Research Q & A
What’s your hometown?
I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio originally.
What are you currently working on?
With my current research, I aim to test whether well-established conceptual models of evolutionary biology can help explain the formation of global biodiversity. The most prevalent of these models, that of adaptive radiation, predicts that, after dispersing to a new biotic region, a group of organisms will undergo ecological diversification and increase the number of species (species richness) and ecological diversity within the group. With my fellowship funding, I’m testing for these patterns by combining phylogenetic trees and specimens from natural history collections to quantify the evolutionary outcomes of repeated dispersal events by songbirds from their ancestral ranges into the Americas.
How are you working toward that goal?
I’m currently in the analysis and writing stage of this project and am integrating modeling approaches and simulation studies to test whether the number of species and extent of ecological diversity for each group of songbirds in the Americas are correlated with one another and whether this relationship is different than neutral, random processes. I’m combining a published phylogeny of all birds and my dissertation data set with tens of thousands of functional trait measurements from bird specimens, and the work stemming from this project will comprise at least two chapters of my dissertation and (hopefully) even more scientific publications.
Why are you focusing your work in that area?
Songbirds, fascinating in their own right, have a dynamic history of repeated transcontinental dispersal events and diversification into but rarely out of the Americas. This group contains thousands of species and exhibits remarkable ecological diversity, which makes them an excellent group to test this conceptual model with.
Where are you working on research/field work?
Because of the scale at which I’m addressing these topics, doing field work to collect the necessary trait data just isn’t feasible in a single career (or lifetime!). So, I’ve been able to collect the data I need for this research from the Bell Museum’s ornithology collection, in addition to collections at the Field Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and Louisiana State University.
What will your next steps/research be?
The next few months will be very busy for me, as I finish my dissertation and prepare to move to Denver to begin my dream job as an assistant professor of biology at Regis University. In addition to teaching ecology and statistics, I also plan to develop a new research project that will study the functional anatomy and ecological utility of the avian skull in a bottom-up approach to complement my current top-down research.