Understanding species diversity in coralline algae

My research focuses on understanding species diversity in a group of marine calcifying algae called corallines.  Recent molecular advances have shown that species diversity in red algae has been vastly underestimated and there are hundreds of species awaiting proper classification and identification.  I am using an integrative taxonomic approach combining molecular techniques, morphology, biogeography and ecology in order to gain a more accurate understanding of species diversity in coralline algae.  Using this approach I have described several new species and genera.  Please see my publications for more details.


Coralline algal diversity - Are urchin barrens really barren?

In addition to documenting species, I am examining the community structure of coralline algae within urchin ‘barrens’ and kelp forests. According to the classic otter-urchin-kelp trophic cascade, when sea otters are removed from kelp forests, urchins increase in abundance, grazing down the kelps and ultimately creating “urchin barrens.” These denuded habitats represent alternative stable states dominated by coralline algae, whose calcified thalli resist urchin grazing, and generally lead to declines in species diversity across all trophic levels. Using DNA barcode identifications, we are documenting the species diversity of subtidal coralline algae at sites along the central coast of British Columbia, Canada, representing a gradient of otter occupation, urchin abundance, and kelp forest density. Photo credit Jenn Burt.


Polyploidization as a mechanism for speciation in marine macroalgae

This aspect of my research focuses on the role of hybridization and polyploidy (whole genome duplication) in species diversity.  Specifically, I am interested in examining polyploidy as a mechanism for speciation in marine macroalgae.  Polyploid transitions have been documented in land plants and are estimated to have occurred in 95% of fern species and 70% of angiosperms at some point in their evolutionary history. For algae, preliminary data suggest that polyploidy has played a role in speciation, yet nuclear DNA content estimates have been published for less than 1% of all algal lineages; hence the importance of polyploidy for the diversification of algal species is unknown.  This research will be one of the focal points of my current postdoctoral position at the University of British Columbia.


DNA barcoding economically important Lavandula species

Although lavender plants are commonly used in horticulture, herbal medicine and aromatherapy, few studies have investigated the genetics of lavender species.  I have developed molecular markers (e.g. DNA barcodes) that can be used in the identification of common British Columbian lavender cultivars.  I am particularly interested in delineating species of Lavandula angustifolia, L. latifolia and L. xintermedia.  I am also testing the utility of the proposed plant barcoding protocol put forth by the Consortium for the Barcode of Life Plant Working Group (http://www.barcoding.si.edu/plant_working_group.html).  The genetic markers developed during this project have the potential to be used by scientists and agriculturalists worldwide.