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 (i.e. not yet reproductively isolated “good” species), they can be used to better understand the mechanisms underlying speciation and the evolution of reproductive isolation. Moreover, hybrid zones provide the opportunity to study the outcome of hybridization over many generations, which is often needed to reveal the underlying genomic architecture of phenotypic traits. For my dissertation, I am focusing on the hybrid zone between the red-shafted and yellow-shafted flicker, two taxa in the northern flicker species complex (Colaptes auratus).
The woodpecker family (Picidae) is known for having evolved remarkably similar plumage patterns across the clade. I hypothesize that woodpeckers have distinct phenotypic modules (particularly on the head and face) that can be quickly turned on or off over evolutionary time. This could be the result of shared genetic architecture across woodpeckers that can be quickly modified through changes in genic regulatory regions. Thus, this group represents an excellent opportunity to better understand vertebrate phenotypic evolution over evolutionary time.
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 women and underrepresented minority 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.