Microbial Community Coalescence · Seawater Intrusion of Wetland Habitat as a Case Study
One of the biggest challenges in microbial ecology is determining how responsive microbial communities are to altered environments. Most studies examine microbial communities as constrained only by the habitat conditions, but are not simultaneously examining the impacts of environment and newly introduced microbial communities. The intermingling of previously distinct communities, along with their respective local environments, termed ‘community coalescence’, occurs frequently with microbes (Rillig et al 2015 TREE). I used three experiments to examine community coalescence in the context of seawater intrusion. Seawater intrusion periodically occurs here in North Carolina, USA, during storm events, and will likely increase under forecasted climate. How does a seawater intrusion event of a freshwater wetland habitat impact the coalescing microbial communities of each respective habitat? Does community or environment play a stronger role in coalesced community structure? I completed three experiments examining the impact of seawater intrusion in coastal wetlands on structuring microbial communities. My research addresses these time sensitive issues of coastal habitats, and tackles crucial ecological questions associated with microbial community dynamics and assembly processes in a changing world.
Timberlake Wetland Restoration Project
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Assembly Mechanisms of Microbial Communities · What Drives Community Assembly in Microbes?
I am interested in understanding microbial communities under environmental stress. Specifically, I am using my coalescence experiments to understand the influence of salt stress on driving community structure. My simple experimental setup allows me to disentangle the assembly mechanisms driving community structure, thereby identifying environmentally sensitive and resistant microbial clades, as well as those most responsive to novel biotic interactions.
Phylogenetic Community Ecology · Tree Dispersion of Microbes and Importance of Scale
Phylogenetic community ecology hinges on the concept of niche conservatism, where organisms that are more closely related are, on average, functionally more similar than expected by chance. As microbial ecologists amass even more sequence data, there has been a shift in focus from natural history-based assessment of microbial communities to teasing out the ecological assembly processes driving the structure of these communities. The incorporation of phylogeny into microbial community analyses has opened the door to assessing the potential influence of habitat filtering and competition on microbial community structure. Numerous studies use phylogenetic patterns of microbes to infer potential influence of ecological processes. However, in many cases, the default phylogenetic resolution is too broad for useful interpretation. Therefore primary objective of this study is to understand the influence of phylogenetic scale on dispersion estimates in microbial communities.
Microbiome Stress Project · Community Response Among Natural and Anthropogenic Stressors
The Microbiome Stress Project focuses on identifying sensitive and resistant microbes subjected to a comprehensive range of natural and anthropogenic stressors across various host and environmental habitats. This collaborative project encompasses three primary objectives from drivers to organisms, which include: