Current Research


Mathematical Modeling

Despite the evolutionary advantages of group living, social groups experience conflict between genetically selfish individuals over the allocation of reproduction and offspring care. Understanding how and why these conflicts are resolved is essential for predicting the evolution of animal societies. With colleagues I have been developing mathematical models based on economic theory that explain the evolution of conflict resolution in social groups.  


Social behavior and disease in Batrachoseps salamanders

Current research is on communally nesting salamanders in the genus Batrachoseps. Using both field and laboratory studies we have been documenting the relationships between communal nesting and fungal disease, for several populations and species in California. We have taken a similar approach with salamanders in the genera Taricha, Aneides, and Ensatina. This project is a collaboration with Vance Vredenburg (SFSU), and has been supported by the National Science Foundation.  



Reproductive conflict in the maritime earwig


The maritime earwig lives in dense colonies along the seashore, where females initiate and guard solitary nests.  Our work has shown that the function of maternal care is to remove pathogens from eggs and to defend eggs against cannibalism by other females.  We have also investigated the conditions under which females eat their own eggs (filial cannibalism). In addition to our work on conflict among females we have examined the role of weaponry in male fights, finding that the markedly asymmetric forceps in males can be an advantage.


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The microbial ecology of 

Ensatina salamanders

In collaboration with Vance Vredenburg we have been profiling bacterial communities on the skin of Ensatina eschscholtzii salamanders, which form a “ring” species complex across California.  Our goal is to understand the influence of salamander genetics, life history, and soil habitat on the composition of Ensatina microbiomes.  We have also profiled bacterial communities found on other salamander species in the genera Batrachoseps and Aneides


Research Associate with these two Citizen Science Websites 






Past Research<p>

Communal egg-laying in the goldenrod treehopper

For my Ph.D. thesis I worked on maternal care and communal egg-laying by treehoppers on goldenrod.  In addition to quantifying the costs and benefits of egg guarding in this species, I discovered that females adopt an alternative tactic of laying eggs in the nests of other females without providing any care themselves (brood parasitism).  I found that females adopting a mixed strategy (parasitism and solitary nesting) had the highest lifetime reproductive success. Recent work has involved synergies between communal egg-laying and mutualisms with ants.


Foraging behavior of Western tarnished plant bugs in cotton

My USDA postdoctoral fellowship focused on the feeding behaviors of a major insect pest in California cotton (Lygus hesperus).  In collaboration with Jay Rosenheim (UC Davis), we found stage and sex-dependent differences in feeding behavior that translated into differences in flower bud abscission. We also examined the effects of human sampling, plant state, and predator communities on Lygus population stage structure and cotton flower bud abscission.