"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."
- Theodosius Dobzhansky, evolutionary biologist
I am an evolutionary biologist who integrates molecular, morphological, behavioral, and ecological data into a comparative phylogenetic framework to tell the many fascinating stories of our planet.
I'm also an arachnologist, new lepidopterist, treethinker, Chickasaw, Gooner, and dad. But I haven't always been a biologist. In my previous career, I was a freelance photojournalist working for magazines and newspapers. Driven by my passion to tell these stories, work has taken me around the world, from big cities to small villages, and into many different cultural and societal settings. Although I left this career as a journalist, I continue to tell stories about our planet, only now I do this by taking advantage of the rapidly expanding genomic and natural history collections datasets that are finally easily accessible.
My research looks to address key questions in the evolution of terrestrial arthropod diversity, such as: 1) What are the relationships within the arthropod Tree of Life?; 2) Why are particular lineages more diverse than others?; and 3) How have predator-prey interactions influenced trait and lineage diversification?. By using phylogenomics to establish evolutionary hypotheses, my integrative approach works to understand how biotic and abiotic forces have shaped and driven patterns of biodiversity, as well as discover and describe new species.
I completed my Ph.D. in the lab of Dr. Jason Bond at Auburn University and the Auburn University Museum of Natural History (AUMNH), where my dissertation research focused on deciphering the evolutionary relationships, biogeography, and the evolution of miniaturization across North America’s genus of tarantula spider, Aphonopelma, while also building the phylogenomic tools to better understand the spider Tree of Life. Currently, I am an NSF postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Akito Kawahara at the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) and the University of Florida, where I work on Lepidoptera phylogenomics and placing the evolutionary arms race between bats and moths into a phylogenetic context.
As an educator, I believe my role is to prepare students to interact in an informed, responsible manner with the world around them; a place where critical thinking is paramount to achieving career goals and to making informed decisions as members of their communities. As a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, I also feel an obligation to engage and mentor fellow Native American students. Recently I began a collaboration with the Chickasaw Nation to involve middle and high school students into primary research. This interactive experience uses exciting evolutionary questions, genomics, and coding to capture student interest in biology.
My career aim is to establish an extramurally funded research program that provides my students and postdocs with a strong foundation to develop and successfully carry out their own projects. I am confident that my lab will continue to obtain research and STEM outreach funding, while also serving as a safe environment that is inclusive of people from all races, genders, sexual orientations, and abilities. And finally, with the rapidly dwindling number of taxonomists, I feel it is imperative to continue documenting biodiversity by discovering and describing new species and higher taxa, as well as to train the next generation of systematists.