Alter, Elizabeth

Assistant Professor

Phone: 718-262-2732
Office Location: AC-4E07

Office Hours 
Wednesday 12-1pm 
Thursday 12-1pm 


PhD Stanford University Biological Sciences 2008 
MA University of California, Berkeley Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management 2002 
BA Yale University Organismal Biology and Anthropology 1997 
My research uses molecular phylogenetic methods to understand the evolutionary histories of species and populations, particularly in the marine environment. This work examines the genetic vestiges left by past environmental and ecological conditions and is integrative in nature, drawing from evolutionary genetics, phylogenomics and population modeling. Previous work focused on reconstructing evolutionary history in marine mammals, including developing a novel method for estimating the molecular clock for the hypervariable mammalian control region. A new line of research is concerned with understanding the evolution of morphological and physiological diversity in killifishes, particularly in the genus Fundulus. The ultimate goal is to characterize the interaction between gene flow and environmental factors such as dissolved oxygen and pollutant load in shaping landscape-level adaptive variation in Fundulus fishes.

Areas of Expertise

Evolutionary genetics
Marine biology
Vertebrate biology and ecology

Articles in Field Of Expertise

Naro-Maciel, E., Reid, B., Alter, S.E., Amato, G., Bjorndal, K., Bolten, A., Martin, M., Nairn, C.J., Shamblin, B., Pineda-Catalan, O. "Phylogeography of Atlantic green turtles: Insights from multiple genetic markers." Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. In press 2014: .

Alter, S.E., H.C. Rosenbaum, L.D. Postma, P. Whitridge, C. Gaines, D. Weber, M.G. Egan, M. Lindsay, G. Amato, L. Dueck, R.L. Brownell Jr., M. Heide-Jorgensen, K.L. Laidre, G. Caccone, B. Hancock. "Gene flow on ice: The role of sea ice and whaling in shaping Holarctic genetic diversity and population differentiation in bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus)." Ecology and Evolution. 2(11) 2012: 2895-2911.

Alter, S.E., S. Newsome, and S.R. Palumbi. "Pre-whaling genetic diversity and population ecology in eastern Pacific gray whales: insights from ancient DNA and stable isotopes." PLoS ONE. 7 2012: e35039.

Alter, S.E., M.P. Simmonds and J.R. Brandon. "Forecasting the consequences of climate-driven shifts in human behavior on cetaceans." Marine Policy. 34 2010: 943-954.

Alter, S.E. and S.R. Palumbi. "A comparative analysis of patterns of molecular evolution in cytochrome-b and the control region in baleen whales." Molecular Evolution. 68 2009: 97-111.

Alter, S.E., S. Flores Ramirez, S Nigenda, J Urbán Ramirez, L Rojas Bracho, SR Palumbi. "Mitochondrial and nuclear genetic variation across calving lagoons in Eastern North Pacific gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus)." Journal of Heredity. 100 2009: 34-46.

Logan, C.L., S.E. Alter, A.J. Haupt, and S.R. Palumbi. "An impediment to consumer choice: overfished species are sold as Pacific red snapper." Biological Conservation. 141 2008: 1591-1599.

Alter, S.E., E. Rynes, and S.R. Palumbi. "DNA evidence for historic population size and past ecosystem impacts of gray whales." Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. 104 2007: 15162-15167.

Alter, S.E. and S.R. Palumbi. "Could genetic diversity in eastern North Pacific gray whales reflect historical abundance? A Response." Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. 104 2007: E3-E4.

Perfors, T., J. Harte and S.E. Alter. "Enhanced Carbon Sequestration in Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) in Response to Manipulated Climate Change." Global Change Biology. 9 2003: 736-742.

Refereed Proceedings in Field Of Expertise

Alter, S.E., M. Simmonds and J. Brandon. "The tertiary threat: human-mediated impacts of climate change on cetaceans." Proceedings of the 61st meeting of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission. SC/61/E8 2009: 18.

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Chapters in Field Of Expertise

Alter, S.E.. "Rorquals." The Encyclopedia of Tourism and Recreation in Marine Environments. 2007: 880.

Reviews in Field Of Expertise

"Conservation Biology" 2007: 1129.


Presented Papers, Lectures, and Exhibitions and Performances

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" Conservation Genetics Symposium, Pacific Grove, CA " 2005: Society of Systematic Biologists, Fairbanks, AK.

" Convergent Evolution in Fishes of the Lower Congo River " 2014: Society for the Study of Evolution.

