How can we maintain and restore biodiversity in a changing world? My research explores drivers of plant and lichen diversity at multiple scales across diverse ecosystems.

I use field studies across large geographic areas, often in combination with remote sensing techniques, to examine the relative influences of disturbance, management practices, landscape context, and the local environment on communities. My research is grounded in the natural history knowledge and experience I have gained over many years working as a field botanist and ecologist in several regions of North America.

Since 2016, I have worked in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service’s Regional Ecology Program to analyze interactive effects of fire severity, historical disturbance regimes, and spatial disturbance heterogeneity on post-fire plant and lichen communities in the Sierra Nevada.

In my new position at the Washington Natural Heritage Program, I am providing scientific guidance to rare plant conservation efforts across the state. To this end I perform monitoring of wild and restored rare plant communities, demographic studies, habitat suitability models, and trend analysis.

I envision my research program as part of a larger movement to broaden conservation management and restoration ecology into a predictive science, where tools are available to help managers use landscape context, site environment, and plant functional traits to guide practices.

Examples of questions that guide my research :

How are global change factors such as altered fire regimes and climate change affecting biodiversity?

Assessing long-term changes in ecological communities is critical for land management and strategic restoration, but is challenging because baseline datasets are rarely available. I have used a combination of field surveys and remote sensing to document changes in plant communities and vegetation.

timepoint comparison
This comparison of an Ozark glade landscape in 1939 and 2014 shows that tree cover has increased dramatically.

How do plant and lichen functional traits respond to landscape context and disturbance history? Can functional differences between early successional species and late-successional species be used to inform management and restoration practices?

Functional traits can provide key information about how organisms respond to the environment. For example, dispersal traits may help explain species distributions in fragmented landscapes. Species dispersal traits along with persistence traits may also correspond to   differences between early and late successional plant species, with potentially important implications for ecological restoration. Using functional traits to inform conservation and management practices can potentially strengthen connections between basic and applied ecology. I am developing experimental manipulations of lichen community functional traits to test community assembly processes.

An old-growth soil crust lichen community in central Oregon
Epiphytic lichen community near the area that burned in the Long Fire in El Dorado County, California

What is the relative importance of local environment, disturbance, and landscape context for plant and lichen communities?

Plants and lichens are affected by processes operating at multiple spatial scales, and geographically broad community data sets can help disentangle multiple simultaneous drivers. I have found that controlling for local environmental variation can help elucidate the role of landscape context (e.g., habitat fragmentation).

Echinacea paradoxa, an Ozark glade endemic species, blooms in a dolomite glade

What factors shape the abundance, diversity and distributions of biological soil crust lichens?

Soil-dwelling lichens are an important component of biological soil crusts (the living, breathing skin of the earth), and contribute significantly to biodiversity in arid and semi-arid regions. These organisms play important ecological roles, such as preventing wind erosion and the invasion of exotic grasses. They have been little studied, in part because of their cryptic nature, and their distributions and environmental niches are often poorly understood. I have worked on collaborative studies of soil crust lichen communities in sagebrush country of central Oregon as well as the Ozarks.