I attribute my decision to become a biologist to the fact that I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There I spent many happy days looking at spring wildflowers and fall colors while I hiked, biked, and climbed around the area. I received an undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Richmond and eventually went to work for Dr. Ed Smith at Virginia Tech. There I learned molecular genetics techniques that form the basis of my current lab work. I later enrolled at the College of William and Mary, where my M. S. thesis looked at the mid-Atlantic coastal plain population of Peregrine Falcons. I came to Davis in 2006, where I am a member of the Ecology graduate group and the Center for Population Biology.
I was very fortunate to take a seminar with Dr. Art Shapiro in early 2007. I began to realize that butterflies would be an excellent study system for my interests, and I really enjoyed interacting with Art and his lab members. Now I'm happily ensconced in the Shapiro lab, desperately trying to make sense of butterfly ID's and phylogenies. Perhaps the hardest part about being in this lab group is trying to settle on just one project- Art and my labmates have so many great natural history stories that everything seems like a perfect PhD dissertation. I've settled on a fascinating set of species that comprise a putative Female-limited polymorphic mimicry system.
As the name implies, the Variable Checkerspot, a.k.a. the Chalcedon Checkerspot, Euphydryas chalcedona, has a highly variable phenotype. Many populations have a strong reddish background color, while other populations exhibit a black background color. The Northern Checkerspot, Chlosyne palla, is a putative mimic of E. chalcedona, and its phenotype also varies. Where the 2 species do not co-occur, C. palla of both sexes are red. Where they do co-occur and E. chalcedona is red, both sexes of C. palla are red. However, where E. chalcedona is black, C. palla males are red and females are red, black, or intermediate. While both the black and red forms of C. palla appear to mimic E. chalcedona, the black form seems to be an especially strong mimic.
I'm interested in the evolutionary and ecological factors that govern the polymorphism in C. palla, and how this polymorphism interacts with other Chlosyne species, many of which co-occur with E. chalcedona but none of which exhibit the female-limited black phenotype. To address these questions I'm using molecular markers to look at differentiation both within and between species.
In addition to my dissertation project, I've also been working with fellow Shapiro-ite Melissa Whitaker to re-survey the butterfly fauna of the Sutter Buttes. The Buttes are privately owned, and sit in between the Coast Range and the Sierra Nevadas. This project offers a great chance to explore an under-studied area.
I have a rich life outside of academe (perhaps too rich!). Together with my husband and friends I love to rock climb, ride my bike on the trails or the road, run, hike with our dog, and go birding. In my former life I used to really enjoy multi-sport racing, but I haven't found a way to do that and succeed in grad school, too. I also have some quiet moments where nothing beats sitting on the couch reading or knitting with the cat curled up in my lap.