During my PhD, I focused on the phylogenetic structure of ecological assemblages, to determine whether habitat filtering, competition, or other mechanisms regulate the co-existence of closely-related species. I re-examined the well-known Barro Colorado Island plant dataset to show that younger clades of species have different ecological structures within present-day communities. Since such analyses require finely-resolved phylogenies that are often unavailable to ecologists, I wrote the program phyloGenerator to largely automate phylogenetic construction, for which I received the Robert May Award from the British Ecological Society. I was invited to write a review of phylogenetic diversity metrics, and contrasted change in UK butterfly and bird assemblages through time with their apparently constant phylogenetic and functional trait structure.
For my post-doc at the University of Minnesota, I expanded the scope of my research to focus on the role of species’ traits in ecological and evolutionary processes. Using the Cedar Creek Oak Savannah dataset, I described the loss of links between the phylogenetic conservatism of traits and the functional ecology of those same traits in degraded systems. As part of the Urban Homogenization of America project, I wrote the program stalkless to automate the collection of quantitative leaf trait data from over 10,000 natural history specimens. Using these data, I have modelled the evolution of leaf shape, and examined how plant functional traits and community composition vary across socio-economic and environmental gradients throughout urban North America.