology and reproduction at the molecular, whole animal, and population levels.”
Erin Curry, Ph.D., is a staff scientist at the Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. Originally from Philadelphia, Dr. Curry earned her B.S. degree in Animal Science from the University of Delaware in 2003, with minors in Wildlife Conservation and Psychology. After working as a veterinary technician, she went on to graduate school at Clemson University in South Carolina, where she earned her M.S. (2007) and Ph.D. (2010) in Animal & Veterinary Sciences, with concentrations in reproductive physiology and molecular biology. Her graduate research involved the analysis of sex determination in cattle and the identification and characterization of microRNAs in pig gametes and embryos.
Dr. Curry joined CREW as a Post-doctoral Fellow in January 2011 and began working with polar bears, an iconic species for climate change due to their dependence on sea ice for survival and reproduction. In addition to developing novel methods for non-invasively monitoring reproductive activity in polar bears, in 2012, Dr. Curry led a CREW team in performing the first-ever artificial insemination procedure in a polar bear. Dr. Curry was hired as a staff Reproductive Physiologist in March 2014 and she currently oversees CREW’s Polar Bear Signature Project®.
“As a veterinarian, I am part of a profession whose primary responsibility is the health and well-being of animals. That responsibility extends past pets and livestock to wildlife species. Research in reproductive sciences is vital to conservation biology because, for many endangered species, we lack a basic understanding of their reproductive physiology. At CREW, we use a systematic research strategy to improve our understanding of each felid’s unique reproductive biology and develop assisted reproductive technologies to serve as a population management tool to conserve these iconic animals.”
Dr. Vansandt completed her undergraduate requirements at the University of Missouri-Columbia, double majoring in Animal Sciences and Biology. She spent a semester in Costa Rica studying sustainable agriculture before beginning veterinary school. Lindsey graduated from the University of Missouri’s School of Veterinary Medicine in 2008. Upon completion of veterinary school, Lindsey spent a year at the Saint Louis Zoo performing a research internship and gained clinical experience by working at an emergency veterinary clinic. She then obtained a Ph.D. in Animal Sciences at the University of Maryland. Her dissertation research was in collaboration with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, studying spermatogonial stem cells and their applications in wildlife conservation as an alternative source for genetic preservation of rare and endangered felids.
Lindsey joined CREW in the fall of 2014 as a post-doctoral scientist. Her research focuses on two main areas: (1) applying assisted reproductive technologies for the conservation and propagation of wild felids, and (2) improving the health and welfare of free-roaming and sheltered cats. During Lindsey’s tenure at CREW, she produced the first sand cat kittens and jaguar cub ever born from artificial insemination. Lindsey was promoted to her current position of Theriogenologist in 2018, and she continues to work on the Imperiled Cat Signature Project.
Dr. Rispoli is a post-doctoral scientist in CREW’s Animal Division. She obtained an appreciation for molecular biology and research while studying at University of California Davis for her B.S. in Animal Science. Afterwards she pursued her doctorate in Reproductive Physiology at the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory located at Colorado State University. During her time in Colorado, Dr. Rispoli investigated different aspects of neuroendocrinology in sheep. Subsequently, Dr. Rispoli joined the Department of Animal Science at University of Tennessee, first as a post-doctoral fellow and then as a research assistant professor. She focused on researching molecular mechanisms fundamental to fertility, particularly related to cattle gamete biology.
She joined the Cincinnati Zoo in November 2019 to specifically work with CREW’s Rhino Signature Conservation Project. Dr. Rispoli brings a unique skillset to rhino research and is interested in applying molecular approaches to advance our knowledge of reproduction and physiology in rhinos.
Megan earned a B.S. in Biology from the University of Cincinnati in 2011. In 2013, she joined the graduate program at the University of Cincinnati (UC), working with Dr. Theresa Culley at UC and Dr. Valerie Pence at CREW on an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded grant investigating the long-term survival of plant-species stored in CREW’s CryoBioBank.
