Research in my lab addresses fundamental questions regarding population dynamics and the population-level consequences of inter-specific interactions, mostly in plant and insect systems. My work spans population, community, and evolutionary ecology, including the spread of biological invasions, the dynamics of consumer-resource and host-symbiont interactions, and the evolution of life histories. My interests are broad but united by an emphasis on demography and demographic structure. Most natural populations are demographically heterogeneous – some individuals are small, some are large; some are young, some are old; some are female, some are male, etc. – and individuals in these different categories can have very different vital rates. This simple observation is central to the study of population dynamics and can also be a critical ingredient of spatial processes, inter-specific interactions, and community dynamics, as ecologists are just beginning to understand.
I address research questions using both empirical and theoretical methods, and I am particularly excited about the integration of data and theory. Much of my work is characterized by the dual approach of exploring the behavior of general models, and tethering models to particular biological systems. In practice, this means I use observations and experiments to estimate model parameters and evaluate how those parameters respond to particular factors of interest. To this end, I rely heavily on maximum likelihood and information-theoretic approaches to experimental design and data analysis, and less so on frequentist hypothesis-testing (though I do some of this too). The interplay of theory and data is a powerful way to connect patterns we observe in nature to the processes that generate them. I also believe that attention to natural history is an important part of this process.
Empirical work in my lab focuses on insects, plants, and their ecological interactions (including plant-insect mutualism, herbivory, and plant-microbe symbiosis). These groups are experimentally tractable, relevant in many applied contexts, and are just plain cool. I conduct field studies in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida. I also conduct population dynamics experiments using Bruchid beetle colonies in the laboratory.