What we do
In my lab we not only do experiments and collect data but we also use mathematics and computational biology to figure out how best to maintain biodiversity. Central questions include how species will respond to climate change, why species go extinct, and how invasive species spread. A more technical description of my research: My research interest is spatio-temporal population dynamics, which I study by developing mathematical models and connecting these models to data. I'm particularly interested in how processes such as competition, predation, and spatial spread are affected by spatial and temporal variation in the environment and by randomness intrinsic to individuals. Heterogeneity and stochasticity (a fancy word for randomness) are the technical keywords. I work with stochastic models and I use likelihood and Bayesian statistical approaches to fit these to experimental data.
Species range limits and climate change
For every species, there are limits to where it is found. Understanding
what sets range limits and their variability is vital for understanding
and forecasting how species will respond to climate change. For example,
how fast can species' ranges adjust to a changing climate and to
increased variability in climate? I have started a new
NSF funded project (5 yr $800,000) with my
Alan Hastings (UC Davis) to
examine stochasticity in range limits. We are using the
Tribolium model system.
Habitat fragmentation and extinction
Habitat loss and fragmentation continue at an accelerating rate and account for most biodiversity loss so it is more crucial than ever to understand them as drivers of extinction. Fortunately, some visionary ecologists at CSIRO Australia (Chris Margules, Mike Austin, Nick Nichols) set up a large scale fragmentation experiment back in 1985. Now almost 25 years later, it's the longest running experiment in temperate forest. It's value to ecology today? Absolutely priceless. My colleague Kendi Davies (EBIO) and I have an NSF funded project (3 yr $400,000) to examine population dynamics and extinction of forest beetles. ... more.
Spread of invading species
Invasive species are a major economic, environmental and health concern. For the past five years my colleague Alan Hastings (UC Davis) and I have been using the Tribolium model system to investigate the role of stochasticity in the spatial spread of populations. See papers in Nature and Science from this work. This project was funded by NSF and our new work on range limits extends this work. Many undergraduate students worked with us on this project and most went on to graduate school. ... more.
Scaling up ecological dynamics
A vexing question in ecology is how to predict large scale ecological dynamics from small-scale processes. This is especially important since most of our experimental work in ecology happens in small field plots. Often large-scale outcomes contradict small-scale trends from such field plots. We need to understand why this happens so we can make better predictions in areas as diverse as climate change, extinction, invasion, and biodiversity maintenance. I was fortunate to do my graduate work with Peter Chesson (U. Arizona), who is a leader in this area. We continue to work on this question and in many ways the basic theoretical principles underlie most of what I do.