Megan’s doctoral research focused on the population genetics of rare and endangered species, and the genetic effects of long-term liquid nitrogen storage. She defended her Ph.D. in 2018 and joined the Plant Research Division at CREW as a postdoc that same year. Her research currently focuses on developing cryopreservation protocols for rare and endangered Hawaiian plant species in cooperation with the Lyon Arboretum, supported by IMLS. She continues to work on population genetics in rare species as well.
Julie Barnes is currently a post-doctoral scientist in CREW’s Animal Division. Julie is originally from Tennessee, where she earned her B.S. degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2013. She then worked for a year as a conservation biodiversity intern at the Memphis Zoo, working mainly with near-infrared spectrometry (NIRS) to investigate bamboo nutrition. At the Memphis Zoo, she was exposed to the world of reproduction in a variety of species that piqued her interest and motivated her to attend University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville. During vet school, Julie spent two summers participating in veterinary research training programs at UC Davis and Cornell University. She completed her DVM in 2018 and then entered private practice as an associate veterinarian with a specialized interest in reproduction in Memphis. She practiced preventative and diagnostic medicine, in addition to working closely with canine breeders to determine breeding windows and address infertility problems. She also started a transcervical insemination program for canines at the clinic.
Dr. Barnes joined CREW in August of 2019 to begin her research on improving the health and welfare of free-roaming and sheltered domestic cats along with assisting in the Imperiled Cat Signature Conservation Project. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree through the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Biological Sciences.
Emily Virgin is CREW’s newest postdoctoral scientist. Born and raised in Illinois, Emily obtained her B.S. in Biology from Northern Illinois University in 2016. Shortly after graduating, Emily began her Ph.D. at Utah State University, where she worked with Dr. Susannah French to study the effects of urbanization on the reproductive physiology and ecology of female Side-blotched Lizards. While her dissertation research focused primarily on an abundant, desert-dwelling species, Emily sought out opportunities to apply her integrative skillset to on-the-ground conservation efforts. She assisted in physiological and reproductive monitoring of endangered Bahamian Rock Iguanas exposed to ecotourism and helped collect baseline reproductive information on the elusive Roatán Spiny Tailed Iguana. Emily defended her PhD in June of 2022 and joined CREW to work on the Polar Bear Signature Project.
Through support from IMLS, Emily is working closely with Staff Scientist Dr. Erin Curry to identify physiological biomarkers associated with health and reproduction in polar bear blood samples. Emily’s background in physiological ecology brings a unique perspective to CREW’s Animal Division and her expertise will help us better understand polar bear physiology across life-history stages and environmental contexts.
CREW Research Associates
“It has always been my dream to work with cats in a scientific and veterinary capacity. As I was figuring out what I wanted my career to look like, I concluded that reproduction in endangered felids was my main goal. Since I have been at CREW, I have seen those dreams and my hard work realized”
Amy Miller is a Research Associate in CREW’s Animal Division who primarily works on the Imperiled Cat Signature Conservation Project. Amy joined CREW in February 2017. Much of Amy’s time is spent analyzing cat samples to diagnose pregnancy, characterize reproductive activity and/or monitor responses to various studies. Amy also assists with all aspects of assisted reproduction procedures both in domestic cats at CREW and non-domestic cats at collaborating zoos across the nation. She serves as the primary support staff for senior scientists, post-docs and visiting scientists studying cat reproduction at CREW.
Amy received her B.S. in biology from Loyola University Chicago in 2012. She worked as a vet tech in a spay and neuter clinic in Chicago (PAWS Chicago) and one in New Orleans (Southern Animal Foundation). She also worked as a head zookeeper at a small zoo in Wisconsin after completing her B.S. where she gained experience with medical and husbandry care of many species. In 2014, Amy returned to college and received a M.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 2017 studying the reproductive endocrinology of the 13-lined ground squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus).
