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.
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.
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 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.
My research interests are motivated by an urge to restore and conserve natural resources and habitats, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and to improve public support and education on these topics. I am broadly interested in ecosystem functions, geomorpholology, and interactions between abiotic and biotic systems.
My Master's research has two main components: one field experiment involving the manipulation of dune building grasses, and a remote sensing project aimed at quantifying landscape scale changes at the Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR). From these long term data we are quantifying the landward migration of the barrier islands, as well as changes in cover class and island erosion to ultimately improve our understanding of the longer term response of the islands to sea-level rise.
In my free time I enjoy being outdoors, hiking, biking, kayaking and just exploring Virginia's diverse landscape. I am originally from Iowa and I love traveling to new places and immersing myself in the local culture.