Our lab works at the nexus of biomedicine and conservation biology. We integrate approaches from experimental field ecology, molecular biology, and ecoinformatics. Our aim is to foster exchanges between ecologists and biomedical scientists who share interests in how our environments influence health and fitness. Current research priorities include understanding the structure and function food webs, the establishment and evolution of symbioses, the diversity and dynamics of ecological communities under climate change, human-livestock-wildlife interactions, and the population genetics of protected species. Lab members vary in the degree to which their work emphasizes fundamental research versus applied conservation outcomes, but all current members meaningfully engage in partnerships with at least one public or private conservation organization through their research. We are grateful for funding to support work involving both large and small mammals, host-microbiome interactions, the next wave of innovative methods for metagenomics and DNA-based dietary analysis, and the conservation of rare and invasive species; we welcome interest from those who may wish to join us in this work.
Plant-herbivore interactions in Yellowstone National Park
The lab has two active NSF awards and funding from the National Park Service to support research at Yellowstone National Park. We are collaborating with the National Park Service’s Bison Management Team and Yellowstone Herbarium to understand how populations of large mammalian herbivores compete with (or facilitate) each other through their foraging behaviors. Informed by GPS-tracking and remote-sensing data, we are combining DNA metabarcoding, field experiments, and vegetation studies to better understand plant-herbivore interactions in this classic system. We are also developing novel classes of molecular biomarkers and analytical frameworks to facilitate studies of wildlife nutrition in the field.
NSF DEB-2046797. CAREER: Experimental tests of competition and facilitation among migratory large herbivores from Yellowstone National Park
NSF OIA-2033823. RII Track-4: Collaborative partnerships at the cusp of wildlife ecology and molecular biology
NPS Cooperative Research and Trainings Program P22AC00332-00. Training youth to evaluate dietary overlap of large herbivores using DNA barcoding
The roles of dietary specialism and generalism in a savanna food web
For nearly a decade, we have worked to understand plant-herbivore interactions across East Africa using a combination of molecular and experimental approaches. Much of this work has focused on Mpala Research Centre in Kenya (Project BASEPAIR). Current funding emphasizes the need to understand how variation in resource availability impacts the diversity and dynamics of small mammal communities.
NSF DEB-1930820. Collaborative Research: Testing predictions of the core-satellite and resource-breadth hypotheses in small mammal communities: field tests of a macroecological pattern. Co-PI with Jacob Goheen
Long-term experimental research in Bosque Fray Jorge National Park, Chile
A Long-Term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) award provides 5-years of support for a classic experiment in Bosque Fray Jorge National Park, Chile. This project started in 1989 and has documented effects of small mammal herbivory, invasive species, and rainfall variability on populations of both plants and small mammals in what is now the longest-running experimental field research program of its kind. Together with a team of investigators in Chile and the US, we will continue to focus on the interactive roles of environmental change while adding novel integration of stable isotopes, fecal DNA metabarcoding, and empirical dynamic modeling to characterize how the food web is influenced by temporally varying energy flows.
NSF DEB-2026294. Collaborative Research: LTREB: Experimental determination of trophic dynamics and energy flows in a semiarid habitat in Chile. Co-PI with Douglas Kelt, Seth Newsome, and Justin Yeakel
Our group is built on a strong foundation in population genetics. Our most recent funding to support conservation genetic analyses on protected species in collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Protection has focused on diamondback terrapins at their northern range edge.
RI DEM Cooperative Agreement: Carrying out a population genetics analysis of diamondback terrapins in Rhode Island and surrounding regions
Institutional support and lab-wide collaboration
We have been fortunate to receive multiple seed awards and Voss research fellowships from the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. This has supported work to (i) connect foraging ecology with earth observations, (ii) identify new strains algae that produce valuable of climate proxies in the oceans, (iii) improve the quality and usability of dietary biomarkers, and (iv) initiate new work on the evolutionary ecology of both protected and non-native reptiles across New England.
Students and postdocs have also been very successful earning external honors and awards for their work in the lab from the American Philosophical Society, American Society of Mammalogists, Animal Behavior Society, Diamondback Terrapin Working Group, EEOB, Ford Foundation, Fulbright Foundation, IBES, Merdeka Award, NOAA, NSF, National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina, PacBio, Rufford Foundation, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, Sophie Danforth Conservation Biology Fund, and the Swedish Research Council.