I study the evolutionary ecology of interactions between fungal pathogens and wild chili peppers. My research has involved field work in remote areas of Bolivia as well as plenty of time messing around with fungal isolates in the lab. I am broadly interested in studying how coevolution, or reciprocalevolutionary change between interacting species, shapes the ecological dynamics of communities and maintains biodiversity. My research focuses on studying the evolutionary ecology of plant-fungal dynamics in a particularly charismatic plant system: chili peppers. The spiciness in chilies may serve as an adaptation to protect the fruits from microbial attack and places selective pressures on fruit-inhabiting microbes that destroy seeds. I’m working with fungal strains obtained from chili fruits across a broad geographic range in Bolivia to study fungal local adaptation and the potential for a “coevolutionary arms race” between chilies and fungus.
Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, I was drawn to the west coast by the rainforests and attended The Evergreen State College where I spent a lot of class time outdoors learning about marine creatures, mushrooms, and forest ecology. I credit Evergreen and its unique teaching approach for igniting my interests as a naturalist, a biologist, and as a science educator. I believe that natural history practice, outdoor experiences and hands-on learning are necessary for achieving the kind of transformative science education I experienced as an undergad. For several years, I’ve been an adjunct faculty member at Bastyr University where I teach an interdisciplinary course on mushrooms and their uses. Last year, I was a teaching fellow in an NSF-funded GK-12 program, acting as a “guest scientist” in high school biology classes. This autumn, I am excited to be a visiting faculty member at Evergreen where I’ll be team teaching a program called “The Fungal Kingdom” with professor Lalita Calabria.
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