I presently teach chemistry at Madison Area Technical College, conduct ecological research as an Assistant Scientist in the Lindroth Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, and chair the Inclusive Ecology section of the Ecological Society of America. I am broadly interested in complementary teaching/research/outreach initiatives that foster science literacy, advocate awareness of environmental issues, and empower citizens through engagement in the scientific process. My teaching interests intersect biology and chemistry, as well as outdoor education (I currently instruct kayaking through the Wisconsin Hoofers / Outdoor UW). My duties as Assistant Scientist include conducting original research on the chemistry of plant-herbivore-environment interactions and performing laboratory supporting services. I recently received my Ecologist Certification through the Ecological Society of America. Current projects include:
• Linking plants, insects, and soil:
The role of structural diversity of foliar condensed tannins in aspen
A citizen science pilot project integrating a species survey with experiential education
My research in the Lindroth Chemical Ecology Group focuses in two areas: investigating how poplar trees respond to herbivory and climate change, and developing new analytical technologies to assist ecologists with their studies. I am presently studying how intraspecific genetic variation among trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) trees influences the biological and chemical properties of their foliar condensed tannins. I am also concluding a recent study of how aspen respond to springtime freeze damage, which is expected to occur more frequently as climate change promotes earlier budbreak. Recent work also includes examining how gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) herbivory affects the spatial distribution of induced phytochemical defenses in trembling aspen (Rubert-Nason et al., 2015. J. Chem. Ecol., 41, 651), and collaboration on a National Science Foundation funded project investigating how deer herbivory influences the distribution and natural selection of aspen trees (Rubert-Nason, et al., 2012. Genotype and environment modulate the response of trembling aspen to simulated ungulate browsing. Ecol. Soc. Am. Natl. Mtg., Portland, OR, 37232.). The gypsy moth study suggests that plant genetics, soil fertility and feeding location of this invasive species will collectively alter the spatial distribution of aspen chemical defenses, which may influence subsequent feeding by folivores. An important conclusion of the deer-aspen study is that overpopulation of mammalian folivores may contribute to declining abundance of aspen in forests.
I also apply my background in environmental toxicology and chemistry to develop ecological applications of HPLC and spectroscopy. I am presently refining a liquid-liquid extraction / HPLC technique for high throughput purification of phenolic glycosides from poplars, which may have future applications in ecology or in the pharmaceutical or pesticide industries. I recently collaborated with multiple ecologists and agronomists to develop a procedure for using near infrared light to rapidly measure plant nutritional quality and defense chemicals (Rubert-Nason et al., 2013. Anal. Bioanal. Chem., 405, 1333). I routinely work with HPLC (UV/MS) technologies, and recently published a method for using solvent-conserving micro-HPLC to analyze plant chemistry (Rubert-Nason et al., 2014. Phytochem. Anal., 25, 185). I continue to seek consulting and collaboration opportunities in method development.
In addition to research, I perform logistics for multiple large, collaborative projects (valued at > $500,000) at remote field sites including two agricultural research stations. Specific duties include coordinating field crews, overseeing maintenance of agricultural equipment, and pest management. I routinely interact with crews working simultaneously on different projects in different locations, and am familiar with troubleshooting equipment and personnel problems remotely. I also typically make decisions regarding pest management—decisions that must balance preservation of research plants with protecting the welfare of workers and the environment. These activities can be daunting at times, but are also very exciting and provide me with endless opportunities for involvement in diverse research projects.
My doctoral thesis “Tetracycline antibiotic distribution and transformation in aquatic systems” (Pedersen Research Group) examined the fate and potential effects of a popular class of antibiotics following release into the environment. This work focused on assessing accumulation and transformation of the compound oxytetracycline in soil/water systems (Rubert et al., 2009. Am. Chem. Soc. Symp. Ser.1018. 45), with an emphasis on aquaculture. I collaborated with a group in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin – Madison to examine the impacts of these antibiotic residues on freshwater microbes (Seyfried et al., 2010. Microb. Ecol., 59, 799), and with a group at the U.S. Geological Survey to develop methods for monitoring tetracycline antibiotics in water and sediments. Collectively, this research familiarized me with the environmental impacts of aquaculture and as well as potential technologies for attenuating those impacts. I am in continued communication with Prof. Pedersen, and look forward to future collaboration as I synthesize topics from my past and present research.