Below, you can read about my ongoing research projects.
City Trees Project
City trees capture and store carbon dioxide, reduce the levels of toxic particulate matter in the air, and cool local temperatures by about 0.83°C for every 10% increase in forest cover. Further, urban forests improve mental and physical health and provide habitat for bird and insect communities. Thanks to city tree inventories across the US and the world, we have an unprecedented opportunity to research ecosystem function from the meter-scale to the global-scale. My team and I have assembled a dataset of over 5 million city trees from 63 of the largest cities in the USA, including data on species, exact location, condition, and trunk diameter. We are researching the (i) current status (e.g., composition), (ii) impact, and (iii) potential of urban forests. We developed a pipeline to clean and standardize data from street tree inventories, allowing us to easily add many more datasets from many more cities. This project is co-led by Ben Goulet-Scott.
Optics of Coral Reefs
I apply computational optics to understand how solar energy influences coral reef ecosystems and their breakdown through coral bleaching. Solar energy flux is an essential component of coral reefs, cornerstones of our world’s oceans. Amidst global warming, corals famously “bleach”, or expel their symbiotic algae, turn white, and often die (with devastating ecological consequences). However, the optical drivers of coral bleaching—and indeed, solar energy fluxes in photosynthetic animals—are not well understood. My research applies methods from biophysics and photonics to energy flux in coral reefs across scales (topics researched by other groups through the complementary lens of molecular biology). To photosynthesize properly, corals must provide enough light to their symbiotic partners to enable efficient photosynthesis without exposing them to light and heat shock. At the nano-scale, I research how photosynthetic animals harness solar power through optical adaptations. At the macro-scale, I apply statistical methods to investigate the physical and optical drivers of coral bleaching. At the global scale, I will research how variable light environments impact ecosystem function.
Super Black Animals (& Bioinspired Solar Tech)
Male birds-of-paradise, perhaps nature’s most ornate and elaborate creatures, evolved ultra-dark super black framing brilliant color. Unlike typical feathers, the feathers of super black plumages have 3-D microstructures on their barbules which multiply scatter, and iteratively absorb, nearly all light. Click the image to learn more!
Peacock spiders have evolved ultra-dark black color adjacent to their brilliant color patches. They are a remarkable convergence of form– microlenses, used in nature on everything from plant leaves to moth eyes– and function– ultra black near bright color for color emphasis, akin to their ecological analogues (the Birds-of-Paradise). Click the image to learn more!
Super black plumages evolved in birds from 15 families, with diverse morphology underpinning the plumages. Several families convergently evolved similar morphologies (e.g., curved, uwpard-branching barbules). Click the image to learn more!
Male, but not female, tanager feathers have elaborate microstructures which amplify the saturation of red, orange, and yellow colors. These colors are produced by carotenoid pigments, classically thought to be honest signals of quality. Click the image to learn more!
Biology of Pregnancy
Just as females screen potential mates under many metrics, human mothers unconsciously screen embryos for quality. ‘Examinees’ are under intense selection to improve test performance by exaggerating formerly ‘honest’ signals of quality. By the ‘proxy treadmill’, new honest indicators arise while old degraded indicators linger, resulting in trait elaboration. Hormone signals during pregnancy show extreme evolutionary escalation (akin to elaborate mating displays). Click the image to learn more!
Primates are model organisms for questions of cooperation and conflict within families,and callitrichines (marmosets, tamarins, and lion tamarins) frequently bear litters of two or more. We compiled a large dataset of nine species of callitrichines (n = 27,080 individuals) and found two indications of sibling conflict: (i) Singletons have higher survivorship than litter‐born monkeys and outperform their litter‐born peers on two measures of reproductive success, and (ii) offspring born into mixed‐sex litters reproductively outperform those born in all‐male or all‐female litters in some species, suggesting that same‐sex competition may limit fitness outcomes. Click the image to learn more!