1. Speciation – this is the evolutionary process that generates new biological species. Our lab looks at the role different evolutionary forces play in generating the evolution of species. This includes studies of the role that natural selection and genetic drift play in generating divergence, especially in the face of gene flow, which should work against these forces to homogenize populations. More recent work has also looked at genome-level phenomenon that may influence the process of speciation.
2. Ecological specialization – The vast majority of plant-feeding insects are ecologically specialized, but why should a species shun most available resources and evolve to use just a few? Many hypotheses have been offered as potential explanations for the existence of such ecologically specialized taxa and especially for their predominance among herbivorous insect species. These hypotheses invoke chemical coevolution, tradeoffs, the exploitation of enemy-free space, escape from interspecific competition, the capacity to reliably find mates at habitat-specific sites, and constraints on information processing.
3. Multitrophic interactions centered on plant-feeding insects – Herbivorous insects are one of the most species-rich groups of organisms on the planet. Our group incorporates detailed observations from the field, behavioral assays in the lab, and genetic work to clearly elucidate these complex interactions. Current work investigates the molecular basis of herbivore manipulation of its host plant and eco-evolutionary dynamics between herbivorous insects, their host plants, and the associated predators, mutualists, and endosymbionts.