Michael R. Willig, Ph.D.

Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology,
Center for Environmental Sciences & Engineering,
Institute of the Environment

University of Connecticut
Storrs, Connecticut 06269-5210

Phone: (860) 486-1455
Fax: (860) 486-5488
E-mail: michael.willig@uconn.edu

Shared Values

Our research group stands with the #BlackLivesMatter movement to condemn systemic racism and inequity created by the white power structure and colonial systems of oppression. We are committed to acting towards structural changes that will create more equitable societies and more sustainable ecosystems, and reaffirm a strong commitment to support gender, racial, and ethnic diversity as well as equity and inclusivity in STEM disciplines and in society at large. We firmly believe that we cannot have environmental justice without racial and social justice. We affirm that environmental endeavors focused on discovery, research, scholarship, education, and engagement, require and significantly benefit from the incorporation of diverse cultural, social, and political perspectives. All voices must be heard.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we gather is the territory of the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Nipmuc, and Lenape Peoples, who have stewarded this land throughout the generations. We thank them for their strength and resilience in protecting this land, and aspire to uphold our responsibilities according to their example. This land also was enriched by the labor of enslaved individuals, by those associated with southern cotton production that fueled northern manufacturing, finance, insurance, and trade, by Black and Indigenous people enslaved in Connecticut, and by profits from dispossession of Indigenous peoples across the country.


Current Position:

Other Positions:

Relevant Employment History:

  • 1976-1978: Research fellow at Brazilian National Academy of Science
  • 1979: Visiting Professor at La Roche College, Department of Natural Sciences
  • 1981-1983: Assistant Professor of Biology at Loyola University
  • 1983-1989: Assistant Professor of Biology at Texas Tech University
  • 1989-1993: Associate Professor of Biology at Texas Tech University
  • 1993-2005: Professor of Biology at Texas Tech University
  • 1994-1996: Director of The Institute of Environmental Sciences, Texas Tech University
  • 1995-1997: Chairman of Department of Biological Sciences, Texas Tech University
  • 2000-2002:  Program Director, Ecological Studies Cluster, Division of Environmental Biology, National Science Foundation
  • 2004-2006: Division Director, Division of Environmental Biology, National Science Foundation.
  • 2005-Present: Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of Connecticut.
  • 2006-Present: Director of the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering at University of Connecticut.
  • 2019-Present: Executive Director of the Institute of the Environment at University of Connecticut.



  • B.S. - University of Pittsburgh 1974
  • Ph.D. - University of Pittsburgh 1981

Dissertation Title - A comparative ecological study of Caatingas and Cerrado Chiropteran communities: composition, structure, morphometrics, and reproduction. (Advisor - Michael A. Mares)


Research Interests

In general, my research is multidisciplinary and characterized by rigorous quantitative approaches to questions relevant to ecology, biogeography, and conservation biology, all considered from an evolutionary perspective. My investigative approach is based on both manipulative and observational experiments, as well as on modeling exercises. My research is strongly organismal in nature and is not limited by taxonomic constraints, as evidenced by publications concerning bacteria, fungi, plants, snails, insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Nonetheless, the major thrust of my research has concerned terrestrial mammals and gastropods, especially those in tropical regions.


I have broad experience conducting field research in a diversity of habitats, including both aquatic and terrestrial environments. Aquatic research has focused on phytotelmata, streams, and ephemeral lakes (e.g., playas). Terrestrial work has been conducted in semiarid tropical thorn-scrub, tropical grassland-savanna, tropical rainforest, subtropical forest, and temperate forest. As a consequence, I currently have or recently have had funded research programs in Paraguay (NSF), Brazil (USDA), Puerto Rico (NSF), Peru (NIH), and the U.S. (NSF).

