Our lab is interested in the causes and consequences of phenotypic variation in nature. Phenotypic variation is the basis of all diversity and evolutionary change, and it must be studied in a very different way from how we study the actual phenotypes themselves. We may know a lot about how a phenotype is “built” – the genes involved, the developmental processes, the necessary hormones, the internal and external environment, etc. – but knowing these ingredients (i.e., the mechanisms that “build” phenotypes) does not tell us why or how that phenotype varies among individuals in the wild. To answer that question, we need to use specific approaches that make connections between variation in the ingredients and variation in the phenotype; only a subset of the ingredients vary among individuals, and only a subset of the ingredients that vary among individuals cause variation in the phenotype.
There are a lot of ways to study phenotypic variation, depending on the time scale, the study organism, and the specific hypotheses being tested. We combine seemingly disparate approaches and areas of study. We work with plants, but also many other organisms. We work at the genetic, population, species, community, and landscape scales, and combine these scales to get a fuller picture of the architecture and patterns of phenotypic variation.
Conservation biology research is an important part of what we do. We believe that species of conservation interest need to be understood "from the inside out" -- their genetics, their patterns of gene flow with other populations and other species, their interactions with other species, their ecological tolerances, their biogeographic histories -- in order to make rational and thoughtful conservation decisions.