Caddisfly Silk Evolution
Caddisflies are known as "nature's underwater architects" because they use a special underwater bioadhesive silk to build tube cases and fixed retreats that aid in camouflage, protection, feeding, and respiration in oxygen-poor aquatic environments. We are interested in how this ability to spin this underwater silk evolved and how the genomic basis of silk production varies across the panoply of uses within caddisflies.
Biodiversity loss is affecting the world in profound ways. Recent research has shown massive losses in biodiversity in insects and birds. To this end, we are interested in implementing biomonitoring protocols to evaluate how environmental change affects biodiversity. Our current biodiversity monitoring efforts are focused on understanding the impact of a recent megafire in central Utah on freshwater ecosystems. We have teams continuously sampling freshwater eDNA and aquatic macroinvertebrates to assess the effects of such sizable ecological disturbance events.
We collaborate with conservation biologists to characterize the variation in the genomes of threatened and endangered species. This includes collaborations with folks involved in the Red Siskin Initiative and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
If we are to understand the basis of biodiversity, we must first contextualize its evolutionary history using phylogenetics. Phylogenetics is a rich discipline and we have active research projects across the tree of life. We are active participants in the 1KITE project, focused on generating a phylogenetic backbone for the world’s most diverse organisms--insects. We also know that a phylogenetic tree is only as reliable as the methods used to generate it.
Machine Learning and Biological Collections
The mass digitization of biological collections has generated rich, computable data sets. We collaborate closely with the Smithsonian Data Science Lab to leverage these data using machine learning to gain further insights into biodiversity.