The lab group is involved in a variety of projects that use field, lab, and quantitative approaches to understand the causes and consequences of diversity. Local coastal sites around New York city are excellent places for our field work because of the rich diversity of organisms they house, the environmental gradients they span, the stressors they encompass, and the valuable services they provide. Our field work allows us to manipulate conditions to determine relationships between environmental factors, diversity, and ecosystem services. Current projects focus on understanding how biotic factors such as predation and mutualisms interact with abiotic factors such as temperature to influence the structure of ecological communities and their ability to provide ecosystem services; a major emphasis of this work is integrating non-consumptive effects (fear) into classic community ecology.
Many coastal communities are also the target of management actions ranging from restoration to harvest management, and a better understanding of how diversity is maintained and why it matters in these areas is essential to motivating, guiding, and valuing management actions. Because of this much of our work has a connection to natural resource management. At Baruch that has meant a focus on oyster reef and salt marsh restoration; these two once-common local communities provided a host of services to the city, but they've been largely lost over past centuries. There are major efforts to rebuild these areas, but we need to know what factors (species interactions, environmental conditions) are necessary to give restoration activities the best shot at success. To answer these questions we combine our work in "pristine", stable communities with work on restored or degraded sites to consider how diversity changes due to management actions or disturbance. We currently collaborate with the Billion Oyster Project in their efforts to reintroduce oysters to New York Harbor, and our work in Jamaica Bay (in collaboration with Dr. Chester Zarnoch) offers insight on how salt marsh restorations may be best managed in urban sites.
We also try to understand principles that govern community structure and functioning by analyzing "big data", developing models to explain and predict how individual, populations, and communities grow, and carrying out meta-analyses to put our field work into the larger context of ecological research. The local organisms and communities we work with are the focus of some of the quantitative work in the lab, such as our efforts to develop models that can be used to determine optimal places to reintroduce oysters or predict future changes in marsh spread and denitrification potential. Our quantitative emphasis also allows us to expand our reach to communities outside of New York (e.g., efforts to quantify large-scale patterns in diversity and impacts in hyperdiverse natural systems such as kelp and rain forests) and consider topics from a broader perspective (e.g., conducting meta-analyses to consider drivers and impacts of non-consumptive effects, developing models that can used to access reintroduction outcome and better ongoing efforts).