Research Projects

Thermal biology of insects and other organisms: Animals exposed to sunlight absorb heat in the near-infrared wavelengths, and some animals are far better at reflecting away this heat than others. We investigate the spatial, temporal, and phylogenetic distribution of near-infrared reflectivity to understand the role of this trait in thermal ecology and the evolution of thermal traits in the context of climate change.

Urban insect biodiversity: Cities are filled with biodiversity and we have much to learn about how and why species are able to persist in highly urbanized in environments. Our lab operates the Harvester Hunt project, to understand what characteristics of the city support native harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex spp., pictured above) in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. This is a community science project builds on participation of everybody in the city who loves nature and wants to photograph ants to upload them to the Harvester Hunt project iNaturalist. This project is being conducted in collaboration with the Urban Nature Research Center of the Natural History Museum of LA County. We are also working with the museum to study the ecology of urban insects as community science BioSCAN collaboration.

Rainforest ant community ecology: The lab has a long history of conducting research on the community of tiny litter-nesting ants in a Costa Rican tropical rainforest. This community has hundreds of species that coexist with one another, and provide an excellent model for asking perennial and new questions in ecology.

Experimental natural history of ants: How do strobe ants manage to strobe? Why do thieving ants steal from one another? How can bullet ants live on nectar? Why do some ants keep empty nests? How do thieving ants steal? There are so many unanswered questions in nature and sometimes we do research projects to figure them out.