1) Large-scale spatiotemporal population dynamics of forest-defoliating insects


I am interested in why population abundance tends to fluctuate synchronously across space and why the populations of many species exhibit cyclical "boom-or-bust" dynamics.  I have been working on these questions by studying spatial and temporal patterns in the outbreaks of forest-defoliating insects and using these patterns to inform mechanistic simulation models that allow me to study the roles of underlying biotic (e.g., natural enemies) and abiotic (e.g., Moran effects induced by weather) processes. My primary study subject is the moth the spongy moth (Lymantria dispar), one of the most damaging forest pests in North America.


2) Effects of climate change on forest-defoliating insect populations and forest dynamics


Many studies predicted that climate warming would increase the frequency and severity of outbreaks of forest-defoliating insects. Though some species show these responses, the few studies that have examined the outbreak histories of defoliator species, have revealed few generalities in their responses to climate change. My main approach has been use of a variety of time-series analysis techniques to study temporal variation in population dynamics and to uncover the underlying climatic drivers.


3) Light pollution: ecological impacts


I examine the ecological impacts of light pollution (artificial light at night) through collaborations with graduate students and undergraduate participants in the NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. Melissa Hey recently earned her Ph.D. examining effects of light pollution on ecosystem processes including primary production and decomposition. Ariel Firebaugh earned her Ph.D. studying how light pollution impacts the demography (dispersal and mating success) of bioluminescent fireflies. Undergraduate (REU) students are examining the effects of light pollution on plants and plant-herbivore interactions.