Research Interests: Anuran evolution, habitat ecology, late tertiary and quaternary biogeography, climate change, evolution and maintenance of color and pattern polymorphism, GIS, sexual selection, speciation, species distribution modeling, spatiotemporal explicit demographic modeling, generalized dissimilar modeling, mating system evolution, mimicry, Neotropical herpetology, phylogenetics, systematics and preserving biodiversity of all types (even mosquitos).
The overarching goal of my research is to develop a conceptual framework for understanding the interplay between spatial, genetic, ecological and evolutionary processes. I integrate theoretical perspectives on evolution, ecology and population genetics with geospatial, field-based and molecular research to address fundamental questions about speciation, distribution patterns and the processes of generating and maintaining diversity. Most of my research falls into two focal areas:
• 1. Explicit integration of ecological, genetic and geospatial analyses to
address evolutionary and conservation questions — focusing on methodological and statistical issues
• 2. Behavioral ecology, evolution and systematics of South American poison frogs (family Dendrobatidae).
I am currently a postdoctoral fellow based in the laboratory of Dr. Anne Yoder at Duke University where I am integrating Geographic Information Systems (GIS), species distribution models (a.k.a ecological niche models), geospatial modeling and coalescent-based phylogenies to better understand biogeographic patterns. This project is in close collaboration with Dr. Miguel Vences of Technical University of Braunschweig. A central goal of biogeography is to identify and characterize the processes underlying divergence. One of the biggest impediments currently faced is how to capture the spatiotemporal dynamic under which a species evolved. Integrating species distribution, demographic and genetic models, coalescent-based phylogenies, and geographic information systems provides a novel perspective of biogeography and, in some cases, substantially improves our understanding of current and historic species distribution patterns. Another key focus of my research has been to elucidate spatial patterns in compositional turnover (beta diversity and endemicity) across large regions and to assess the roles specific barriers played in this. To address these questions I have been integrating GIS, phylogenetics, traditional statistics, species distribution and generalized dissimilarity models.
As a doctoral researcher, I worked with Dr. Kyle Summers at East Carolina University. My dissertation research focused on evaluating key ecological and behavioral differences between two closely related species of Peruvian poison frogs (R. imitator and R. variabilis). These key differences were framed in the context of differing parental care strategies: R. imitator exhibits biparental care (where both parents take care of their tadpoles) and R. variabilis exhibits male parental care (where the males only partake in tadpole transport and deposition). I was particularly interested in the ecological and behavioral factors that contributed to the evolution of biparental care from male parental care ancestors. Over 6 years, I spent 18 months in the field observing these frogs, collecting data on their natural history, space use, home ranges, population structures, phytotelmata use, tadpole competition, tadpole growth rates and deposition strategies.
Throughout my studies I have been interested in decoding information within DNA that explains patterns of species distributions. Subsequently, I have spent considerable time working on projects associated with this topic. In particular, I am interested in the relationships between comparative phylogeographic patterns and mechanisms of speciation in poison frogs (family Dendrobatidae).
Another core of interest of mine is taxonomy, with a particular emphasis in clarifying alpha taxonomy for conservation purposes. We are in an era of unprecedented amphibian extinctions and the basic units of conservation are species. In order to adequately protect any species, we must first understand how many different species there are. This is particularly confusing for poison frogs, because most are extremely, morphologically conservative (with the exception of coloration). As a result, many sister taxa have limited, reliable morphological characters and thus, species boundaries are difficult to define. To address this problem we use phylogenetic analyses (molecular systematics), species distribution modeling, and traditional morphological methods. Finally, I am also interested in relationships between all these factors (i.e. sexual selection, evolution and maintenance of color and pattern polymorphism, mimicry selection, and phylogeography).