Our research encompasses a broad mixture of population, community, and ecosystem ecology. We are particularly interested in links between population processes and ecosystem processes that are mediated by variation in plant quality. Plants in terrestrial and aquatic environments vary substantially in their nutrient contents and in the concentrations of secondary metabolites in their tissues. We explore how understanding and incorporating this variation in plant quality can improve fundamental theories of population dynamics and ecosystem processes.
Much of our work focuses on interactions among herbivores, enemies, plants, and soils. For example, we study how plant quality influences the interactions between insect herbivores and their predators and parasites. Similarly, we explore how plant chemistry mediates the dynamics of soil nutrients during litter decomposition. Ultimately, we seek to link these processes together to illustrate how plant quality provides a nexus that links trophic interactions with nutrient dynamics through fundamental feedback processes.
The interactions that we study provide a mechanistic basis to help understand and predict the effects of global environmental change on ecological systems. We use a combination of field, laboratory and analytical tools to study global change and to mitigate its adverse effects. For example, we study the effects of anthropogenic nitrogen deposition, elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide, and rising temperatures on population dynamics and ecosystem processes.
Our lab group values diversity in the ecological sciences and seeks to support groups that are traditionally under-represented in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology. We also seek to communicate our science to the broadest possible audience, engaging with K-12 students, amateur naturalists, and the general public.