My research centers on plant interactions with biotic and abiotic factors in the context of global change across spatial and temporal scales in coastal systems. The importance of sea-level rise, alterations in storm frequency, and temperature changes are at the forefront in explaining long-term changes in coastal plant communities. Trained as a plant physiological ecologist, I am interested in understanding the mechanisms responsible for individual species distributions under various environmental conditions to inform predictions for response to climate change. I approach questions at a variety of scales, working at the organismal level and across the landscape by combining cutting edge laboratory studies, field work, and remote sensing. I am co-PI at the Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) Long-Term Ecological Researach (LTER) site. Current research includes 1) mechanisms of state change between grassland/shrubland, 2) functional composition and connectivity across the barrier island landscape, and 3) carbon dynamics in barrier island communities.
I am a creative person and spend much of my non-working time knitting, sewing, designing, gardening, and traveling while raising two wonderful children. I believe that science should be accessible to all people and that students have ideas that need to be heard. As an advisor I view myself as facilitator and work to empower students to recognize their own expertise, express their views, and find their passion for future career paths. Science is always evolving and there is no fixed path to achieving your goals. My students and post-docs contribute meanigfully to the direction and future of the Coastal Plant Ecology Lab.
I am broadly interested in mechanisms driving patterns of seedling recruitment in natural and disturbed environments. As native communities decline due to anthropogenic and climate induced disturbances, most areas experience a reduction in species richness with varying effects on community stability. As a plant community ecologist, my research emphasizes seed and seedling responses to resources by partitioning those resources that are under direct biotic control and those that are under abiotic control. Through examining abiotic and biotic factors that affect plant recruitment, I can anticipate community stability in the face of disturbance and if necessary to promote recruitment of target species. My current research includes: 1) environmental filtering at the scale of shrub microhabitats, 2) seed dispersal mechanisms of maritime forest tree species, and 3) salinity tolerance of maritime forest seed species.
My research interests focus on the ecology of coastal plants, with a primary emphasis on woody species, especially those that form shrub thickets. A broad objective for my research is to understand the adaptive mechanisms for survival and success in coastal environments and the interplay of physical stresses and biotic interactions on the distribution of plants in coastal environments. Our projects have and continue to focus on specific environmental and biotic factors affecting the distribution of barrier island plants, successional processes in coastal environments, shrub expansion in coastal environments, ecological significance of coastal storms, ecology of coastal wetlands, control of invasive species in coastal areas, effects of salinity and flooding on plant ecophysiological processes, and restoration of coastal communities.
My research interests include trait-based plant community assembly and the use of trait-based ecology to understand coastal ecosystems across spatial scales. I am particularly interested in how complex biotic and abiotic interactions vary across stress gradients, leading to heterogeneous plant functional groups dictated by the amount of physical or biotic stress plants must tolerate. My PhD research will contribute to using trait-based ecological theory to decipher what complex and interacting factors influence coastal plant zonation.
My dissertation work focuses on shrub encroachment across the Virginia Coast Reserve and the associated changes in microclimate and community physiology. I am interested in fine scale community changes as well as broader consequences of thicketization on island productivity and nutrient and water availability.