Advisor: Dr. Jason Brown
I am interested in the evolution and maintenance of biodiversity through ecological and geospatial processes. Much of my research focuses on the evolution and phylogenetics of dendrobatid poison frogs, a charismatic amphibian family distributed throughout the Neotropics. I have constructed the first comprehensive phylogeny of the dendrobatid genus Ameerega using genome-scale genetic markers called ultraconserved elements. The phylogeny will provide amphibian researchers with a more concrete backbone for evolutionary and biogeographic studies in this genus. I have also uncovered evidence for at least five undescribed species in Ameerega, and evidence that two more should be synonymized with a sister taxon.
I am also interested in phylogenetic and phylogeographic methods development and am developing an R package to estimate the ancestral distributions of clades through a combination of ecological niche modeling and ancestral character estimation. The most widely-used methods for "ancestral area reconstruction" treat the regions occupied by terminal taxa as discrete units, which obscures much of the nuance that is omnipresent in real-life species distributions. My method quantifies these fine-scale distributions using ecological niche modeling, then parses each model and uses ancestral character estimation to construct models at hypothetical ancestors along the branches of a given phylogeny. Using our lab's paleoclimatic datasets from Paleoclim.org, these ancestral niche models can be projected onto relevant paleoclimatic data to provide robust estimates of a clade's distribution as far back as the Miocene.