“I really love helping to facilitate all the great science and research that goes on at CREW as well as pursuing my own projects. I have the strong belief that what we are doing will help change the course of imperiled wildlife through the knowledge gained by our research.”
Elizabeth Donelan is a Research Associate in CREW’s Animal Division. In this position, she manages the day-to-day laboratory operations and supports ongoing research in CREW’s three signature projects. Additionally, Elizabeth conducts independent research projects on animals at the Cincinnati Zoo that can benefit from CREW’s expertise, and she also handles some of the service work CREW is asked to perform (reproductive monitoring and pregnancy diagnosis) by our collaborating zoo partners.
Elizabeth is a Cincinnati native who started her wildlife education at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden early in life. This experience developed into a lifelong passion for wildlife and conservation. She received her B.S. in Zoology from Michigan State University in 2006, and her M.S. in Environmental Science/Wildlife Biology from the University of Rhode Island in 2009. Her graduate research involved a biodiversity assessment of small mammals on a coffee farm. After graduate school, Elizabeth spent several years working in labs focused on human diseases associated with obesity that led to several co-authored scientific papers. Elizabeth joined CREW in December 2015, and has already completed studies of kea and aye-aye while performing her daily responsibilities that keep the labs running smoothly and the CREW volunteers busy.
“I am so honored to have the unique opportunity to work with CREW’s domestic cats. Our cat colony contributes to both our knowledge of imperiled cat conservation and shelter cat welfare and behavior. I have always had a hard time choosing between a career in conserving wildlife and a career in animal sheltering and behavior, and working at CREW has given me the chance to do both.”
“Plants are the foundation of life and are often overlooked in terms of conservation. The CREW Plant Lab strives to expand what plant conservation can look like and I am grateful for the opportunity to develop my skills within this field and to work with people who share my passion for plants. It gives me hope for a brighter (and greener) future.”
Mairead started college at Miami University, where she discovered her plant passion by working in their Conservatory. She had never worked with plants previously, but before transferring to the University of Cincinnati, she had earned the title of Student Master Undergrad, caring for a diverse collection of species.
Mairead began part-time as the Greenhouse Manager for the CREW Plant Lab in 2019. She earned her B.S. in Biology and a minor in Horticulture from UC in 2022. After finishing her degree, she started full-time as the Plant Lab Manager and Conservation Horticulturalist. Her work includes the best of both worlds; working with plants in a sterile laboratory setting and getting to play in the dirt. She specializes in transitioning plants grown in vitro to being able to thrive when outplanted into their native habitats. With her work in the lab and greenhouse, she facilitates the process of culture initiation, maintaining the collection, acclimatization, and their eventual outplanting.
Preparing Scientists to Conserve the Future
The potential positive impact that research could have on wildlife conservation is enormous, but the actual impact it will have is limited, both by resource availability and the number of scientists involved in the effort. To help expand the global foundation of scientists conducting conservation-related research, CREW provides training opportunities for aspiring wildlife scientists seeking careers in conservation.
Post-Doctoral Scientists are trainees that have completed their Ph.D., D.V.M., or both, and are hoping to gain more specialized experience in wildlife conservation. CREW’s Post-doctoral Training program has attracted excellent candidates both nationally and internationally. Trainees have gone on to secure permanent positions in various capacities that allow them to continue pursuing their interests in both wildlife and plant conservation research. Since its inception in 1997, CREW has had more than 20 Postdocs complete their training and move on to rewarding careers.
In recent years, more emphasis has been placed on developing professional internships for aspiring wildlife scientists in the early formative years of their careers. These internships range in focus from wildlife lab management to a particular CREW Signature Project. Interns gain tangible skills in the laboratory and are immersed in wildlife conservation research. After completing internships at CREW, over half of interns advance their education by enrolling in graduate school, whereas others accept jobs conducting research in zoos or gardens, become practicing veterinarians, or get jobs in academia.