When I joined Maureen Stanton's
laboratory as a Ph.D. student at UC Davis, she told the other members of her
lab at the time, "He's interested in fitness questions. He doesn't know it
yet, but he is." (Thanks to my lab mate Laura
Galloway for relating that to me.) Turns out, she was right.
In general, I am interested in the ecological processes that lead to evolutionary change in populations. In practice, that has meant that I have used molecular genetic tools to look at patterns of genetic variation within and among populations, and to try to infer or hypothesize the mechanisms that have created and maintain that variation. In other words, I'm interested in fitness questions.
My current research interests focus on the ecology, conservation, and restoration of rare plant populations in the Inland Northwest. Specifically, I am working with the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on a project on MacFarlane’s Four-O-Clock (
, a federally listed perennial plant that occurs only in the canyons of the Snake, Salmon, and Imnaha Rivers in Idaho and Oregon. In summer 2017, I will be collecting soil samples from sites where occurs, for physical and chemical analysis. I will also be placing probes and data collectors to monitor soil moisture and soil temperature from summer 2017 – summer 2018. The goal is to better understand the habitat conditions experienced by current populations, with the hope of potentially establishing new populations to increase the abundance of the species and speed it toward recovery.
Previously, I worked with my colleague Julie Beckstead and collaborators in Utah, studying Pyrenophora semeniperda, a fungus that infects the seeds of native and introduced grasses in the western U.S. The fungus, known by its fans as "Black Fingers of Death" for the distinctive black reproductive structures it makes, is a potential biocontrol agent for cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), a highly invasive annual grass. As part of this effort, my students and I cultured the fungus from seeds collected at a wide range of sites across the Intermountain West. We (i.e., my students) isolated DNA from the cultures and examined sequence variation in the Internal Transcribed Spacer region (ITS) of the ribosomal genome. That work was published in 2009 in Mycologia; you can read the article here.
Before that, I worked for a number of years examining genetic diversity in plants that inhabit ephemeral wetlands known as vernal pools. Vernal pools are shallow depressions that fill with water in the spring and become completely dry by the early summer. The animals and plants that live in these habitats have evolved life cycles and other adaptations that allow them to survive this drastic change in conditions. As a result, many of the plants and animals that live in vernal pools are found only in vernal pools.