PhD Research at Aarhus University

For my PhD, I will be working on digital soil mapping in Denmark. My project will be embedded within Danish research and development project “ProvenanceDK”. The aim is to characterize terroir-like regional entities by integrating soil properties with topographic and landform attributes together with information on climate variation across Denmark. The background for the project is that the Danish food sector is losing jobs and producers face a long-term trend of income problems. As I develop my project further, I will add more details of what my research entails.

Master’s Research at the University of Idaho

The goal of my Master’s thesis was to understand how variation in habitat can promote species richness and trait diversity. The first objective of this project was to link how island ontogeny shapes the number of species found on islands. The second objective was to quantify the association between habitat features and variation in morphology and physiology of species. I am interested in using GIS techniques in biology to help with management decisions in conservation. To view my thesis, please click here.

Species Richness

By using the data available at the Charles Darwin Foundation Datazone, I could test the topographic complexity assumptions that are made in the General Dynamic Model (GDM) of Oceanic Island Biogeography. The assumption is that topographic complexity will follow a hump-shaped curve through an island’s ontogeny. I was testing to see if this assumption is true in the Galapagos and if topographic complexity is incorporated into the model, which measure of complexity should be used. Since there are many different ways to measure topographic complexity, I wanted to know if there is a single measure that should be used to model all taxonomic groups in the Galapagos or if each taxonomic group has a different measure depending on how each group interacts with the landscape.

Trait Diversity

To understand how trait diversity is linked to the habitat where species are found, a well-studied adaptive radiation of the Galapagos islands was used. The endemic land snails of the genus Naesiotus represent the most species rich adaptive radiation of the Galapagos islands with over 60 species currently described. Naesiotus inhabits most islands in the Galapagos from lower elevations that are hot and arid to higher elevations that are cool and humid. Along this environmental gradient, these species exhibit diverse shell sizes and shapes. Although work in this system using phylogenetically-controlled analyses has identified a strong link between shell morphology and ecology, a thorough study of physiological variation within and among species is needed to identify the proximate mechanisms and ultimate causes responsible for ecological diversification. I was linking morphological and physiological changes with environmental variation which will help in understanding why an adaptation would arise and why a lineage has diversified.

The word clouds above were generated from my chapters in my thesis. This page also has some of my favorite animal photos and a video I made on the fascinating things I saw while in the Galapagos. You can also watch this video on youtube by clicking here.