My research encompasses a wide variety of topics. Overall, I describe it as that which lies at the intersection of agroecology, conservation, and biodiversity research, all under the umbrella of entomology.
I am fascinated by the movement ecology of insects. Much of my research is focused on the long-distance migration of Nearctic hover flies (Diptera: Syriphidae). Using stable hydrogen isotopes, I discovered that common North American hover fly species, such as Eupeodes americanus, migrate from the upper Midwest and Canada to at least the southeastern United States during autumn. Furthermore, there are morphological, behavioral, and physiological mechanisms which may be linked to this. These findings are likely to have major ecological and economic consequences, given that these insects are important pollinators and biological control agents. For my postdoctoral work I am exploring continental-scale population genomics of these hover flies. Stay tuned!
For more information, please see this publication: https://doi.org/10.1002/ecm.1542
IPM and biological control
I believe that Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a cornerstone of agricultural sustainability and biodiversity conservation. Therefore, I have conducted numerous studies assessing the impacts of cultivation on beneficial insects. In a collaborative study with Illinois organic farmers, I found that field borders and non-cultivated habitat is crucial for supporting overwintering biodiversity of beneficial predacious arthropods in agricultural landscapes.
For more information, please see this publication: https://doi.org/10.1093/jisesa/ieab027
Pesticides play an important role in agricultural production and agroecology. One perpetual topic of concern is how insecticides impact beneficial insects, such as pollinators and predators. In one study led by an undergraduate mentee of mine, we found that hover flies may be capable of detecting the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin in nectar resources. In another project in collaboration with members of the Harmon-Threatt lab, we are assessing the impacts of neonicotinoid seed coatings on soil-dwelling bees and beetles.
For more information, please see this publication: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234820
Faunistics and biodiversity
I have a passion for insect biodiversity that has led me to become involved in insect collections and large specimen datasets. These data offer a wealth of information which can be used to answer a wide variety of scientific questions. Currently I am working with the Illinois Natural History Survey and Georgia Museum of Natural History to curate and digitize their hover fly collections. We are combining these data with other datasets (including citizen science data like iNaturalist), to gain perspectives on conservation needs of certain species and taxonomic groupings. I am also producing an extension publication that outlines common species endemic to the southeastern US.
During my times at Auburn University, I did similar projects with the Auburn University Museum of Natural History to produce works on assassin bugs (Reduviidae) and broad-headed bugs (Alydidae) of Alabama. This culminated in two publication, one of which includes an extensive dichotomous key to 61 assassin bug species.
For more information, please see these publications: https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4688.2.1
Native Plant Conservation
During my master’s work at Auburn University under Dr. David Held, I examined the impacts of native trees on insect biodiversity in suburban landscapes. We published a review that compared caterpillar host records on native and non-native trees, finding that native trees could support nearly 5x as many species as non-native trees. I also conducted a massive common garden experiment involving some 300 saplings, exploring the associational interactions between native and non-native plants. Here, I planted trees in different configurations, mixing native and non-native species. We found evidence of ‘island’ or ‘funnel’ effects when native trees are surrounded by non-native trees, suggesting that native plants planted in a sea of non-natives may incur greater damage and stress compared to natives mixed with other natives. These studies emphasize the importance of native trees in enhancing biodiversity and upholding ecosystem stability in urban and suburban environments.
For more information, please see these publications: