I combine experiments, mathematical modeling and large-scale data analyses to understand the ecological processes that allow complex networks to persist. Throughout my PhD I worked with the invertebrate food webs that live in bromeliads. For my postdoctoral work I am shifting my focus to plant-pollinator networks.
The effect of land-use change on plant-pollinator networks
Do ecological traits determine a bee’s position and plasticity in a plant-pollinator network? To answer this question I am using occupancy models to model “interaction occurrence”, rather than “species occurrence”. Using this approach we can control for forbidden interactions and sampling effort at the same time. I will also be able to incorporate species-specific trait values and, thereby, quantify how the interaction plasticity of a given bee links to its phenotype at other traits, given that the plant community may change between sites.
Using trophic metacommunity ecology to understand the persistence of aquatic bromeliad food webs
Understanding which processes determine food web stability is a major goal of ecology. At local scales, non-linearity in the functional response of a predator is known to stabilize the predator-prey interactions . At regional scales, some dispersal patterns have also been shown to stabilize predator-prey relationships. These are integrated within a trophic metacommunity framework.
I have used empirically measured functional responses to determine the persistence and stability of these food webs at a local scale.
I have also measured dispersal distances for a predator-prey pair using NGS to genotype individuals. I coupled these empirically estimated dispersal rates with metacommunity models which produced patterns of persistence and occupancy that were consistent with past observations on the natural system.
My research not only focuses on natural metacommunities but I am also interested in improving teaching for undergraduate students through research.