I received my Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 2002, and then did my postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin. My first academic position was the University of California - Santa Barbara, where I stayed from 2005 to 2010, starting as assistant professor and moving to associate professor. I moved my lab to the University of Michigan in 2011. I am currently a handling editor for Ecology and Ecological Monographs, a member of DIVERSITAS, and a member of the Science Working Group for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).
I am currently accepting new graduate students. Please visit my lab website to learn about the opportunities available.
I use theory, experiments, and observational studies to address questions aimed at understanding how human alteration of the environment impacts the biotic diversity of communities and, in turn, how this loss can affect fluxes of energy and matter that are fundamental to all biological processes. I focus on this topic because I believe that global loss of biodiversity ranks among the most important and dramatic environmental problems in modern history. Yet, even while rates of species extinction are approaching those of prior mass extinctions, we know very little about the different roles that species play in ecosystems. More importantly, we have almost no idea how the well being of our own species might be linked to the great variety of life that is the most striking feature of our planet. Ultimately, my basic research serves to guide my interest in the conservation and restoration of ecosystems. My research features three primary branches:
1. Biodiversity and ecosystem processes
Much recent effort in ecology has focused on understanding how loss of the world's biodiversity might alter important ecological processes such as primary production, decomposition, the cycling of biologically important nutrients, and outbreaks of diseases and other pest species. My research seeks to outline the conditions under which diversity does or does not impact these processes so that we might better establish priorities for conservation.
2. Community assembly
My most basic scientific interest lies in understanding why communities develop as they do. Communities are assembled by sequential processes of colonization and extinction such that they are inherently a function of historical events. I study how two types of historical events - priority effect and habitat alteration - determine the number and types of species that become members of a food web.
3. Restoration ecology
The most applied aspect of my research focuses on how ecological principles can be used to guide the restoration of ecosystems. Habitat alteration is perhaps the most obvious and widespread human impact on the global environment. Many attempts to restore habitats to their original state have assumed that if we provide the correct habitat, organisms will re-colonize naturally leading to "normal" community structure and biological function (often dubbed the 'field of dreams hypothesis'). My research moves beyond this narrow view of recovery by exploring some of the factors that limit the successful restoration of ecosystems.
NRE 517/EHS 580: Conservation Biology: The world is in a period of environmental change that is unprecedented in the history of human life. This course examines the causes and consequences of one of the most prominent forms of change in the modern era - loss of biological diversity and its impacts on the ecological functions of natural ecosystems. Unlike many conservation biology courses, this class makes no false assumption that biodiversity has inherent value, or is universally 'good' for society. Rather, our goals are to (i) detail the scientific evidence for why Earth's biological resources are being depleted, (ii) outline how these changes impact ecosystems and the services they provide to society, (iii) describe the social and economic trade-offs we are likely to face as a result of biodiversity loss, and (iv) understand current management strategies that are used to curb changes in our planet's biological resources.
NRE 504: Ecosystem Services: This course will evaluate the scientific, economic, and socio-political basis for ecosystem services. Ecosystem services - sometimes referred to as Earth's "natural capital" - represent the sum of all goods and services that natural and managed ecosystems provide to humanity. These services include direct provisioning of goods like food, wood, and freshwater, regulating services such as climate regulation or pest and disease control, and cultural services such as recreation and tourism. The idea that ecosystems have natural capital has become increasingly prominent over the past decade as scientists, economists, and politicians have considered how to account for the values of ecosystems that are not included in traditional economic markets. This class will explore the ways in which ecosystem services are measured and related to basic ecological processes, how those services are valued and monetized by society, and how services are managed and encouraged by policy and law. Theoretical and practical concepts will be reinforced by student-led case studies that provide 'real-world' examples of ecosystem services being valued, including payment for ecosystem services projects, biodiversity offsets, certification schemes, and REDD+.