My “research group” consists of me and anywhere from 3 to 6 graduate students that I advise. I have broad research interests in various ecological and conservation topics and no particular study system or taxon. I also am involved in a wide variety of projects, some of which are collaborations with other faculty at Texas State and elsewhere. As such, my graduate students work on a variety of topics and their projects differ a lot. My “lab” is not organized around any single (large) project where each graduate student does some smaller part of the project as his or her thesis or dissertation. In those labs grad students are primarily expected to participate by completing component parts of the project that are assigned to them. My approach is to assist each graduate student in developing and implementing his or her own project – the development phase usually takes at least one semester and involves much input from me. I also occasionally have funded projects that are essentially ready-to-go for a student – these are stand-alone projects that can usually be completed within 2 – 3 years.
Even though there is a wide variety of projects and topics, my overall research program (including grad student projects) does have a central unifying theme: to acquire ecological knowledge of the factors affecting distribution and abundance of species over multiple spatial scales, and when possible to put that knowledge into action by investigating the implications for conservation of biodiversity and natural areas. The “factors” can be highly varied: habitat, dispersal, physiological tolerances/adaptations, species interactions, climate/weather, historical legacy, land-use practices, and ….. randomness. Most recently, I’ve come to recognize (and better appreciate) that the habitat requirements/preferences of a species say a lot about where it will be found and its abundance. Thus, habitat may be the primary factor determining distribution and abundance (population size) as well as species diversity. Ecologists have long known about the importance of habitat to species survival and reproduction, but its role in structuring higher-level ecological pattern has been under-appreciated (in my opinion).
In doing ecological research, I strongly advocate for very rigorous statistical design and testing. I use null models, data randomization, quantification of Type I and II error rates, mathematical/analytical models and simulation modeling in much of my research. In fact, my interest in the development and promotion of novel statistical methods has become an area of research onto itself. Lastly, this is also a goal that I have in advising graduate students: help them further develop their quantitative/statistical skills and critical thinking ability.