Research Summary

My research includes taxonomy and systematics of ants, curation of a large physical collection of ant specimens, digitization of specimen data and contribution to on-line databases. Specimen occurrence data are used to investigate macroecology, in particular elevational specialization. Genomic DNA sequence data are used to reveal the history of ant evolution, from the origination of ants in the Cretaceous to patterns of recent geographic variation within species.

Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Zoology, University of Texas, Austin
  • , B.S. Distinction in Zoology, Duke University

Biography

We share the planet with millions of species, and many of them are insects. A childhood fascination with insects led me to an interest in ecology and the desire to explain patterns of diversity, and I settled on ants as an ecologically dominant group of insects worthy of study. As it became clear that I was living during a time of enormous biotic change caused by human activities, I developed a strong conviction that it was important not only to understand patterns of diversity but to document it in detail for this time in history. I divide my time between two research fields: taxonomy and ecology. On the taxonomy side, I have coordinated large-scale inventories of Neotropical insect biodiversity, I discover and describe new species of ants, and I further refine our understanding of species ranges and morphological variability. I make use of advanced imaging technology, specimen-level databases, and Web-dissemination to make biodiversity data available to the widest audiences. On the ecology side, I use quantitative inventory techniques that allow analysis of diversity patterns. I am interested in how species are distributed on tropical mountainsides, what ecological factors explain the elevational range limits of species, and how species might respond to climate change.