Population and Evolutionary Genetics
Swallow Bugs (Oeciacus vicarius) - Our research is focused on the evolutionary dynamics and population structure of swallow bugs, a disease vectoring ectoparasite of cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota). This study aims to examine the contemporary patterns in nest fidelity, dispersal patterns, inbreeding dynamics, population differentiation, and relationships between host and parasite genetic structure and diversity; spatiotemporal evolutionary dynamics; and the evolution of extreme phenotypes using transcriptomic and genomic approaches. Additionally, we are interested in using blood fed swallow bugs as indirect indicators of cliff swallow demography and social structure, through the use of blood meal DNA analysis to reconstruct the individual identity and relatedness of cliff swallows at the nest. This is collaborative project with Dr. Charles Brown (TU).
Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius) - The bed bug is currently undergoing an alarming resurgence in the U.S and other developed countries. The reasons for this upsurge are not clear. In order to be able to develop region specific targeted control strategies, their origin, dispersal patterns, and infestation dynamics must be understood. Using high resolution molecular markers we are studying questions relating the population genetics of bed bugs both nationally and internationally, with particular interest in the areas of micro-spatial dispersal, inbreeding dynamics, kdr associated insecticide resistance, infestation origins, and host-shifting. This is collaborative work with Drs. Ed Vargo (Texas A&M) and Coby Schal (NCSU).
Spatiotemporal genetic structure of ectoparasite metapopulations
Genetic structure and differentiation within mosaic landscapes
Woodmice (Apodemus sylvaticus) and Deer mice (Peromyscus leucopus) - Within the lab we are interested in the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of rodents in fragmented, mosaic landscapes. Our work primarily focuses on two species, the Old World wood mouse, Apodemus sylvaticus, and the New World white-footed deer mouse, Peromyscus leucopus. We investigate the significance of barriers, both physical and ecological, on patterns of dispersal and gene flow. We use an integrative approach to understand the impact of such barriers through a combination of molecular, isotopic, and morphological analyses to further our understanding of the processes driving rapid evolution. Given the significance of rodents as vectors and reservoirs for numerous diseases of humans and livestock, we are interested in the dynamics of host/vector systems, primarily rodents and their tick ectoparasites. The data resulting will allow a greater understanding of disease epidemiology in mosaic landscapes, such as recently urbanized zones and agricultural lands.
Genetic mating systems and social organisation
With the advent of modern molecular tools capable of identifying individuals within populations, their reproductive success, and the levels of relatedness amongst them, studies of genetic mating systems and social structure have become common place. Such factors have the potential to significantly influence population characteristics, e.g. sex-biased dispersal, inbreeding, population genetic diversity, but also have significant effects on factors such as effective population size. It is therefore important that we understand relationships and breeding systems within populations in order to fully understand patterns of differentiation among them.
Within the lab we are currently investigating the genetic mating system and social structure of squamate reptiles, namely North American pitvipers of the genus Agkistrodon (in collaboration with Drs. Charles Smith [Wofford College] and Gordon Schuett [The copperhead Institute]) and the territorial Australian water dragon, Intellagama lesueurii (in collaboration with Dr. Troy Baird, OCU).