I seek to understand how trophic interactions generate diversity across different levels of biological organization, from individual traits and behavior to emergent ecosystem properties. My work consists primarily of field experiments in savannas in Kenya and South Africa, but I also use lab animals, museum specimens, micro-CT scans, and molecular tools in my research.
When elephants die, their carcasses release nutrients into the ecosystem, creating local biodiversity hotspots that may persist for years. I am working with the Megacarcass Ecology Working Group to understand the legacy impacts of elephant carcasses on the savanna in Kruger National Park, South Africa. My research asks how mammal behavior (e.g., scavengers, herbivores) affects the strength and duration of nutrient flows from carcasses, in turn affecting biodiversity and landscape structure on the savanna.
Herbivore Diets and Community Structure
The impacts of large herbivore (e.g., elephant, giraffe) population declines on savannas are dependent on the demographic and functional responses of the species that persist. I use a combination of demographic analyses, vegetation surveys, plant functional trait measurements, and DNA metabarcoding to determine how small mammals (rodents & shrews) and small ungulates (dik-dik) alter their diets in response to large herbivore defaunation and how these behavioral shifts affect larger ecosystem structure. This research is part of the Ungulate Herbivory Under Rainfall Uncertainty (UHURU) experiment at Mpala Research Centre, which uses size-selective fencing to test the impacts of mammalian herbivores of different size classes in a Kenyan savanna.
Predation Risk and Functional Morphology
Fringe-tailed gerbils (Gerbilliscus robustus) are generalist rodents who face predation pressure from chasing predators in habitats with sparse vegetation and from ambush predators in habitats with dense vegetation. These types of predation exert potentially opposing selection pressures on hindlimb morphology. My research uses a lab colony of gerbils to demonstrate that hindlimb traits contribute to variation in predator escape performance, measurements of wild gerbils to test for intra-specific hindlimb variation across habitats, and micro-CT scans of museum specimens to evaluate whether these trait-habitat associations play out across larger geographic and phylogenetic scales.