I am an insect ecologist. My work focuses on studying species and communities in a changing world. Climate and habitat change are the most pronounced threats to virtually all species and ecosystems. Such changes affect plant-insect associations at all levels.
I am particularly keen to work on questions relating to relationships between functional species traits and environmental habitat characteristics. It is important in modern ecology to understand ecological communities not only in regard of their species composition, but also the functional roles of different species, by studying morphological, chemical and physiological species traits
Please also have a look at my Google Scholar profile
I recently joined the Insect Biodiversity and Biogeography Lab led by Dr. Benoit Guénard at University of Hong Kong. Here, I investigate how the environment shapes functional traits and diversity of ant communities in tropical urban environments.
In recent projects, in Sandra Rehan’s lab, I pursued research questions relating to the effects of land use change and agricultural intensification on the ecology and functional traits of native bees in New England.
I firstly used a single species, the small carpenter bee Ceratina calcarata, to investigate how organic and conventional farming practises affect bee size and reproduction. Carpenter bees nesting on agricultural lands produced compromised offspring compared with less managed landscapes. Interestingly conventional farms had no nest parasites, and maternal bees had greater wing wear, suggesting reduced foraging efficiency. At both – organic and conventional farms – large mothers produced small‐sized, less viable offspring; it is estimated that two‐thirds of offspring from farms do not survive overwintering (link to paper).
Secondly, based on such single species responses, it is invaluable to assess effects of farming practises at community level. I used a range of different metrics, including community composition, phylogenetic structure and functional trait diversity to characterise wild bee communities at conventional and organic farming types.
Thirdly, I looked at the effects of land use changes over a larger time frame, by comparing function traits of historic vs. current bees. I used bumblebees for this project. I compared historically collected bee specimens from the UNH museums collection and with currently collected bees. I further investigated if changes in traits differ between common and rare species.
Find out more about my previous research projects on my research page – here
Outreach / extension
I am passionate about communicating research findings to the wider community, land owners and stakeholders, and to provide guidelines to improve biodiversity conservation and management practices.
To raise awareness about wild bees and their urgent need for conservation actions, I have developed taxonomic reference material and field guides for the wild bees of eastern North America. These booklets are aimed to inform the wider public about the importance of native bees and the benefits they can bring to private gardens, local vegetable plots, orchards and organic farms.
To communicate the presence of biodiversity hotspots in large urban green spaces, I have disseminated research findings in form of a project summary to stakeholders, landowners and local communities. I have also created toolbox based management recommendations aimed at increasing levels of carbon and biodiversity on golf courses.
The Western Sydney University media team has showcased my research in a filmed interview to promote the diverse research environment at the university. Check out the video feature on the “Green corridors as simple as ABC“
The Australian Turfgrass Management Journal has reported on my research here
I went to one of the most inhospitable places in South Australia – the dry salt pans – to study the navigational abilities of thermophilic ants (Melophorus sp.) in collaboration with Dr. Patrick Schultheiss. We looked at foraging activity patterns and tracked their paths to find out what they use for navigation. The local Australian newspapers reported on our and the ants’ activities in the outback here and here.
Check out my media coverage about the fate of insect communities in a warmer climate: “When the heat is on!”