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Southwest Florida Research & Education Center

Southwest Florida Research & Education Center

Current Students and Staff


Dr. Elena Karlsen-Ayala

Postdoctoral Associate


Dr. Elena Karlsen-Ayala is currently working as a postdoctoral associate of Soil Microbiology in the Department of Soil and Water Sciences of the University of Florida/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC). Her two main research projects focus on: (i) evaluating the impact of soil fumigation on the non-target microbial communities and the subsequent interaction with weeds and pathogens in tomato production, and (ii) evaluating the impact of cover crops on the soil microbiome, tree health, and citrus production. Before joining in August 2022, she completed her Ph.D. at the University of Florida, Department of Plant Pathology, where she studied the ectomycorrhizal community associated with pine trees in the critically endangered Florida pine rocklands.


Emma Dawson

PhD. Student



Emma Dawson is a Ph.D. student in the Soil and Water Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Before pursuing her Ph.D., she received her B.S. and M.S. in Horticulture from the University of Georgia, where she studied the potential of cover crops for weed suppression in vegetable systems. Emma is broadly interested in regenerative and sustainable agricultural practices, specifically the incorporation of cover crops in agroecosystems and their impact on soil health and crop production. Her Ph.D. research focuses on evaluating the effects of different cover crops on soil microbial communities, nutrient cycling, and their potential impact on tree health in Florida citrus groves.

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Victoria Tesch

Master's Student


Victoria Tesch is a Master’s student in the Soil and Water Sciences Department at the University of Florida, where she also received her B.A. in Environmental Science and Anthropology. Victoria’s research interests include sustainable agriculture and soil health. Her research uses data analysis to examine differences in microbial composition of the rhizosphere among cultivars of citrus.


Brittney Monus

Biological Scientist (Lab Manager)


Brittney Monus manages the soil microbiology lab, where she works on several research projects, maintains lab supplies, trains new lab members, collects soil samples in the field and greenhouse, and conducts molecular biological analyses such as DNA extraction, PCR, and qPCR. She received her B.S. and M.S. at Arizona State University where she studied soil undergoing precipitation manipulation experiments across an elevation gradient in northern Arizona.


Nina Infantado

PhD. Student



Nina Infantado is a Ph.D. student in the Microbiology and Cell Sciences Department under the direction of Dr. Sarah Strauss at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center (SWFREC) and Dr. Willm Martens-Habbena at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center (FLREC). Nina received her B.A. in Biology at the Florida Gulf Coast University and her M.S. in Biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University. Nina’s research interests include metagenomic and metatranscriptomic analysis of key genes, enzymes, and microorganisms involved in soil organic carbon degradation in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) soils during wet and dry season. She is also studying the impact of flooding practices using rice crops in soil microbial oxidation and carbon sequestration. With her research, she wants to reveal the linkage between carbon mineralization and nitrogen cycling in the EAA soils.


Savannah Fortune





Savannah Fortune assists the soil microbiology lab with preparation of materials/supplies for lab and field work, data entry and analysis, collecting soil samples, and participation in molecular biology laboratory procedures such as DNA extraction/quantification. Savannah received her B.S. in Marine Science from Florida Gulf Coast University and her M.S. in Soil and Water Sciences from the University of Florida.

Past Students and Staff

Dr. Antonio Castellano-Hinojosa
Postdoctoral Associate
Now at the University of Granada, Spain

Kira Sorochkina, PhD.

Diderot Saintilma
currently MS student in Horticultural Sciences at UF

Dr. Andrea Nuzzo
Postdoctoral Associate
Now at Glaxo Smith Kline US

John Santiago, MS
Graduated UF with
PhD in Horticultural Sciences in 2023

Amanda Gray, MS.
Biological Scientist

Clayton Nevins, PhD.
Now at Pivot Bio

David Toole, MS.
Now at Merck Pharmaceuticalsc

Rachel Berner
Biological Scientist
currently PhD student at Washington State University