I am interested in the origins and maintenance of insect diversity, with a focus on plant-feeding and parasitic insects. These organisms constitute the vast majority of animal species on Earth, but most tend to be small, relatively anonymous, and specialists on just one host species, and are therefore grossly understudied. I integrate traditional ecological experimentation with molecular genetic techniques and evolutionary theory to investigate the evolution of these charismatic but under-appreciated taxa.
In my lab, we have funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore speciation among a complex of Tephritid fruit flies (genus: Rhagoletis) and their associated parasitoid wasps (genera: Diachasma, Diachasmimorpha, Utetes and Coptera). Recent host shifts and incipient speciation events of the fly appear to be driving similar events in their parasitoids, leading to a veritable ‘starburst’ of recent speciation in this system. We are looking at how the ecologies, life histories, morphologies and genetic / genomic backgrounds of these insects both facilitate (and perhaps stymie) the genesis of new diversity.
Other ongoing projects in my lab include 1) Studies of speciation and hybridzation in sunflower maggot flies, 2) Consequences of human-mediated landscape modifications on diversity across multiple insect trophic levels, 3) Ecological and genetic studies of sexual vs. asexual wasp species, 4) Mathematical modeling of morphological preadaptations of parasitic wasps to their insect hosts, 5) Taxonomic and population genetic studies of ~20 species of parasitoids associated with leaf beetles in genus Neochlamisus.