Personal profile

Websites

Qualifications

Ph.D. in Biology, with specialisation in Genetics

Duke University, 2008

B.A. in Biology and Environmental Sciences

University of Virginia, 2002

Current Research Interests

Tropical dry forests, thickets, savannas and similar seasonally dry vegetation cover half the tropics, represent the most variable terrestrial flux of the global carbon cycle and house over a billion people in mostly marginalised societies. Yet, tropical dry vegetation remains poorly studied compared to the wet tropics. My driving motivation is to deepen our understanding of tropical dry vegetation, from ecological, ecosystem function, evolutionary and biogeographical perspectives.

Research Groups

I manage the research group PLEEBs (PLant Evolutionary Ecologists and Biogeographers) in the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh. Our interests are broad, including phylogenetic approaches to understanding historical community assembly, genomics of non-model plant clades, vegetation monitoring to document changes in ecosystem function over time and the socio-ecology of tropical woodlands. We are united by a shared passion for studying natural plant populations (largely in the tropics) and their intersections with anthropogenic environmental change and human societies. We believe in careful and thorough scientific work that is also ethically considered.

Research Interests

My personal research efforts at present can be divided into two broad areas. The first focuses on large-scale biogeographic patterns in the dry tropics, and unpicking the drivers of variation in ecosystem structure, function and composition. I lead a global network of researchers with permanent sampling plots (PSPs) in tropical dry forests, savannas and thickets as part of the SECO Project. If you are keen to be part of this network, please write me.

The second main branch of my research comprises eco-evolutionary studies of individual plant lineages. I am of the firm belief that major biological breakthroughs often come from the knowledge accumulated by detailed studies of individual clades over years of dedicated research. The main lineages I currently focus on are Inga (Fabaceae), one of the most speciose and ecologically abundant lineages in Neotropical rain forests, and Petalidium (Acanthaceae), an intriguing genus of woody shrubs that shows remarkable ecological and evolutionary success in one of the worst places to live as a plant, the Namib Desert of Angola and Namibia.

Teaching

My teaching focuses mostly on field ecology and quantitative skills. I run a first-year undergraduate field course where students learn the process of biological identification, focusing on Scottish plants and invertebrates, and how to collect basic ecological data on organisms. My quantitative skills teaching ranges from how to organise a spreadsheet to statistical modelling, with a focus on implementation in the R Statistical Software.

Administrative Roles

I am Deputy Director the E4 Doctoral Training Partnership and manage the training of ~100 PhD students over their time at the University of Edinburgh. I am also Co-Director of the Centre for Adapting to Changing Environments (a.k.a. ACE Centre) at the University of Edinburgh, which unites staff from across the university with outside partners to address major challenges around environmental change.

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