My research explores the evolution and ecology of overlooked organisms. I spent much of my childhood chasing snakes, tadpoles, and fish, or wandering about forests and botanical gardens. This love continues to channel into an ever more focused journey into animals and plants. Microscope journeys brought my concentration to moss, with their perfect little leaves that hide just outside of the perception of most people. For my M.Sc., I explored the ecology of mosses in streams and the environmental variables related to their distributions.
After completing this degree, my interests took a turn for the creepy crawly, intermingling my love of horror films with science – leeches are the core of my dissertation work. Under the tutelage of Dr. Mark Siddall, I am investigating the relationships and classification of land leeches (yes, they exist; go to southeast Asia in the rainy season) and the evolution of anticoagulants that make leeches so famous (leech bites make you bleed a lot). My initial research on leeches was the first to explore the internal anatomy of leeches using micro-CT scanning. The study allowed for the species description of a minute terrestrial leech, which was too small for classic dissections. This project also presented a molecularly based tree of life (phylogeny) for the family of leeches in which this species was found, resulting in a reclassification of the group as molecular evidence strongly conflicted with prior classifications.
I have continued this phylogenetic research for terrestrial leeches, combining my own collections from China and Cambodia with AMNH’s legacy collections to produce a phylogenetic revision of all terrestrial leech groups. These specimens will also have the blood they fed on sequenced to determine what mammals these leeches parasitize, expanding our knowledge of the ranges of difficult to survey mammals. Of equal interest in my dissertation is the evolution of leech anticoagulants. My research on anticoagulants surveys these proteins across all major groups of leeches, focusing on how leeches process difficult to digest blood such as urea-packed shark blood, and what has happened to anticoagulants in leech lineages that no longer drink blood and instead eat invertebrates.
|B.A. in Natural History||Sterling College|
|M.S. in Biology (Ecology track)||Fordham University|
|Ph.D. in Comparative Biology||Richard Gilder Graduate School, American Museum of Natural History|
|Postdoctoral Fellow||American Museum of Natural History|