I focus my research on the factors that affect the structure of terrestrial communities, particularly how plant communities change over time. Since photosynthesis is fundamental to the function of plant communities, I have a special interest in both the light harvesting reactions and in the regulation of the Calvin cycle. While I love working with plants, I also study interactions between plants and herbivores and/or frugivores. My students and I have particularly strong interests in the diet widths of herbivores and how their foraging behavior is affected by changes within the plant community. As an ecologist, I am engaged in studying at every level of hierarchy ranging from the molecular level through the community level. My research consistently takes me to a variety of work sites, from St.Edward’s state-of-the-art greenhouse to our Wild Basin Center for CreativeResearch, and beyond.
In this project, students in a senior level ecology course studied community ecology almost exclusively through the lens of pyric herbivory. There was no text-based introduction to topics in community ecology; instead, we started by jumping straight into primary literature about the impacts of fire and grazing on grassland communities and went where student discoveries led us. My input was limited to providing direction for concept clarification and following the student as they digested these (targeted) research papers. With Prairie Project mentors, I assessed student understanding and knowledge at the start o and at the end of the course. In every case, student scores on these assessments indicate a dramatic improvement in their learning outcomes. Equally importantly, no one withdrew from or failed the course. That represents a marked improvement over iterations in which I have relied heavily on textbook use to guide our studies.