Our research focuses on understanding plant responses to variable and changing environments, the mechanisms driving those responses, and the consequences for population and community dynamics. See below for a few areas of interest.

mirocha_20120321_annual_plots_DSCN4637Functional trait variation and community dynamics

Identifying the processes that create and maintain diversity in communities is a long-standing ecological challenge. Most, if not all, theories for how species stably coexist requires them to have ecological differences. Research in the lab seeks to identify the traits driving those differential responses to the environment. Recent and current projects examine how functional traits interact with environmental variation to influence fitness, population dynamics, and species interactions in winter annual plants of the Sonoran Desert and perennial grasses of the Colorado Plateau.

img_6167bLife history delays in variable environments

Life history delays have long fascinated evolutionary ecologists, because organisms postpone fitness-enhancing activities such as growth and reproduction. However, they can be adaptive depending on the ecological context. We study how life history delays interact with environmental conditions to determine performance and investigate the proximate cues associated with those delays. Current projects include studying prolonged dormancy in herbaceous perennial wildflowers, seed dormancy in Sonoran Desert annual plants, and life history timing in Streptanthus tortuosus.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMechanisms driving responses to climate change

Climate forecasts include a change in both the mean and variance of temperature and precipitation. Identifying how plants will respond to these changes is critical for predicting future conditions, and is a natural extension of our research themes. We use a mechanistic approach that incorporates spatial and temporal variation, functional traits and life histories, and ecological models to understand climate change responses and the factors that might limit them. Current projects include studying the mechanisms driving past and future dynamics in perennial plants of the American Southwest and exploring the ecological and evolutionary constraints on climate change response in California annual grasslands.