My Approach to Teaching and Learning
The faculty teacher-scholar is a hallmark of Miami University. As a result, I am surrounded by biology colleagues who investigate the living world AND are passionate about sharing their knowledge with students. My own passion centers on biodiversity: the forces creating it and the threats to its survival. My graduate and undergraduate collaborators and I seek to understand how evolution has led to the enormous variety of invertebrates found in freshwater ecosystems in North America. To do this, we use DNA sequencing and geographic information science to identify patterns of biodiversity and the processes creating them. We also investigate what happens when species become threatened with extinction. Students from all three campuses conduct fieldwork, perform laboratory analyses, analyze data, and write up their research results. In other words, they engage in scientific scholarship. I share this scholarship with the broader community through teaching and service. Students in my Ecology, Invertebrate Zoology, and Conservation Biology classes learn about our research and how it informs our understanding of the living world. Illustrating class lessons with cutting-edge research means that Miami students are prepared to address the challenges of the 21st century. In these classes, I also bring practicing scientists to Miami so that my students can see the career opportunities awaiting them. My professional service focuses on providing state and federal conservation agencies with the science they need to protect and recover imperiled species and ecosystems — the same science generated through student-faculty scholarship in my laboratory and shared in my classroom.
My Teacher-Scholar Journey
My research group investigates the evolution and conservation of biodiversity and the geographic distribution of diversity across freshwater ecosystems. Study organisms include crustaceans, snails, and other invertebrates inhabiting desert springs, as well as freshwater mussels, North America’s most imperiled group of animals. The evolutionary forces we study are natural selection, isolation and dispersal among populations, and random changes in genetic diversity and community composition. Desert springs provide ideal systems for this work because they contain unique assemblages of invertebrates. Our work with freshwater mussels has focused on the geographic distribution of genetic diversity within species. We are interested in understanding mechanisms of post-glacial dispersal and estimating gene flow among declining populations that become isolated by habitat fragmentation, climate change, and other anthropogenic causes. In addition to basic research, we investigate questions of conservation interest. Our surveys of desert springs have uncovered cryptic biodiversity: new species that are genetically distinct from, but outwardly similar to, known species. Because most of our study organisms are at risk of extinction — largely due to human alteration of habitat — our research is of interest to agencies that manage endangered species. We have provided critical information leading to recent decisions listing three species of invertebrates as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. We now use next-generation sequencing tools to investigate the population genomics, evolution, and distribution of diversity in target organisms. We are developing these tools for both freshwater mussels and a variety of desert spring invertebrates that are of conservation concern.
Knowledge is Power
“In Biology at Miami, we engage students in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in the field. Our undergraduates have the rare opportunity to conduct novel and timely research under the guidance of talented graduate students and passionate faculty.”
Ph.D. Ohio State University
M.S. Northwestern State University of Louisiana
B.S. University of Notre Dame
More About Me
I teach Biology at Miami’s Hamilton Campus, while serving as a research mentor to undergraduate and graduate students. The latter role includes being principal investigator for Miami’s NSF-funded REU site in ecology. Our research on freshwater invertebrates both guides and supports conservation actions by numerous state and federal agencies.