" Ancient DNA reveals demographic patterns in Holocene whales " 2014: American Quaternary Association.

" Evolution of spiny eels endemic to the Lower Congo River: a molecular analysis of speciation history " 2013: Society for the Study of Evolution.

" Comparative phylogeography of endemic fish species in a biodiversity hotspot, the lower Congo River " 2012: Society for the Study of Evolution.

" Genetic diversity and population differentiation in modern and Holocene bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) " 2009: Society for Marine Mammalogy Conference, Quebec City.

" The utility of historic samples in investigating the impacts of climate change on cetacean demography: bowhead and gray whales as case studies " 2009: International Marine Conservation Congress, Washington, D.C..

" Ancient DNA reveals pre-exploitation demography in North Pacific megafauna: lessons from bluefin tuna and whales " 2007: Society of Systematic Biologists, Christchurch, New Zealand.

" Evidence from stable isotopes and ancient DNA for historical population ecology in baleen whales " 2007: Conservation Genetics Symposium, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY.

" Using genetic data in marine mammal management " 2006: School for Field Studies, San Carlos, Mexico.

" Exploring the population history of gray whales using a multi-locus approach " 2005: 16th Meeting of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, San Diego, CA.

" Shifting baselines and historical demography: exploring the population history of a baleen whale using a multi-locus genetic approach " 2005: Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Washington, DC.

" Holocene climate and baleen whale populations " 2005: 86th Annual Meeting of the Western Society of Naturalists. Seaside, CA.

Professional Honors, Prizes, Fellowships

Stephen J. O'Brien Award (American Genetic Association) for best student-authored paper: 2010.

Kallman Award. Awarded at Stanford University graduation for “special excellence in coursework, research and teaching by a female graduate student”: 2008.

Arthur M. Giese Award. Awarded for the best experimental research by a graduate student at Hopkins Marine Station: 2007.

Teresa Heinz Scholars for Environmental Research. One of 8 awards given nationally to PhD students who show promise as environmental leaders: 2006.

Lieberman Fellow in the Natural Sciences, Stanford University. Awarded to the PhD student in the Natural Sciences who most embodies academic potential, including teaching, research and service to the university community: 2006.

Grover Hermann Graduate Fellowship in the Marine Sciences: 2006.

Miller Scholar, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University: 2006.

Alan Baldridge Award, American Cetacean Society: 2005.

Stanford University Department of Biological Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award: 2005.

Wells Family Fellowship (Stanford Graduate Fellowship): 2003-2006.

Graduate Student Research Grant, UC Berkeley: 2000-2002.

Smithsonian Institution Research Training Fellowship: 1996.


National Science Foundation, Bridge to research in environmental and applied metagenomics. 2014-2017: $269,124.

Thurgood Marshall College Foundation, BREAM: Building core STEM competencies among underrepresented students. 2014: $25,000.

PSC-CUNY Award, Effects of environmental contaminants on the vertebrate gut microbiome. 2014: $5,730.

PSC-CUNY Award, Comparative phylogeography of endemic cichlid species in a biodiversity hotspot, the lower Congo River. 2011: $3,500.

PSC-CUNY Award, Population genetics of the Asian shore crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus, along the eastern coast of North America: reconstructing colonization history in a marine invader. 2012: $3,500.

Center for Evolutionary Biology, Stanford University, Pre-whaling genetic diversity and population ecology in eastern Pacific gray whales. 2005: $1,500.

Dr. Earl and Ethel Myers Oceanographic and Marine Biology Trust, Mitochondrial and nuclear genetic variation across calving lagoons in Eastern North Pacific gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus). 2005: $4,000.

American Cetacean Society, Mitochondrial and nuclear genetic variation across calving lagoons in Eastern North Pacific gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus). 2005: $2,000.

Other Professional Activities and Public Service

Society for the Study of Evolution: 2012-present.

American Genetic Association: 2008-present.

Society for Marine Mammalogy: 2005-present.

Western Society of Naturalists: 2004-2006.

American Society of Naturalists: 2005-present.

Ecological Society of America: 2005-2011.

Ad-hoc reviewer, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, Marine Mammal Science, Molecular Ecology, Journal of Heredity, Fisheries Research, Evolutionary Ecology, Endangered Species Research, Journal of Archaeological Science: 2005-present.

Alter, Elizabeth

Alter, Elizabeth
Assistant Professor