I’m an ecologist interested in biodiversity, especially diversity at the genetic level. I use a variety of tools, including greenhouse experiments & field sampling, DNA / RNA sequencing, and statistical modeling to understand how diversity changes. I'm especially interested in how plants evolve in response to drought and man-made ecosystems (cities!).
I also like coding, climbing things, and taking stuff apart to see how it works.
Cities are everywhere, affecting plants and animals more each day. Yet, many species show the ability to evolve to cope with city life. I'm using weed species and genomics to understand how populations are structured in major US cities. I'm also curious about how different parts of the city (some more stressful than others) drive genetically-based traits.
Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama grass) is one of our most important native prairie plants. This grass is widespread throughout semi-arid grasslands, expertly tolerates drought, and is valuable food for livestock. I study how blue grama varies across its range, using greenhouse experiments and genetic sequencing tools, and how such variation cascades to affect ecosystem function.
Phenotypic plasticity is the ability to change phenotype under different conditions. For example, functional traits (such as leaf area or root structure) might be lower under droughted conditions. How a trait tracks over conditions represents a mathematical function. These functions can reveal diversity within species, allowing them to fill greater niche space and potentially evolve. I use Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem grass) to understand how plasticity functions can vary within species.
Any species, any number of conditions : I'm interested! I especially think comparing gene expression in individuals from different populations is cool.
Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama grass) is genetically diverse, even as small spatial scales. I used thousands of small pieces of DNA called “SNPs” to compare these grasses across populations all over the western US. I was one of the very first scientists to collect SNPs on blue grama!
Indiangrass and big bluestem coexist in the tallgrass prairie of Eastern Kansas, USA and despite being functionally similar, they adopt different gene expression strategies for coping with climate extremes. As part of comparative work in the tallgrass prairie, I quantified gene response strategies in dominant prairie grasses, showing that Sorghastrum nutans (indiangrass) shuts down under drought stress, but Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem) powers through. The transcriptomes are a great starting point for anyone doing gene expression work in these important plants.
Indiangrass and big bluestem adopt different gene expression strategies for coping with climate extremes, including heat waves, as shown with microarray data.
Want to know when and how people visit National Parks? I built a custom Selenium scraper for National Park Service (NPS) visitation data. This code also uses the native NPS API to collect basic information about parks, including announcements and alerts (must have an API key!).