lauren 1email | CV

Hello! I am an evolutionary ecologist interested in how species-environment interactions drive patterns of biodiversity across scales, from alleles and genes to species and communities.

In addition to my research, I find great joy in teaching and mentoring junior scientists, both at Duke and at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, where I do my fieldwork. When I’m not in the field, greenhouse, or lab, I enjoy backpacking (especially long distances), playing my guitar (poorly), and building my knowledge of carpentry and construction (pun intended). I also manage a comical plant appreciation blog on Instagram: @aggressivebotany.

For more details about my research, read on below!

Current work

Ecological drivers of natural selection on plant chemistry

My main dissertation work aims to understand how ecological interactions influence selection for variation in glucosinolates, chemical compounds associated with herbivore defense in Boechera stricta. I am using large-scale manipulative experiments in the field coupled with controlled greenhouse studies to determine which biotic and abiotic conditions favor certain glucosinolate types over others. Combined with these experiments, evolutionary modeling and population genetics help me to tease apart how these variable selective pressures influence the maintenance of chemical diversity across space and time.

The genetics of plant-herbivore interactions

In collaboration with other members of the TMO lab, I am working to uncover the genes that control plant defenses against herbivores. We use genome-wide association (GWA) tests across several hundred Boechera stricta accessions to map complex, polygenic traits associated with plant defense to single-nucleotide level resolution in the genome. I’ve conducted GWA experiments with experimental herbivores in a laboratory setting as well as with thousands of plants interacting with myriad species under natural conditions in the field.

Bottom-up ecological effects of plant traits

How does individual phenotypic variation influence inter-species interactions, community assembly, and biodiversity? Using the rhizosphere as a model community, I am testing how variation in root chemistry influences the abundance and diversity of microbes in soil, and whether and how these community-level changes feed back to influence plant health.

Genetic diversity and demographic dynamics

Because Boechera species are highly self-pollinating, it is unknown whether inbreeding depression and broad-scale genetic diversity have consequences for population growth or decline. Using long-term data on the rare species Boechera fecunda, I am building demographic models to assess whether and how genetic variation influences population persistence.


Past projects

Evolutionary dynamics of invasion

While working as a lab manager and technician in the Stinson lab at UMass Amherst, I collaborated on ongoing projects aiming to understand how the invasive plant garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) expands into novel habitat types. Specifically, my work focused on testing for environmental effects on trait expression, variation in natural selection across habitat types, and whether phenotypic plasticity and/or local adaptation may aid or hinder the invasion process in this species.

Agro-ecological effects on plant defenses

During a post-baccalaureate fellowship with the Organization for Tropical Studies, I conducted a study to test whether patterns of chemical, physical, and biotic defenses in an acacia species (Vachellia collinsii) vary depending on exposure to agrochemical runoff. Ultimately, I am interested in assessing how anthropogenic change to biotic communities via pesticides, fertilizers, and land use change alter natural selection on the traits of non-target plants.

Genetics and physiology of abiotic stress tolerance

My undergraduate thesis in the Dalton lab at Reed College focused on understanding the role of antioxidant-associated enzymes in the ability of plants to withstand abiotic stresses such as drought and high light exposure. I utilized transgenic tools in the Populus model system to determine whether up-regulation of such enzymes enhanced stress tolerance.