Moreover, much of my research assumes broad temporal and synthetic perspectives as a consequence of my association with the Long-Term Ecological Research Program (LTER) in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico (e.g., over 80 peer-reviewed books, book chapters, or journal articles have been published as a consequence of my participation in the LTER Program) and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) in Santa Barbara. As my research has matured, especially during the last five years, substantial efforts at synthesis have been directed to research in biodiversity that is related to (1) disturbance ecology, (2) environmental, especially those associated with latitude and elevation, and (3) conservation.  In addition, I recently co-edited and contributed chapters to Theory of Ecology (Scheiner & Willig, 2011), a book that explores the conceptual infrastructure of a variety of sub-disciplines in ecology, thereby providing insight into profitable directions for future research, especially that which achieves more than incremental increases in the understanding of ecological patterns and processes.

Finally, I am a co-editor and contributing author on two other books that integrate ecological understanding based on research in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico.  One, Disturbance and Recovery in a Tropical Forest: Long-Term Research in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico (Brokaw et al., 2012) is a synthesis of long-term research that integrates population, community and biogeochemical perspectives to understand the spatial and temporal dynamics associated with natural and anthropogenic disturbances.  The other, Ecological Gradient Analyses in a Tropical Ecosystem (Gonzalez et al, 2012), explores environmental gradients in climatic, abiotic, and biotic characteristics that vary with elevation in northeastern Puerto Rico.  Both tomes explore ecological understanding from basic and applied perspectives, and incorporate a mix of empirical and theoretical research.


Research Foci

Currently, my research program has a number of broad foci. Each link contains detailed information on recent and ongoing research by me and my graduate students, post-doctoral associates, and colleagues.

  1. Dimensions of biodiversity,
  2. Metacommunity structure,
  3. Island biogeography,
  4. Temporal activity,
  5. Gradients of biodiversity,
  6. Conservation biology,
  7. Community ecology,
  8. Disturbance ecology.

Current Extramural Support

  1. NSF-OPUS: A Cross-Scale Synthesis in a Disturbance-Mediated System: Integrating Population, Community, and Metacommunity Perspectives” (M. Willig, PI)
  2. NSF: LTER VI. Understanding Ecosystem Change in Northeastern Puerto Rico (J. Zimmerman, PI; G. Gonzalez, A. Ramirez, W. Silver, M. Uriarte, and M. Willig, Co-PIs)


A complete list of publications is available with links to PDF files which can be accessed for viewing.

Associated Research Fellows

From 2015-2019, my laboratory has hosted four PhD students from Brazil, one from Belgium during 2015, and and one from Mexico. Each of the Brazilian students (Caryne, Ana, Jose, and Luiz) received fellowships from the Ciência sem Fronteiras (Science without Borders) and Doutorado Sanduíche (Doctorate Sandwich) programs funded by Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nivel Superior (CAPES) of the Brazilian Ministry of Education to support their study in my lab. Frederik received a research fellowship from the Research Foundation - Flanders.

Current Post-Doctoral Fellows


Lab Alumni

Over the past 20 years or so, more than 30 students have finished degrees in the lab, totaling 23 MS and 9 PhD Degrees. In addition, 11 post doctoral fellows have conducted research in association with the lab.

Willig Lab Alumni

Proud Willig Lab Alumni (R to L: Gerardo Camilo, Elizabeth Sandlin, Michael Gannon, Debbie Bean, Javier Alvarez, and Honorary Lab Alumnus Ricardo Ojeda).

Undergraduate Research

Well over 30 undergraduate students from Texas Tech University (TTU), the University of Connecticut (UConn) and elsewhere (especially University of Puerto Rico), have had the chance to gain valuable ecological experience by participating in ongoing research projects in the Willig lab. Most students have been funded through NSF grants or REU supplements, as well as through a grant from Howard Hughes Medical Institute to Drs. Blanton and Burns (both faculty members in Biological Sciences at TTU).  A number of students have also been funded through the Honor's College at TTU or UConn.

Undergraduate students have conducted research in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Paraguay.  Disciplinary topics for independent research include a variety of areas of biology such as population ecology, foraging ecology, community ecology, disturbance ecology, mammalian systematics, macroecology, island biogeography, and tropical ecology.

This page was updated last on 11/10/2023

Please contact at steven.presley@uconn.edu or michael.willig@uconn.edu if you have questions, comments, or corrections

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