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. My research in the Pringle and Tarnita labs explores how termite mounds in African savannas generate spatial patterns that propagate throughout the ecosystem. I am 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 Pansu.
My PhD work in the Pierce Lab at Harvard University focused on ant-associated microbial and arthropod communities on Vachellia drepanolobium ant-plants. These trees, which are widespread throughout the East African tropics, host colonies of mutualistic ants in swollen-thorn domatia. In exchange for this housing, as well as extrafloral nectar, these ants protect their hosts from large mammalian herbivores. Three different species of ants live obligately in the domatia, and each ant species tends to be accompanied by a distinctive community of microbes and arthropods living alongside them in the domatia.
Previous employment and education
I worked as a microeconomist at the Reserve Bank of Australia for around six and a half years prior to joining Harvard’s PhD program. I began in the Bank’s Payments Policy Department, where I undertook research and policy work in relation to retail payment instruments. After moving to Financial Stability Department, I spent around two years working on financial market indicators, composite financial stability indices and the Basel II bank regulatory capital requirements. I then returned to Payments Policy Department, where I worked on the Bank’s review of its payments system reforms.
Before working at the Reserve Bank, I completed undergraduate degrees in biology and economics at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. My biology degree focused mainly on genetics, evolutionary biology, ecology and statistics. My economics degree focused on microeconomics, including game theory, uncertainty and information and industrial organization.