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Graduate Program: Research Areas

Concentration in Global Change Biology

Faculty, post-docs, and graduate students in this concentration work on diverse aspects of global change biology, including conservation, habitat loss and fragmentation, range expansion and contraction, invasion ecology, extinction risk, stress physiology, adaptation, resilience, ocean acidification, and climate change. Our research focuses on both plant and animal systems and emphasizes the integration of field and lab work to identify, understand, and resolve current environmental challenges. Our goal is to apply scientific rigor to applied problems.
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Faculty mentors:

Michael Reed
Colin Orians
Jan Pechenik
Sara Lewis
Philip Starks
Elizabeth Crone
Erik Dopman
Michael Romero

Associated faculty mentors not currently accepting graduate students: George Ellmore, Francie Chew


Reed Research Group
Members of Reed's research group are interested primarily in understanding species persistence and extinction in dynamic landscapes. Current research is on the impacts of industrial forestry practices on biodiversity, and on salamander persistence in areas being fragmented by suburban sprawl. Reed is particularly interested in the interface between individual behavior and population biology.

Orians Laboratory
Members of the Orians laboratory integrate field and laboratory research in an effort to 1) understand the ecological and evolutionary consequences of hybridization to plant-herbivore interactions, and 2) determine how the responses of plants to their environment affect their growth and/or resistance to herbivores. Our studies examine both the patterns and mechanisms of differential plant performance and herbivore responses. Our approach lends itself to working at different scales: chemical, physiological, or community. Projects include, but are not limited to, the effects of hybridization in willows to plant-herbivore interactions, the effects of soil nutrient patches on aboveground plant growth and herbivore resistance, and the effects of environmental stress on the abundance and distribution of plants.

Pechenik Laboratory
Researchers in the Pechenik laboratory are generally concerned with environmental influences on the development and behavior of marine invertebrates. Current projects include control of metamorphosis during development, impact of ocean acidification and other stresses on development and metamorphosis, delayed ("latent") effects of exposure to stresses during development and the underlying molecular basis for those effects, reproductive and physiological adaptations for development under thermal stress, and environmental causes of yearly variation in shell quality for marine hermit crabs.

Lewis Laboratory
The Lewis laboratory studies behavior from an evolutionary perspective, and is particularly interested in the ecological context of sexual selection in natural populations. This work uses a variety of model organisms to examine how sex ratios, population density, and parental investment may alter the predicted patterns of courtship behavior and the relative intensity of sexual selection on males and females. Studies on fireflies and the flour beetle Tribolium explore how pre-copulatory and post-copulatory behaviors interact to determine overall reproductive success.

Starks Laboratory
The Starks laboratory studies animal behavior from an evolutionary perspective, and focuses primarily on the adaptive significance of social behavior in insects. Research in the Starks Lab is multi-faceted: lab members engage in studies that are observational, experimental, and theoretical. In order to answer research questions, lab members use both field and laboratory techniques. Primary areas of interest relate to invasion biology, recognition systems,host-parasite interactions, communication, and the evolution of eusociality.

Crone Laboratory
Our research falls broadly in the area of population ecology, with emphasis on two overarching themes. The first is using theoretical ecology to improve conservation, restoration and wildlife management. Applied ecologists usually need to design management strategies in the absence of complete information about causes of the problems they need to manage. Ecological theory - broadly defined as different ideas about how systems work - provides a context for outlining what factors might be important, and under what circumstances they are most likely to matter. The second theme is uniting natural history and theoretical population ecology. By this we do not mean that population models should include all details of life history and basic biology. The goal of a model is to simplify systems by capturing the key processes and interactions that determine a particular response. Therefore, the question is under which conditions simplified models capture the essence of more complicated systems, in spite of being incorrect, and under which the differences between natural history and model assumptions lead to predictions that differ systematically from those of simple models.

Erik Dopman
One of Science's greatest challenges is to understand the origins of biological diversity in nature. As pointed out by Ernst Mayr, biodiversity has both proximate (e.g., genetic) and ultimate (evolutionary) causes. The Dopman lab applies a unified conceptual framework to investigate both forms of causation through a combination of experimental and comparative studies, and by drawing on various approaches, including population genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, and molecular genetics. Although we focus on long-standing problems in evolutionary biology, we use modern tools and techniques to advance our research goals (e.g., DNA microarrays, next-generation sequencing).

Romero Laboratory
Work in the Romero laboratory integrates several levels of physiological regulation in examining the adaptive role of stress responses in wildlife populations. The experimental subjects are wild birds and mammals and captive starlings and house sparrows. This research consists of intimately intertwined laboratory and field studies in the areas of physiology, ecology, and neuroscience, all with the goal of increasing our comprehension of the causes and effects of stress. We then attempt to integrate this knowledge to assess and predict how animals will react to global change.

Chew Research Group
Dr. Chew's research interests are in insect-plant interactions, particularly ecological and chemical aspects of interactions between native insects and weedy introduced plants, and the evolution of various butterfly groups. Previous graduate students have worked on these questions or have forged their own collaborations with The Nature Conservancy and other interest groups. She is also the Director of the American Studies Program.

Ellmore Laboratory
The Ellmore laboratory focuses on plant development and growth strategies in novel environments. Responses of germination, seedling establishment, and root growth to environmental variations, especially those associated with wetlands and tropical sites.

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