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I am a Research Ecologist with the U.S Forest Service, where my current research focuses on how logging activities shape native pollinator communities, plant-animal interactions, and affect dispersal, based in the mountains surrounding beautiful Bozeman, MT.  I hope my research can inform conservation efforts of native bees and other insect pollinators across the mountain west. 


I also recently completed a post-doc in Dr. Beth Shapiro's lab (Paleogenomics Lab) at the University of California Santa Cruz in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. I used contemporary and ancient (aDNA) and environmental DNA (eDNA) to answer multi-scalar ecological and

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evolutionary questions and to inform conservation of several threatened and endangered vertebrate and invertebrate species. I also taught an undergraduate biology course using eDNA as a framework for STEM education.  

 I completed my PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior in December 2018 at the University of Texas at Austin, supervised by Dr. Shalene Jha. My dissertation research focused on how urban landscapes shape native bee communities and genetic population structure, and I also developed best-practice methods for next-generation sequencing of field-collected bee specimens.

Current Research

Wildfire risk reduction and pollinators

In collaboration with Drs. Justin Runyon (USFS) and Laura Burkle (Montana State University), this project aims to determine how logging and prescribed burning affect habitat for pollinators, plant and pollinator biodiversity, and plant-pollinator networks.  We use traditional survey methods of floral and insect identification as well as eDNA collected from open flowers (to identify insect visitors) and pollen collected from insect bodies (to identify visited plants).   

 

The results of this project will inform agency goals of reducing wildland fire risk and fostering resilient forests and watersheds across the Mountain West.  We were recently awarded funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support our work. 

with 2023 field assistant Elise Reynaud

Ongoing Research

Informing restoration using eDNA

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In this study, we use eDNA to measure biodiversity and detect invasive species within two desert oases in the Coachella Valley Nature Preserve, CA. One of the oases was targeted to restore the endangered desert pupfish (Cyprinodon macularis), but had two invasive species (tilapia, Oreochromis aureus and red swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkii) introduced in the 1960’s.  Previous restoration efforts of pupfish were unsuccessful due to invasive presence. An eradication program of these two species was completed in July 2019.  Crayfish presence is notoriously difficult to detect with eDNA, and indeed crayfish were not detected in any

Simone Pond, Coachella Valley Nature Preserve, Palm Desert CA

other samples known to contain crayfish. However, we detected a unique microbial community of around 90 species in the invaded oasis, that was absent in the non-invaded oasis and control tanks.  Many of these species have previously been associated with crayfish in other studies.  This research has recently been published in Environmental DNA

 

We also found nearly 6000 total taxa of animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms in the pre-eradication samples, with a significant difference in biodiversity between the invaded and non-invaded oases. Further analysis of the total community is ongoing, and preliminary results indicate community turnover of microbial, plant, and animal species.  We hope that these results can inform restoration of other invaded aquatic systems.

Landscape genomics of endangered California species

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Tricolored Blackbird

Agelaius tricolor

Sonoran bumblebee,

Bombus sonorus

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Examining the impacts of a century of decline on genomic diversity of the Tricolored Blackbird

 In collaboration with Dr. Kelly Barr (UCLA) and PhD student Megha Srigyan (UCSC), we are using DNA extracted from 100+ year old museum specimens as well as contemporary samples to compare genetic composisiton through time of this iconic California species.  Once one of the most abundant birds in California, it has undergone rapid decline after the 1930's as 90% of its preferred wetland habitat has been lost to urbanization and agricultural development.   By comparing genomic diversity and structure in different individuals across its contemporary and historic range, we can understand potential ecological features that represent long-term barriers to gene flow, and help develop management strategies for this species.  The genome assembly has now been published in the Journal of Heredity.

 

Conservation genomics of California bumblebees

In collaboration with Drs Hollis Woodard (UCR) and Neal Williams (UCD),  we are using contemporary specimens from across the state to assess genetic structure and diversity in two declining (B. crotchii, B. sonorus) and one stable (B. vosnesenskii) species. Bombus crotchii is considered endangered by the IUCN, and will likely soon be listed in the California Endangered Species Act. B. sonorus appears to be declining significantly, but has not yet been proposed for listing. In contrast, B. vosnesenskii is the most abundant bumblebee species in California and we will compare genomic diversity between species to explore drivers of decline by examining associations between land use, environmental factors, and genetic diversity, including both landscape and finer-scale patterns of habitat diversity and connectivity between sites.  Understanding these factors will help management of these beautiful and economically important pollinators. 

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