Research Q & A
What’s your hometown?
Saint Louis, Missouri
What are you currently working on?
The fact that species have geographic ranges indicates that they fail to adapt to environmental conditions immediately beyond their range edge. However, it’s unclear why adaptation is constantly failing in this regard. Several evolutionary genetic hypotheses have been proposed to explain this bizarre phenomenon.
With funding from the Bell Museum, I have been able to collect genomic data from multiple populations across the range of the South Mountains Gray-cheeked Salamander, a species limited to a tiny mountain range in North Carolina. Using DNA sequences, I hope to evaluate how genetic variation and gene flow among populations may cause species’ to be maladapted at their range edge, resulting in their contemporary geographic ranges.
How are you working toward that goal?
Currently, the University of Minnesota Genomics Center is collecting DNA sequence data from populations of salamanders that I sampled this past year. Starting this spring, I will begin collecting environmental data that can be combined with genetic information to understand how habitat type modifies movement among populations.
Why are you focusing your work in that area?
I have always loved amphibians, and I have always loved maps. My study area, biogeography, is the perfect combination of both interests.
Where are you working on research/field work?
My field work is in the South Mountains of North Carolina. These mountains are relatively small (less than 3000 feet at their highest point) and the whole mountain range extends less than 30 miles from end to end.
What will your next steps/research be?
Starting this spring, I will begin collecting environmental data that may influence how salamanders move among populations. Additionally, I will be collecting population and behavioral data across their range through night surveys. This will give us a finescale idea of their distribution, population densities, and what regulates their activity at night.