Curator of Invertebrate Zoology
My lab's broad research interest is how animal species respond to past and present environmental changes. The approaches we use to study these questions are varied and include direct inference through examination of fossil and modern species, as well as indirect inference using molecular phylogenetic, ecological niche modeling, and morphometric approaches. We examine multiple aspects of response, including distributional, molecular, morphological and functional.
Because so much of the work in lab uses primary species and population occurrence data (when and where species and populations occur) available from natural history collections, we are very involved in ecological and biodiversity informatics initiatives to increase the quality, availability and utility of such datasets at the global scale. Our particular informatics interest is building online Geographic Information Systems so that anyone may access, visualize and analyze legacy and current biodiversity and environmental data. I primarily work on gastropod and bivalve molluscs but students work on a variety of organisms including mammals, viruses and ferns.
Curator of Vertebrate Zoology
One of the most fundamental questions in ecology is "What are the patterns of biodiversity on earth and what mechanisms produce them?" Paradoxically, while mechanisms underlying patterns have been the emphasis of research efforts for decades, no accepted, general explanation for the distribution of biodiversity has surfaced, not even for the most studied gradients of latitude and elevation. The need to document and understand the mechanisms producing biodiversity patterns is particularly urgent with the current unprecedented rates of global habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change.
My research aims to improve our understanding of the patterns and underlying mechanisms of diversity, abundance, and distributions of organisms in a search for general theories of biodiversity. Several branches of research offer promising results: (1) Rigorous field assessment of patterns and possible causal mechanisms (e.g. climatic or evolutionary factors), (2) Quantitative methods involving null models, spatial statistics, simulations, GIS, and predictive modeling techniques, (3) Synthetic analyses of large data sets gathered over decades of field research in regional and global comparative analyses, (4) Comparative approaches among different taxonomic groups to reveal common and contrasting patterns to identify underlying causation.