Sarah Benson-Amram

Lab Director

Assistant Professor
Department of Zoology and Physiology
Program in Ecology
University of Wyoming


Graduate Members

Lisa Barrett

Ph.D. Student

I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2013 after obtaining a B.S. in Evolutionary Anthropology. Throughout my undergraduate career, I have been fortunate to gain various experiences conducting animal behavior research on a variety of species, including squirrel monkeys, bluebirds, and fox squirrels. After graduating, I studied Asian elephant behavior and cognition in Thailand for one year. This research assistantship with Think Elephants International, Inc. helped to solidify my interest in animal cognition (and convergent cognitive evolution) while also introducing me to interests in developing science education curriculum, fundraising for non-profits, and educating children and adults from all over the world about conservation. I am a doctoral student and NSF GRFP fellow in Zoology and I am investigating the interactions among personality, problem-solving, and conservation in Asian elephants. I am also studying the importance of zebra finch pair-bond formation in social learning, communication, and personality.


Ph.D. Student

My research interests lie in the cognitive mechanisms that facilitate adaptation and successful problem solving. Specifically, I seek to understand how various aspects of cognition, such as innovation, learning, behavioral flexibility and personality, allow animals to cope with variation in their environment. Given our world’s current biodiversity crisis, it is increasingly important to examine how an animal’s ability to solve novel problems can increase its survival in a changing world. I will begin my dissertation research by investigating the advanced cognitive abilities of a familiar and highly adaptive species, the raccoon. By building an understanding of the skills raccoons employ when problem-solving, I hope to shed light on the cognitive processes used in successful adaptation to a variety of environments. Comparative studies between different populations, or among close relatives of raccoons, will further this understanding. I anticipate that the results of my work will have important implications not only for biodiversity conservation, but also for the welfare of ex-situ populations of animals living in captivity. Please click here to learn more about my research and work with the University of Wyoming Raccoon Project.


Sarah Daniels

M.S. Student

I am interested in understanding the diverse behaviors that allow animals to adapt to urban environments. I have studied raccoon behavioral flexibility, specifically cognitive ability, and am now interested in looking at what additional components of raccoon behavior have allowed them to prosper in the urban jungle. As a side project, I am also studying Laramie, WY, raccoon diet using stable isotope analysis. This work will provide an understanding of how a largely successful animal, the raccoon, sub-specializes on different, local food resources. My work combines multiple components of behavior to illustrate how flexible and adaptable urban wildlife have to be, an important area of research given urbanization shows no signs of slowing. I hope to have a career as a museum researcher exploring urban ecology and behavior with wild, modern populations and museum specimens to track changes over time.

Undergraduate Members

Carissa Cooley

I am 22 and am part of the pre-vet and zoology undergrad programs. I am from the small town of Boring, Oregon and I transferred to UW in the spring of 2016 from Mt. Hood Community College. I am assisting the Raccoon Project with its puzzle box experiments and video coding. My career goals include doing my own research in conserving African Lions and other large cats and opening my own exotic animal veterinary practice.

Ivy Engel

I’m a sophomore and I’m dual majoring in Biology and Business Management. Animals are my love! I’m currently volunteering with the Raccoon project to track raccoons in Laramie using radio telemetry. I’m interested in the urbanization of animals and I hope to do some more research into this topic in the future.

Rachel Ziejka

I am a Sophomore at the University of Wyoming majoring in Zoology with an interest in animal behavior and genetics. I am currently working in the Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab as a research assistant studying zebra finches and coding videos. In the future, I hope to do government research on large mammals with a focus on conservation.

Stephanie Hart

I am a sophomore at the University of Wyoming majoring in Zoology. I recently gained an interest in studying animal behavior and cognition, and so I joined the Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab to help with research and coding videos of zebra finches. For my future, I hope to study and research large mammals in their natural habitats, with a specific interest in African species.

Rachel Graham

I graduated from Central Wyoming College in 2016 with an associate’s degree in Pre-Health and specialized in Pre-Medicine. I received the INBRE scholarship my first semester at CWC and have been conducting research at both Central Wyoming College and now at the University of Wyoming on the INBRE Transition Fellowship. My interest in research began very young and led me to being one of 30 middle school students around the nation to compete in The Society of Science and the Public Middle School Program in Washington D.C. Since then I knew I would pursue a career in science. Currently, I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Physiology and would like to advance to medical school with a specialty in radiology. In the Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab I am working on the zebra finch project studying personality, communication, and learning.

UWRP Technicians

Rachel Fanelli

I received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Wyoming in 2016. Currently, I am the project manager for the UW Raccoon Project, where I coordinate our trapping, tracking and outreach efforts.

Renee Fair

I graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor's degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology and Management in the fall of 2016. As a member of the Animal Behavior and Cognition lab, I work on the University of Wyoming Raccoon Project and help with video coding, trapping and processing of raccoons. Due to my work with the lab, I have decided to pursue a degree in Animal Behavior at a graduate level.

Former Members

Kody Knighten

Jessica Marsh

Alix Wimberley

Emily Davis

Dianna Brutsman

Hailey Barton

Harley Steege

Brooke Byelich

Kristina Bartz

Ben Tjepkes