Research Statement

version 10 July 2021

Overall theme: A global change backdrop for a forward perspective.

I investigate multiple dimensions of terrestrial ecology, employing tools and analytics to elucidate spatiotemporal patterns and processes of fungi, plants and their associated organisms – in light of global change (atmospheric chemistry, climate change, land-use change and pollution).

I have focused on varied aspects of global change. I, during my PhD, investigated how increased tropospheric carbon dioxide and ozone feedback through forest trees to their ectomycorrhizal fungal symbionts, in terms of species composition, productivity and respiration. I have also investigated nitrogen deposition and abatement on ectomycorrhizal fungi, in additional to instructing undergraduate students in biology subjects. I then transitioned into full-time postdoctoral research, and have from that time forward focused on global change impacts to fungi in Europe, with published research demonstrating the importance of climate, land-use change, and biotic components to the phenology, assemblage, diversity and distributional patterns of fungi. I am currently working to integrate these varied experiences, while continuing to address global change impacts to terrestrial systems in terms of ecology and conservation.

Organisms & ecosystem: Fungi and plants; a terrestrial research focus.

It is the integration of botanical research with mycological research, bridging the fields, that I find most interesting and relevant to ecology. My field and lab experience in plant and fungal identification, and their natural ecologies, has spanned the breadth of ecological scales: from community-level studies, employing molecular identification techniques, to ecosystem-scales, concerned more with carbon cycling, to the continental scale, describing large-scale patterns – and all this within a backdrop of global change. My focus on forested systems is in much part due to the dominance of this terrestrial land type, as well as the ubiquitous nature of the mycorrhizal symbiosis in these systems, and their contributions to ecosystem processes of carbon and nutrient cycling. I, also, focused on forestry science during my graduate studies, however, early I worked in oak savanna and prairie systems.

Environment: On the importance of soil, nutrients, air, and water.

As I am interested in the ecology of fungi and plants, this is why I also consider the environment that they are found in, especially the soil matrix, and its processes of critical importance. Without soil, there are far fewer plants and fungi, but also with perturbations to nutrients, atmospheric chemistry and water availability can diversity and functioning be altered; in other words, the interrelatedness of the environment to the organisms that live and grow surrounded by it are the causes for my interest in it.

Methods: Data science and spatiotemporal modelling.

Big data assembly, formatting and managing, primarily from digital data (e.g., museum records, citizen science data) and openly-available geospatial metadata, is a field that advances rapidly in this digital age. It is pioneering ecological research into new fields of inquiry, and is, thus, fundamental for to my research. Data science, both when applied to understanding the consequences of data and model to the credibility of output, as well as to address complex ecological questions, is my primary focus for many years now. It is additionally important as a subject area, since novel statistical analyses can address previously unanswerable questions and, thus, are similarly crucial to retain up-to-date knowledge of. There is an excitement when one tries to push the knowledge boundaries for their scientific discipline, and data sciences certainly is allowing it! More logistically, I have worked considerably in assembling, formatting and analyzing many forms of data (field, experimental, presence-absence, presence-only) and then applied statistical techniques, as appropriate for the objectives (linear, additive, mixed, multivariate, geospatial).

These methods will be most effective when combined with experimental field and laboratory techniques. It is, thus, imperative that collaborative laboratory conditions are fostered which allow multiple research groups to utilize cutting-edge technology and to share knowledge, especially in relation to experimental and analysis techniques. My own experiences across institutions have taught me that to stay current in this field, communication and collaborative lab resources are key.

Collaboration: It is not my research, it is our research.

It is important to consider how research will help the goals of everyone involved. Students and researchers need to be challenged intellectually, as well as to be taught meaningful skills for their own career growth. Bridging computational data management and statistics with field-oriented ecological and environmental research, as well as lab skills, will help this. This can provide a wide array of opportunities for student education, research experience, and outreach. In terms of surrounding researchers and staff, I hope we can maintain an open, friendly environment to share techniques and brainstorm solutions to potential scientific problems. I will strive for collaborative, complementary research, both locally and internationally, contributing to contemporary ecological issues and building fundamental knowledge that helps not only me, but more importantly, students, researchers, the scientific community and, ideally, the public and future policies.