Education and Academic Positions
Assistant Professor in Plant Ecology, The College of Wooster, 2015-present
Visiting Assistant Professor in Conservation Biology, Wittenberg University, 2014-2015
Visiting Assistant Professor in Ecology, Wabash College, 2013-2014
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto, 2010-2013
Ph.D., Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago/Chicago Botanic Garden, 2010
B.A., Biology, St. Olaf College, 2003
The immense variety of organisms on earth came about by evolutionary processes. We know that the ‘raw material’ for these processes is the genetic diversity within and among populations. One plant population typically differs from the next, and individuals within any given population vary genetically on a number of traits. I am interested in understanding how this within-population diversity is maintained and how it may be diminished by anthropogenic alterations to the landscape. My research incorporates the concepts and methodologies of evolutionary ecology, ecological genetics, pollination biology, and urban ecology.
Variation in mating patterns can have profound effects on how the genes segregating in a population get packaged into individual genotypes, and this can impact the pace of natural selection. For genetically self-incompatible plants, pollen is required to move from one individual to another for fertilization. Thus, spatial isolation and flowering time of individuals can be major determinants of mating patterns and important contributors to (or limiters of) diversity. In my research, I addressed the question: “Is the probability of any two plants exchanging pollen more strongly determined by their proximity in space or their degree of flowering synchrony?”
In my graduate research, I conducted a categorical paternity analysis on Echinacea seedlings using eleven microsatellite loci and found that more pollinations occurred between neighboring plants and synchronous plants than expected under random mating, with distance being more important than flowering synchrony. In contrast, we found that a plant’s flowering time had a larger and more consistent effect on its seed set than did its spatial isolation. Seed set in the earliest flowering plants exceed seed set in the latest by 46 – 70% in all years of a three year study.
Currently, I am examining how these intra-population pollen movement patterns affect long-term population persistence of fragmented Echinacea remnants in the face of rapid climate change and the ensuing evolution of flowering time. To estimate the heritability of flowering time and determine the persistence of phenological mating patterns through generations, I set up a quantitative genetic common garden of 4,000 Echinacea plants. I am also collaborating on an ongoing dataset (currently 7 years) of flowering times for 10,000 Echinacea plants in the common garden. Using these real-time data we can assess Echinacea’s response to climate change.