I am primarily interested in community ecology, broadly, but more specifically predator-prey interactions. Predation shapes ecological communities, causing cascading changes in community structure by changing the population size and behavior of prey species.
My current research is centered on predator-prey interactions that are sensitive to the prey’s body size or life stage. For example, mosquito larvae undergo an aquatic larval stage (pictured above) before emerging as the pesky, adult mosquitoes we all know and love. While they are in this larval stage, they are vulnerable to aquatic predators such as dragonfly nymphs (below).
As our climate warms, increased temperatures are expected to have several complex effects on predator-prey interactions. Ectothermic, or cold-blooded, organisms draw metabolic energy from the temperature of their surroundings in order to perform basic bodily functions, such as growing or digesting food.
Therefore, as temperatures warm, predators like the dragonfly nymph will hunt for prey, digest them, and grow hungry again at a faster rate. However, mosquito larvae will also develop more rapidly, shortening the window of time that the dragonflies can eat them during. Whether more or less mosquito larvae survive to adulthood will depend on which organism — the dragonfly or the mosquito larva — gains more from an increase in temperature. If the dragonfly’s ability to consume the mosquito larvae increases faster than the mosquito larva’s development rate does, then fewer mosquitoes will survive to adulthood. But, if the mosquito’s development increases faster than the dragonfly can eat them as the climate warms, we can expect a lot more mosquitoes in the future.
My current research project is focused on developing a simple mathematical model (pictured above) describing this process. Different predator and prey species have different responses to increases in temperature. The model provides a nice framework for plugging in various different predators and prey species with size- or stage-sensitive vulnerability to those predators and forecasting how many prey will survive as the climate warms.