Evolutionary Biologist and Nature Photographer

Research

My primary research interests involve understanding the diversity and geographic distributions of organisms, especially terrestrial arthropods found in tropical biodiversity hotspots.  In order to effectively bridge the gap between micro- and macroevolutionary processes, I am interested in integrating studies of phylogenetics/phylogenomics with biogeography, ecology, and morphology to test hypotheses related to speciation and the factors that favor diversification in a number of lineages.  Several groups of arachnids, such as Opiliones (harvestmen) and Amblypygi (tailless whip scorpions), are particularly well-suited for such tasks because they are globally distributed, relatively diverse, easy to collect, and they exhibit low vagility and limited dispersal mechanisms.  The use of high-throughput (next-generation) sequencing to collect vast amounts of molecular data in a time- and cost-effective manner is rapidly changing the way that evolutionary biologists can investigate phylogenetic and phylogeographic hypotheses, making this an exciting time to study molecular evolution in diverse tropical arthropod lineages.

Research for my dissertation focused, in part, on assessing the diversity of an assemblage of harvestmen in a tropical forest in Central America, evaluating interspecific variation in habitat use, and comparing the assemblage response to differences in habitat structure.  I am also interested in microanatomy of arthropod structures, especially those that may have important phylogenetic implications or ecological roles.  Therefore, the other chapters of my dissertation provided the first description of the sexually dimorphic tarsal glands in members of the superfamily Gonyleptoidea (Opiliones: Laniatores), investigated the functional morphology of a novel system of retinacular structures – the tarsal flexor system – found in the legs of some arachnids, and conducted the most comprehensive study of comparative morphology of male genitalia for the family Cosmetidae.

My current and future project goals focus on examining patterns of arthropod diversity, largely focusing on arachnids in tropical habitats, and testing hypotheses regarding the factors that favor diversification in many tropical lineages.  The work involves questions that span multiple geographic scales, including systematics of higher taxa exhibiting tropical Gondwanan distributions, patterns of diversification and biogeography for taxa endemic to the Neotropics along latitudinal and elevational gradients, and intraspecific variation of species with widespread or disjunct distributions.  I am interested in using phylogenetic and phylogeographic analyses of molecular data generated by high-throughput sequencing methods to investigate many of these questions.

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