We study how variation at the individual, spatial, and temporal scale influences the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of natural communities and ecosystem process. Most of our research is carried out in aquatic habitats using amphibians and invertebrates as model systems, but we work with a range of species and functional groups which allows us to integrate across different levels of organization (from individuals to ecosystems), time scales (from single-generation to evolutionary dynamics) and ecological interactions (from cannibalism to infectious diseases). Combined with mathematical models, this allows us to identify what details need to be included in a general framework for predicting ecological and evolutionary dynamics of natural communities and how they will respond to natural or anthropocentric mediated changes. Below is a short list of current (but not all ) projects in our group.
Climate change, temperature regimes, & phenological shifts
Predicting how climate change might affect natural communities is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. The goal of our current work is to create a predictive framework that provides a mechanistic link between climate-mediated changes in abiotic and biotic conditions, and the structure and dynamics of natural communities. In particular, we focus on two complementary aspects of climate change: phenological shifts and changes in temperature regimes.
Size & stage structure
A critical challenge for ecologists and conservation managers is being able to predict how ecosystems and communities will respond to human-induced environmental change. However, identifying the appropriate scale for which we need to resolve communities to make such predictions has been a perennial struggle. Traditionally, the lowest level of resolution has been at the species level based on the premise that any variation within species can be safely ignored. In contrast, our work indicates that variation across developmental stages can rival and exceed differences between species and plays a key role in determining the structure and dynamics of natural communities and how they respond to environmental change.
Community ecology of infectious diseases
Everyone is infected, and not just with single parasite. The of hosts face multiple parasites species, and many parasites can infect multiple host species. We apply and expand general principles from community ecology and evolutionary biology to explain and predict what mechanisms shape epidemics, the structure and dynamics of natural host and parasite communities, and the evolution of parasites and their hosts.
Communities in time & space
Environmental conditions change over time and space. We are interested in how this variation affects species interactions and concurrent community dynamics at local and regional scales, with a current focus on the the role of local adaptation and carry-over effects in meta-communities. In addition, we examine the spatio-temporal patterns of biodiversity heterogeneous landscapes to identify general drivers that can be used to predict this variation.
Cannibalism is ubiquitous in nature, yet surprisingly little is know about what factors drive its evolution and what it's consequences are. Our work is aimed to fill this gap. We study variation in cannibalistic behavior to determine what factors favor or select against the evolution of extreme selfish behavior. We also examine how cannibalism affects species interactions, including infectious diseases, and how it influences the structure and dynamics of communities.