I work to better understand the ecology and evolution of parasites and parasitism, and to use them to enhance general ecological and evolutionary science.
One major facet of this broad goal is to reveal the role of parasites in ecosystems. History and modern ecology tell us that parasites can strongly influence individuals, populations, and communities. Despite this, parasitism is usually ignored in ecological research. Hence, I seek to understand the impacts of parasites on various ecological processes, at big and small scales. An example is our recent documentation of substantial parasite biomass in estuarine food webs.
Another major aspect of my work comes from recognizing that parasites are bona fide species and comprise a massive chunk of biodiversity. Parasites also differ in basic ways from free-living species. Well, it's a no-brainer that generalizations about life should pertain to most life. So, I consider parasites to test, refine, and buttress our efforts to construct universal schemas that characterize all life. An example of this is our recent work enhancing metabolic-scaling theory to predict the abundance of all species—parasitic or not—in food webs.
I also work to reap the benefits of using parasites and their hosts as tractable study systems to tackle general ecological and evolutionary theory. For example, hosts provide natural, discrete replicates of parasite assemblages. From an ecological standpoint, this can facilitate novel examination of community structure and dynamics. As an example from the evolutionary side of things, parasitic castrators—body-snatcher parasites—can allow uniquely powerful tests concerning the general forces driving adaptive evolution. Another example involves the recent discovery of eusociality in trematodes, which opens the door for novel research dealing with the processes underlying sociality.
Under the umbrella of these large goals concerning parasites and parasitism, I pursue many sorts of questions. I focus quite a bit on community, population, and evolutionary ecological issues. I deal with the metabolic theory of ecology, food webs, phylogeography, biogeography, invasion biology, basic life-history theory, sociobiology, and good ol' fashioned descriptive parasitology. I also work on directly applied issues, particularly using parasites as ecological indicator tools and as biological control agents.
Concerning study systems, I'm inordinately fond of trematodes, parasitic castrators (body snatcher parasites), and tidal wetlands. But, I'm not stuck on those systems, and other things are certainly fair game. To answer questions, I use observations and experiments from the field, lab, computer, and scratch paper, always with a conceptual or quantitative theoretical context and an effort to "keep it real". Additionally, I work with many excellent people, including my students and staff!