Hybridization as a natural laboratory 

I use hybrid zones, geographic regions in which interbreeding occurs, to understand speciation, reproductive isolation, and phenotypic evolution. Because hybridizing taxa are early in the speciation process, they can be particularly useful systems for understanding the mechanisms underlying speciation.

For my PhD at Cornell, I developed and funded research on the hybrid zone between the yellow-shafted and red-shafted flicker—two taxa in the northern flicker species complex (Colaptes auratus). By bringing genomic approaches to this system of historic interest, I was able to understand patterns of genetic differentiation, hybrid zone movement over time, and the genetic basis of coloration.

For my postdoc at Stanford, I will be focusing on hybridization between swordtail fish in the genus Xiphophorus. By combining laboratory experiments, field sampling, and genomic sequencing, I hope to better understand the genetic basis of the male olfactory cues important in attracting mates and the female mate choice behavior itself.

Coloration genetics

I am particularly interested in understanding the genetic basis of coloration differences in birds. My work in flickers has been heavily focused on uncovering the regions of the genome that influence the melanin and carotenoid coloration of their multiple distinct phenotypic differences. I have found multiple regions across the genome that influence coloration, and am currently working on understanding how these genomic regions interact.

Dispersal behavior and landscape genetics

I have a long-standing interest in behavioral ecology, particularly in dispersal behavior in birds. I have worked to understand the role aggressive behavior plays in shaping dispersal and territory selection in western bluebirds (Sialia mexicana). I subsequently combined my interests in bird dispersal and genomics to understand the landscape genetic consequences of short-distance dispersal in the endangered Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens).

Diversity, equity, and inclusion

Making science more diverse and inclusive requires active participation by all. I conduct research in a variety of settings to understand how both our everyday science “culture” and specific interventions influence people from diverse backgrounds. In particular, I focus on how specific teaching strategies and large-scale interventions (such as the Diversity Preview Weekend) influence historically marginalized students in STEM. My ultimate goal is to help enact changes at the institutional level that make science more welcoming to people from all backgrounds.