My research addresses large-scale patterns in ant biogeography. In addition to working in urban 'islands' across the United states, I also focus on the fauna of oceanic islands in Melanesia, the hyperdiverse crossroads for Australian,
Southeast Asian and Pacific lineages. I am interested in understanding patterns diversity and distribution across islands, and reconstruct the evolutionary history of ants across islands to learn when and perhaps how populations and species came to occupy their current geographic ranges.
Citizen Science is taking the world by storm, thanks to new media, new
technology in science and an evolving vision amongst educators for how
to engage the public in the (sometimes not-so-accessible) world of
science. The basic elements are the Citizens and the Science. The
Citizens are willing participants in some or many aspects of the
scientific process, from data collection to analysis to developing the
questions that lead to discovery. The Science is usually a study that is
led by a team of scientists who offer a big question or an hypothesis
to test, as well as a structured approach to tackling that question that
is accessible to non-specialists. Specific protocols help keep the data
reliable and broad participation often affords the scientific team
many, many more observations or samples than the team could have
collected on their own. I am the Director of the School of Ants project, as well as involved in running two other large-scale citizen science projects, Bellybutton Biodiversity and the Wildlife of Our Homes.
My passion for both science and teaching is reflected in the selection of courses that I taught or created. I have taught topics in entomology and evolution ranging from introductory (California Insect Diversity and Biodiversity) to advanced (Insect Ecology and Field Taxonomy and Phylogeny and Macroevolution). Instruction formats in these courses varied from classroom lectures, to outdoor field trips, multi-week field courses, microscopy labs and computer labs. The popular Freshman Seminar that I designed and taught for four years was Insects and the Media, aka 'Bugs & Movies'. The course was a forum for discussing scientific principles using popular media and modern technologies (e.g. film, internet sources and video games) as starting points. In all these courses I aim to introduce novel approaches and useful new technologies to students. After all, systematics and evolution are rapidly changing as a result of tremendous advances in technology in just the past few years. I recently recieved the Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award from the University of California, Davis.