Rsearch flagOur lab studies the ecological and evolutionary processes that drive plant distribution patterns. We are particularly interested in understanding how and why plants specialize on a subset of the habitats that are available in their environment. We are also increasingly compelled to predict the fate of rare plant taxa that depend on unique habitat conditions as they face extreme and rapid environmental change.

Our research integrates community ecology, population biology, evolution, and phylogenetics to determine how species interactions, functional traits, gene flow, natural selection, phylogenetic history, and environmental variation interact to shape patterns of habitat specialization and responses to global change in a variety of plant taxa. We use a diverse suite of empirical tools that includes field and greenhouse experiments, molecular methods, trait-based techniques, and comparative methods.

We study a variety of plant species that occupy interesting and unusual habitats, including vernal pools of the California Floristic Province, rock houses in the Appalachian Mountains, sandy beaches of the Great Lakes, and – most recently – slopes and mountain tops of the Southern Rockies. We currently have three main lines of research underway in the lab:

  • Plant adaptation in hydrologically variable environments. All plants require water to survive, but species exhibit substantial variation in their responses to drought and flooding stress. Plant hydrological tolerance curves (HTC’s) can evolve through time to affect the range of habitats that a species can occupy. We are conducting greenhouse experiments that manipulate the amount and predictability of water available to a plant during its life cycle to evaluate the evolution of HTC’s.
  • Dispersal evolution and habitat specialization. Dispersal determines patterns of colonization and gene flow and is thus a key driver of species distribution patterns. Conversely, the functional traits that shape seed dispersal will evolve in response to the environmental context. We use observational, experimental, and modeling approaches to investigate evolutionary feedbacks between dispersal traits and habitat specialization.
  • Plant conservation genetics in changing landscapes: Plants are facing rapid and severe environmental change due to habitat loss, climate change, and other consequences of human activity. Our lab uses field experiments and molecular tools to understand how evolutionary history and capacity for future evolutionary change will influence the persistence of species in a human-dominated world.