My research aims to bridge outstanding gaps between theory and empiricism in understanding the role of environmental variability in generating and maintaining biological diversity.
Life operates in a world that fluctuates across space and time. To make sense of the natural world, biologists often treat this variability as noise, on the assumption that genes, individuals, species and communities respond most strongly to averages and absolutes. Emerging ecological theory suggests otherwise. Environmental variability can result in systems whose properties deviate in orders of magnitude from those expected under mean conditions. Species coexist that otherwise wouldn’t, populations (in)explicably explode and crash, genotypic niche breadth expands, and the consequences of local scale non-linearities are magnified.
I employ a combination of laboratory experiments, field observations, mathematical modeling, and statistical inference. I am system neutral, which is to say I strive to use whichever biological system is best suited to answering the question at hand. Plant communities and their floral microbes have been a pre-occupation in the past but I currently spend more time with E. coli.
Understanding environmental variability is essential to the development of ecology as a rigorous predictive science. In turn, it has direct relevance for a variety of applied fields. For example, in conservation it informs management strategies for maintaining biodiversity and predicting climate change impacts, in human health it is critical to understanding the functional stability of the gut microbiome, and in biofuel production it helps to maximise productivity.