"I swear I found the key to the universe in the engine of an old parked car." Bruce Springsteen.
"You haven't seen a tree until you've seen its shadow from the sky." Amelia Earhart.
"Mr. Charles Darwin had the gall to ask. Yeah, yeah, yeah." REM
Education & Employment History
My research program focuses on plant evolutionary ecology and the biology of invasive species. I am interested in how evolutionary forces such as genetic drift and natural selection resulting from positive (eg: plant-pollinator) and negative interactions, (eg: plant-pathogen) influences patterns observed in natural populations of angiosperms. I currently have an active lab of undergraduate and graduate students working on a diversity of research topics in the southeastern coastal plain, the Appalachian Mountains, Europe and China.
Owing to their ecological and economic costs, a primary goal of research on alien species is to understand the factors responsible for successful invasion. It is commonly noted that individuals in the introduced part of a species' geographic range exhibit increased vigor when compared to plants in the native range. This pattern could arise if ecological conditions in the new environment are different from the native range (e.g., absence of natural enemies). Alternatively, differential performance could arise from genetic changes following invasion. The goal of my research is to examine ecological and genetic aspects of the invasion process in plants. and economic costs, a primary goal of research on alien species is to understand the factors responsible for successful invasion. It is commonly noted that individuals in the introduced part of a species' geographic range exhibit increased vigor when compared to plants in the native range. This pattern could arise if ecological conditions in the new environment are different from the native range (e.g., absence of natural enemies). Alternatively, differential performance could arise from genetic changes following invasion. The goal of my research is to examine ecological and genetic aspects of the successful invasion of Silene latifolia into North America from Europe.
Hermaphroditic flowers disseminate and receive pollen and therefore represent a compromise in selection pressures that operate on male and female function. My studies on temperate, desert and tropical plant-pollinator systems have focused on how intra-population variation in floral morphology influences sexual function. I am particularly interested in the pollination syndrome concept which argues that floral traits (eg, size, color, shape) coexist in predictable combinations to interact with different suites of pollinators. We are using the large group of morning glory (Ipomoea) species that grow sympatrically in the southeastern coastal plain to test the validity of the pollination syndrome concept. A new direction we are adopting is to use transgenic I. quamoclit (blue vs. red flowers) to evaluate how variation in a single trait (flower color) impacts pollinator attraction.
Plants in nature not only interact with mutualists (eg, pollinators), but also have to deal with antagonistic interactions with pathogens, herbivores and competitors. These interactions can result in opposing selection forces if traits that favor mutualism work in opposition (eg, while large flower size attracts pollinators it may also attract floral herbivores). Ongoing projects in the lab are examining: 1) how pollination syndromes influence floral herbivory in sympatric morning glories, and; 2) the causes and consequences of fungal pathogen disease in natural populations of flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), a native forest understory forest tree in mountains of the eastern US.
Lecture Classes @ GSU
In this senior undergraduate/graduate-level course we explore various aspects of the behavior, ecology and evolution of flowering plants. A mix of lecture and greenhouse and field research projects is used to provide students with an integrated understanding of the field of evolutionary ecology.
This course is designed to introduce non-major students to contemporary issues of environmental biology. A mix of lecture and discussion is used to challenge students to understand how topics such as human population growth, global climate change, rapidly evolving global politics, and emerging diseases are, and will influence their lives.
This undergraduate/graduate level course presents an introduction to the world of evolutionary biology in which we explore the history of evolutionary thought and how the major evolutionary forces (natural selection, genetic drift) generate change at various levels of organization.
The Music of Bruce Springsteen
For 40 years Bruce Springsteen has been writing about the hopes, dreams and realities of life. This First-Year Experience course integrates a variety of media and strategies to understand how his lyrics and live performances have impacted American culture and society.
Field Classes @ Mountain Lake Biological Station (University of Virginia)
Biological invasions occur when species are transported from their original geographic range to nonnative regions and subsequently create ecological and/or economic damages. This course explores fundamental processes in ecology, evolution, and biogeography by using invasions as case studies. During the term we integrate lectures, readings from the rapidly growing literature, field observations and experiments, and field trips to impacted sites.
The relationship between animals and plants provides some of the most compelling examples of biological interactions. This course explores evolutionary and ecological aspects of these interactions by focusing on both mutualistic (e.g., pollination, seed dispersal) and antagonistic (e.g., herbivory) processes. These fundamental interactions are studied by integrating natural history, theory, field experiments, and discussions of the current scientific literature.
Graduate Students - photos
Department of Biology, Georgia Southern University
last modified: 8/21/12