Research Statement

Ecological systems are complex. Each is arranged into nested hierarchies of components, ranging from organic molecules and cells through populations, species, guilds, and trophic levels. They require the continual input of energy, material, and information to maintain their highly organized, far-from-equilibrium thermodynamic states. Even the simplest contain thousands to billions of individuals of tens to thousands of different species, ranging from unicellular prokaryotes, protists, and fungi to multicellular plants and animals. These individuals and species interact with each other and their extrinsic abiotic environment in inherently non-linear ways. Such relationships are neither entirely deterministic nor stochastic, include positive and negative feedbacks, and often possess long-lasting contingent effects across both space and time.


This inherent complexity of biological and ecological systems suggests that vital insights may be made via a number of investigative routes. While the specialization of research programs can lead to fundamental discoveries (such as those realized in molecular biology), it is important to remember that for almost a century biological and ecological research was conducted by investigators who held expertise across a wide breadth of the natural sciences. These 19th Century field naturalists made lasting and often radical impacts on the field, not the least of which was the development of evolutionary theory. Given the complexity of ecological systems, some advances may only be possible via the inductive, holistic, and non-experimental techniques pioneered by these scientists. In combination with the modern tools of contemporary ecology, the field naturalist model can thus serve as an avenue for important future advances in ecological theory.


Inspired by the astonishing breadth of knowledge accumulated by investigators such as Iowa’s Bohumil Shimek, who became a national authority in botany, malacology, ecology, paleoecology, and glacial geology, I have organized my research program upon the field naturalist model to address fundamental issues in the diversification and organization of ecological communities. As a result, I have vertically integrated my research activities to range from organism taxonomy through population, community, and spatiotemporal ecology to biogeography, macroecology, and ecological modeling. To ensure that my outlook does not become myopic, I have also horizontally integrated this program across three divergent taxa groups: vascular plants (sessile autotrophs), lepidoptera (mobile heterotrophs), and terrestrial gastropods (functionally sessile heterotrophs). In addition, I have maintained an active field research program which spans thousands of study sites on three continents. I am particularly interested in documenting findings that challenge current paradigms, as it is through such observations that scientific revolutions are based. The end result of these actions is a sharper understanding of general theoretical principles and development of safer and more efficacious methods to conserve biological diversity. 


To find out more about my specific research activities, please follow the fractal icon link below. From the resulting page, you may follow the specific icons to learn about my interests in (1) Taxonomy, Floristics, and Faunistics; (2) Population and Community Ecology; (3) Spatial and Temporal Ecology; (4) Biogeography and Macroecology; (5) Ecological Theory and Modeling; and (6) Conservation Biology. You may return to this page by following the central fractal icon. Within each subtopic, links are provided to PDF files of all relevant published works; those works touching on multiple interest areas will be listed separately under each corresponding topic. These files are best viewed using Adobe Reader 7.0 or above.

Last Edit: April 30, 2017