Research Interests & Projects
I'm broadly interested in eco-evolutionary dynamics. A little more specifically, I'm interested in how the environment affects genes and how those genes scale up to affect entire populations and communities of organisms.
We know a great deal about how aspects of ecology (the environment, predators, competitors, etc.) can shape evolution. Take, for instance, one of the most classic examples of natural selection - Darwin's finches. Each finch species has a beak that is distinctly different from those of other species because they are adapted to their respective food source. The ecology (food source and feeding behavior) shapes evolution (the shape of the beak). More recently, biologist have started to focus on the reciprocal relationship of how evolutionary forces (selection, drift, etc.) can also effect the ecology of populations, communities and ecosystems. It is the latter relationship that I'm particularly interested in. To approach these ideas, I utilize techniques such as DNA sequencing, bioinformatics, laboratory experiments and theoretical models and incorporate ideas from evolution, genetics and ecology.
Environmental Change & Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics (Master's Thesis)
Aspect of our world, like temperature regimes and nutrient input, are changing as the result of human activities. I am interested in the evolutionary consequences of environmental changes and how those evolutionary responses will alter species interactions. Rapid trait evolution in one species can change the way it interacts with other species. Change the traits of a single species and you will likely see effects on its prey, competitors and predators that can ultimately change the composition of entire communities.
Since my interests are largely theoretical, I do not feel tied to any particular study system. However, throughout my master's I had the pleasure of working with an interesting plant - the purple pitcher plant. They have cup-shaped leaves that collect rainwater. These carnivorous plants, unlike many others, do not produce compounds to digest their prey. Instead, they rely on a community of microbes (bacteria and protists) and invertebrates (insect larvae and rotifers) that live inside of the leaves to break down insects that fall into the water and release nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. What makes this system so great for the kinds of questions I'm interested in? Put simply, they're small, which makes them easy to manipulate and replicate. The organisms in the community also have short generations (1 generation = 4-8 hours for an average protist) which makes them great for studying evolution.
You can read more about this topic and my master's thesis here.