Research Interests

Genetic structure of invasive baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata) populations along northwest Michigan sand dunes (Collaborators: Jim McNair & Kevin Strychar)

Baby’s breath is a highly invasive species that is found throughout the northwest Michigan sand dune system surrounding Lake Michigan. This species negatively impacts native threatened and endangered species by competing for space and resources. The goal of this project is to use genetic markers to examine levels of genetic diversity and population structure of baby’s breath throughout northwest Michigan, particularly focusing on populations within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. These data will be used to construct adaptive management plans that target populations with the highest potential of spreading to new areas and to inform future control measures. This project is being funding by a EPA-Great Lake Restoration Initiative Grant.

We are also interested in looking at the invasion history of baby’s breath throughout North America. The first reports of the species in North America are from the late 1800’s in Manitoba, Canada and since that time it has spread throughout much of the western United States and Canada. We are planning to compare the genetic lineages of contemporary populations within North America to both native population and preserved herbarium samples collected during initial invasion periods. This will allow us to understand the invasion pattern of this species and potentially identify any genetic changes that occurred during early the early invasive period that has aided in its success.

Purple-tinted flowers of baby’s breath can been seen throughout the sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo credit: Emma Rice


Image from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore



The use of quantitative PCR (qPCR) to qualify Microcystis sp. and microcystin production in freshwater lakes (Collaborators: Rick Rediske and Kevin Strychar)

Our lab is working on a joint project with Drs. Rick Rediske and Kevin Strychar to develop rapid methods for Microcystis detection in freshwater lakes. Microcystis is a cyanobacteria and is one of the main organisms responsible for harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the Great Lakes region. Microcystis can produce a hepatoxin called microcystin, which can be harmful to both plants and animals at certain concentrations. The goal of this project is to look at how Microcystis concentrations vary over time within these lakes and see if the production of the microcystin is affected by density or other abiotic factors (temperature, pH, nutrients, etc). This project is funded by a grant through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The green tint of Muskegon Lake during a cyanobacteria bloom. 


Genetic factors influencing alternative reproductive strategies (Collaborators: Bryan Neff & Rosemary Knapp)

One focus of my research is addressing the genetic factors that influence different male life history strategies. Presently I use the bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) to examine how differential gene expression influences male behaviors. Males of this species have two distinct life history strategies: 1) parental and 2) cuckoldry. Parental males are responsible for constructing nests, courting females, and providing care to young. Alternatively, “sneaker” males cuckold eggs by sneaking into nesting sites while parental males and females are spawning and release sperm. As they grow, the phenotype of sneaker males changes and they take on female-like traits and adopt female behaviors. These males continue to cuckold eggs during spawning, but this is achieved by mimicking females to gain access to parental nest sites. I am currently using RNAseq to explore and compare the transcriptome among these males to examine the genetic factors influencing these different morph types. These data will be used as a starting point to identify potential candidate genes driving alternative male reproductive strategies in this species.

Global Climate Change and Reproductive Success (Collaborators: Bryan Neff)

For this project I am examining at how increased temperature impacts the reproductive success of Trinidadian guppies. Current estimates suggest that global temperatures are expected to increase by approximately 2-4°C by 2100. Tropical ectotherms may be particularly challenged by this increase given that they already live close to their thermal maximum. Given that previous work has shown increased temperature significant alters sperm morphology in guppies, I am presently looking at whether these morphological differences influence sperm competitive ability in this species. I am also interested in how specific genes contribute to these differences in morphology among populations reared at various temperatures .


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