1. Insect-associated Microbial Ecology Insects provide tremendous ecosystem services, from pollination to nutrient processing, and transmit a wide variety of diseases (malaria, plague, Dengue, Lyme, etc.). Insect-associated microbes can strongly influence insect populations and insect health. Furthermore, in disease vectors, non-pathogenic microbes interact with pathogens and can influence disease transmission. I studied how insect hosts and biogeography affect insect-associated bacterial communities in collaboration with Noah Fierer. I also studied how bacterial communities of disease vectors changed across space and time and how non-pathogenic bacteria in fleas interact with Yersinia pestis in collaboration with Andrew Martin and Ken Gage. At Montana State University, I am collaborating with Laura Burkle to investigate the microbial communities of native bees in Montana. I am also developing two additional projects regarding insect-associated bacteria: 1) Bacterial communities of disease vectors from the Amazon Forest, and 2) Bacterial communities of ground squirrel and prairie dogs.
2. Freshwater Microbial Ecology After arriving at Montana State University, I started studying microbial communities of freshwater ecosystems. I was fortunate to meet Wyatt Cross, a professor in MSU's Department of Ecology, and learn about his research on temperature effects on food web dynamics. His study site, the Hengill Valley, Iceland, is unique in that streams of the watershed vary in temperature from 5C to 30C but are warmed indirectly; an effect of this indirect heating is that waters do not vary in Iron, Sulfur, and Arsenic concentrations as is typically seen in waters directly warmed by geothermal activity. In July 2013, I sampled sediment and biofilm communities from across the Hengill Valley watershed, and I plan to return in summer 2015 to sample biofilm from streams that will be enriched with nitrogen via whole-stream nitrogen additions. The escapades of Wyatt and his team are detailed in The Hengill Diaries.
3. Plant-Microbe Interactions As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Sydney, I began studying wheat and canola rhizosphere bacterial communities with Michael Kertesz. This work was split into two main studies: 1) Biogeography of wheat and canola rhizosphere microbial communities across New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, and 2) Effects of sulfur amendments on wheat and canola rhizosphere microbial communities. At Montana State University, I am developing a project with Barry Jacobsen that is focused on determining the response of rhizosphere and phyllosphere communities to inoculation with Bacillus mycoides isolate Bac J. I am also working with Jack Brookshire to investigate rhizosphere bacterial communities collected from conifers across 300 years of secondary succession.
4. Soil Microbial Ecology As a PhD student, I was fortunate to work with Noah Fierer, Chris Lauber, and Rob Knight in writing one of the first papers using tagged 16S data to characterize soil microbial communities. More recently, I have been working with Tim McDermott, John Dore, and Brian McGlynn to study how soil microbes produce and consume methane. This work takes place in one of the most heavily instrumented watersheds in the world (Stringer Creek, Tenderfoot Experimental Forest, Montana), and combines gas flux measurements, eddy flux measurements, hydrological measurements, and soil microbial community characterizations across time and space.