Exploring the Ecology of East African Savannas

My research interests lie in the exciting world of species interactions: how they evolve, how they work, and how systems of interacting species may show novel emergent properties. As a postdoc in the Pringle and Tarnita labs, I am exploring how fungus-farming termites in East African savannahs generate spatial patterns that propagate throughout the ecosystem. I am currently using molecular methods to assess population structure in the termites and their fungal crops, and to explore spatial variation in soil microbial communities – both projects in collaboration with colleagues Jessica Castillo Vardaro and Johan PansuMy PhD work focused on ant-associated microbial and arthropod communities on the Vachellia drepanolobium ant-plants that grow in these savannahs.

  • Flat, uniform savannah landscape

    East African savannahs

    The termites and ant-plants that I work on are key ecological components of these flat, uniform landscapes.

  • Vachellia drepanolobium domatium occupied by Crematogaster mimosae ants

    Herbivore protection

    Mutualistic ants protect Vachellia drepanolobium ant-plants against large herbivores like giraffes and elephants

  • Termites constructing entrance towers

    Ecosystem architects

    The effects of termites propagate throughout savannah ecosystems

  • False color satellite image with termite mounds showing as red spots

    Termite spatial ecology

    Termites generate regularly-spaced hotspots of productivity across the otherwise uniform savannah landscape

  • Odontotermes termites in an underground tunnel

    Complex societies

    Individual Odontotermes termites are small, but they live in large colonies that can function like giant organisms.

  • <i>Odontotermes</i> sp. fungal comb

    Fungus farmers

    Odontotermes termites grow fungus for food. The small white bodies are the fungal nodules that the termites eat.