Research Interests

Most of life is too small to see with the naked eye. 

Although their size is small, their effects on animals can be large. Microbes-bacteria and fungi-influence animals in many different ways. Beyond health or sickness, microbes can determine what animals are able to eat, which mates they find sexy, and whether or not a situation is stressful. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Beginning with the invention of the microscope, and thanks to the continued development of molecular and bioinformatics tools, we are now able to explore a whole new world that has always existed around us.  My research focuses on describing and understanding this world. 

I am a microbial explorer.

Broadly, I explore previously uncharacterized animal-associated habitats to understand what microbes are there, what may be structuring their community, and how their animal host may affect their community structure and dispersal. 

Specifically, my doctoral research, in the animal behavior laboratory of Dr. Philip Starks at Tufts University, has focused on characterizing the bacteria and fungi associated with paper wasps. I’m interested in understanding how the microbes associated with the invasive European paper wasp, Polistes dominulus, compare with those of the native paper wasp Polistes fuscatus and how animal host species and location can affect the associated microbial community. The European paper wasp is a model system in the fields of animal behavior and invasion biology, yet has not been used in the field of microbial ecology. This is about to change. 

By providing the first characterization of the microbial community associated with this species, in the future we may be able to answer questions relating to how an insect hosts’ microbial community can interact with its recognition system; how invasive insects impact local microbial communities; and if social wasps play a cryptic microbial dispersal role in various agricultural systems. 

*Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. 

**All photo credits are Anne A. Madden and can not be reproduced without permission. . . except for the picture of me holding frogs...and then I have to admit to readily stealing them from facebook.