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The need to eat, or convert resources into energy to some extent, unifies all living things. The interface between organisms and their foods, and the ultimate effects these interactions have on a community-level scale motivate and define my research interests. The work that I have been involved in throughout my Ph.D. at UC-Santa Cruz (w/ PL Koch, JA Estes, & M Mangel, as well as Paulo Guimarães Jr. and Nate Dominy), and my current interests as a post-doctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University (w/ JW Moore) can be categorized into 3 primary questions.

1) At the community-level scale, how does the magnitude of trophic interactions between predators and prey affect the organization of the food-web, and does this structural organization affect the dynamics of the system? Moreover, how have these structural patterns of interactions changed over time, in the face of both large-scale climatic and anthropogenic impacts? With my collaborators, (we) have been using stable isotopes to quantify the magnitude and variability of trophic interactions between predators and prey in both modern [J. Royal Society Interface paper] and Pleistocene [in prep] communities. To address the effects of anthropogenic impacts, we are currently reconstructing Egyptian food-webs from artwork spanning the past 6000 years.

2) How does the spatial and temporal pulsing of resource availability impact consumer behavior? With JW Moore, my post-doctoral work currently involves investigating this basic question from a fitness-maximization point-of-view. In other words, from a consumer’s perspective, what is the most optimal way to consume resources given specific uncertainties governing the availability of food in a patchy environment?

3) What are the primary physico-mechanical constraints that guide an organism’s interactions with its food? Human ancestors and their closely related ‘cousins’ display strong phenotypic variation in their dental morphologies, conferring certain advantages and disadvantages with respect to food consumption. This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, because the morphology of an organism’s dentition limits the consumption of certain foods, while these foods – over evolutionary time – exert selective pressure on dental morphology. With Nate Dominy and Marc Mangel, we are using fitness-maximization quantitative approaches to explore the fitness benefits of specific morphological adaptations observed among hominin ancestors.

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