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Aquatic Ecology & Paleolimnology


Diatom Ecology and Evolution

Diatoms, single celled eukaryotic algae, are prolific in almost all bodies of water – from the smallest puddle to the vast expanse of the oceans. Aside from being prolific, their silica cell wall allows for them to be preserved in sediments that collect in lake and ocean basins. We are interested in how diatoms function across the levels of biological organization - from populations to ecosystems. At the population level, we are interested  in how diatoms are dispersed, their life history traits, and how they evolve; at the community level, we are interested in their coexistence, community assembly processes, and their functional diversity; and, at the ecosystem level, we are interested in what diatoms can tell us about long-term ecosystem dynamics and landscape evolution.

Sedimentary Ancient DNA

Our lab is interested in how lakes operate as archives of biological and chemical changes within their catchments. Further, we are interested in new theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of paleolimnology. For instance, our lab has an ISO 6 clean room facility to extract and purify sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA). This facility coupled with next-generation sequencing allows us  to understand the evolutionary and ecological dynamics of diatoms and other microbial eukaryotes. In addition, we use the application of sedaDNA to reconstruct communities of organisms that leave no visually identifiable remains within sediments.

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Great Lakes Research

Being situated on the shores of Lake Erie serves as a source of inspiration and inquiry. Our lab is currently engaged in projects aimed at understanding primary production and lower food web dynamics in near shore environments, recent histories of environmental change contained in lake sediment archives, and biogeochemical cycling and sedimentation rates along the terrestrial aquatic interface. Our interests are not limited to the Laurentian Great Lakes, we are also conducting research on the African Great Lakes and the Great Lakes of Iowa.

Ecological Resilience Theory

In the paleoecological record, we often see abrupt community reorganization driven by environmental change. Our lab uses sedimentary records to test ecological resilience theory to better understand the dynamics and drivers of rapid community reorganization. This work has led to collaborations with wildlife managers, federal agencies, and scientists at international universities. Moving forward, we have been collaborating with ecologists, geoscientists, and physicists on novel ways of characterizing stability, transients, and chaos in paleoecological records.    

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