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Fungal systematics and population genetics; fungal taxonomy; plant-associated fungi; bioinformatics; statistical phylogenomics; phylogenetic methods
The pace at which fungal systematics has changed in recent years is directly related to the deluge of molecular sequence data and the methodological advances for analyzing these data. These advancements in biological research mean that we can now leverage these tools to address a broad swath of interesting, fundamental, and previously intractable biological questions. As a more stable classification system for fungi emerges and the advancement in data collection and analysis continue, we will be able to address fundamental questions related to the ecological and genetic factors that influence variation in life history traits among plant-associated fungi. My principal interest is leveraging these technical and methodological advances to illuminate the processes that have shaped plant-associated fungal diversity. In this context, my research is both empirical and methodological.
The empirical side of my research is focused on developing a better understanding of plant-associated fungal diversity, particularly understanding the diversity and species divergence of endophytic, epiphytic, and plant pathogenic fungi. Molecular systematics, population genetics, and classical taxonomy are essential tools in my exploration of fungal evolution and I am particularly interested in how various biotic and abiotic factors influence the evolutionary trajectory of plant-associated fungi. Fundamental to this pursuit is a robust understanding of the evolutionary history (phylogeny) of the organisms under investigation and a working knowledge of their ecological and morphological diversity. This side of my research relies heavily on fieldwork to collect the vast fungal diversity that can be found associated with agricultural and wild host plant species as well as lab and computational work to gain insight into their evolutionary history.
My interest in methodological phylogenetics research emerged from a reliance on accurate phylogenetic inferences in order to address questions relating to fungal evolution. While expanding the size of molecular datasets has generally produced stronger confidence in phylogenetic hypotheses, there are many instances where systematic bias can mislead our analysis despite strong support for a given hypothesis. I am interested in understanding what assumptions made during phylogenetic analysis can produce biased results, how we can identify when we are being misled, and how we can avoid these pitfalls.
I have taught several courses, from Principles of Biology to Plants and People to Mycology. I recently designed and taught a graduate course in fungal biology at Louisiana State University integrating recent developments in fungal systematics and population biology derived from primary literature. In addition to a focus on the ecology, evolution, and taxonomy of fungi, I also provided instruction on the fundamentals of molecular phylogenetics through both lecture and lab, including practical computing sessions using high-performance computational resources in order to provide students with the skills needed to utilize advancements in molecular systematics for their own research. My goal is to provide graduate students with the skills they need to succeed while inspiring them to pursue their particular interests.