Overview of Research Interests
My research focuses on how species interactions alter organismal and population level processes that drive community composition. I use field observation combined with manipulative field and laboratory studies to elucidate the emergent effects of species interactions, and am particularly interested in how the cascading effects of indirect interactions influence community dynamics. I am also interested in positive interactions, particularly mutualisms and facilitation by foundational species, and in how organismal behavior and morphology interacts with the physical environment. My research has combined these interests and addresses the direct and indirect effects of positive interactions, interaction modification by facilitators, and how morphology of a foundational species impacts the abundance and diversity of organisms within a community.
Epibiosis & Habitat Cascades
One facet of my research investigates the positive effects of symbioses where one organisms lives on or within another (epibiosis). The effects are most pronounced when the epibiotic species create novel habitats and form the foundation for communities, creating cascading positive effects called habitat cascades. For example, I am currently studying oak woodland ecosystems where oak trees (Quercus sp.) facilitate the growth of long, hanging lichens in the genera Ramalina and Usnea. The lichens, in turn, may create additional habitat structure and alter the canopy and understory ecology in the woodlands they inhabit. My research is focused on how the presence of the lichens affects oak woodland arthropod and avian abundance and diversity.
Structurally-mediated Indirect Interactions
An organism's morphology it tightly linked to its natural history and ecology, and their physical structure can affect how they interact with other species and with the physical environment. I have several ongoing studies in how coral morphology indirectly affects the ecology of coral associated species. For example, my dissertation research examined the ecological effects of amphipods that induce morphlogical changes in Montipora coral and the indirect effects of this interaction on the reef community.
Feeding is a basic function of all animals, but their ability to do so often relies on how they interact with their prey as well as with other non-prey species. I have several studies exploring how non-trophic interactions influence feeding behavior, and the indirect effect of trophic interactions on communities. For example, my lab is currently studying the behavior and feeding associations of gulls in coastal areas around Monterey Bay, including how humans affect their foraging behavior and food sources.