The main focus of my research centers on biological diversity and the evolutionary processes that create that diversity. In doing so, I have centered my research on the evolutionary and ecological implications of hybridization in mammals. My dissertation research focused on studying the hybrid zone between two species of ground squirrel (i.e., Ictidomys parvidens and I. tridecemlineatus) found in West Texas. Through genetics (i.e., gene sequencing and AFLPs) and ecological niche modeling, I answered questions regarding the historical biogeography of these species, current levels of hybridization, and the role the environment has played in determining locations of contact and subsequent potential for hybridization. Currently, I am in the process of developing a project to explore transcriptomes in these two species to find candidate genes associated with genetic isolation and subsequent speciation.
Previous hybrid zone research identified and characterized the contact zone between the northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda) and the Elliot’s short-tailed shrew (B. hylophaga) in southwestern Iowa and northwestern Missouri. The research involved intensive fieldwork, field karyotyping, and AFLPs, which has led to the publication of three papers. A continuation of this work is in the planning stage to evaluate possible hybridization between these two species at this contact zone, as well as exploring the tools of ecological niche modeling to assess historical responses of the contact zone to climate change.
Other research foci include systematics, taxonomy, and the general natural history of mammals. Projects have included the molecular evolution of the Rpb3 gene in pocket gophers; the invasive ecology of the gray squirrel; natural history of Mexican species of woodrat; dietary analysis between the bobcat and the ocelot; and hantavirus prevalence in urban areas. In addition, I am in the developmental stages of rewriting the Mammals of Iowa with John B. Bowles, James W. Demastes, Daryl Howell, Richard P. Lampe, and Theresa Spradling.