Conservation & Science Staff Bios
Michelle L. Rafacz, Ph.D.
Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology
- Ph.D.- Committee on Evolutionary Biology, University of Chicago
- M.S. - Biology, Loyola University Chicago
- B.S. - Biology/Environmental Studies, Knox College
Areas of Expertise
- Behavioral endocrinology
- Evolutionary biology of reproduction and parental care
- Animal behavior, learning and memory
- Environmental enrichment and animal welfare
- Behavioral ecology
About Michelle Rafacz:
Michelle first became interested in animal behavior as a child observing birds and squirrels foraging in her backyard. In 1998, when she became an undergraduate student at Knox College, she realized she could make a career of studying animal behavior. Michelle has studied many species in diverse research settings, including a field-research project that examined the foraging ecology and movement patterns of mantled howler monkeys in Costa Rica that involved collaboration with in situ conservation biologists.
Michelle has also studied animal behavior in a laboratory setting, first with her honors thesis project investigating social-information use in wild-caught starlings and then for her Master’s degree beginning in 2002, when she studied the effect of environmental enrichment and prior foraging experience on spatial memory and foraging success of laboratory rats.
In 2004, Michelle began her doctoral dissertation research at the University of Chicago under the direction of Sue Margulis, Ph.D., during which she studied various aspects of reproduction and parental care in gibbons and siamangs at Lincoln Park Zoo and other Association of Zoos and Aquariums–accredited institutions.
It wasn’t until after she met Rachel Santymire, Ph.D., director of the zoo’s Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, that Michelle realized the importance of a more holistic approach to understanding behavior. She recognized that the study of hormones in concert with behavior resulted in a more complete understanding of the whole animal. From that point forward she has incorporated endocrinology into her research.
Michelle is currently using endocrinology and animal behavior in several research projects under the direction of Santymire. These projects include a study of social behavior and stress physiology in response to predator/competitor and prey odor cues in African wild dogs as well as an investigation of the role of male characteristics in female mate-choice and breeding success in the non-wild population of black-footed ferrets.
Michelle continues to study behavior in a holistic fashion and strives to contribute to the care and well-being of zoo-housed animals while raising awareness of the need for conservation of wild populations.