As a wildlife biologist with research experience in microbial ecology, I’m broadly fascinated by how variation in microbial communities can be consequential for plant and animal population and community health. My current research covers 4 main themes:

Theme 1: What are the ecological drivers of host-associated microbiome variation in the wild?

Theme 2: How is microbiome variation transmitted across host generations?

Theme 3: Can the microbiome affect host health, survival, and reproduction in the wild?

Theme 4: To what extent does microbiome variation underlie phenotypic variation within host populations?

For my BSc and MSc I studied how plastic components of host physiology—namely immune and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity—effect the microbiome, in response to changing environmental conditions (Theme 1). In my PhD, I continue to research causes of microbiome variation, but using a meta-community ecology lens. Through my work on the Sable Island feral horse population, I emphasize how environmental heterogeneity and structured patterns in microbiota dispersal maintain microbiome variation and allow for the transmission of microbiome variation between individuals (Theme 2).

Leveraging the Sable Island horse population pedigree and quantitative genetic methods, I am also evaluating the fitness consequences of microbiome variation and estimating the heritability of fitness linked microbial traits (Theme 3). Using a microbiability approach, I plan to partition phenotypic variance of host traits (e.g., body condition, body size, stress hormones, parasite load) across environmental, host genetic, and metagenomic sources (Theme 4).


Although interesting from an evolutionary perspective, I am also keen to explore microbiome applications within a nature conservation and sustainable agroecosystem context. Although tremendous and impactful efforts have been made to preserve ecosystems, microbial constituents of natural biological systems are more often overlooked. However, the unseen bacterial, archaeal, fungal, and protozoal species that pervade every biotic and abiotic surface of the natural world are critical to natural and food ecosystems.

I am also keen to explore potential applications of microbiome manipulations within the plant/animal agriculture and aquaculture. Thousands of years of artificial selection have yielded incredibly diverse and productive phenotypes in domesticated species. However, breeding techniques are primarily concerned with the transmission host genetic material. Our current breeding practices are not necessarily conducive to the transmission of desirable metagenomic variation. Likewise, monoculture food-systems fail to replicate the diverse microbial metacommunities in which plants and animals first evolved.

By understanding how microbiome variation emerges, and how microbiome variation underlies host phenotypes, we will be better positioned to manipulate and propagate microbial communities which optimize desirable phenotypes. I am particularly interested in solutions which confer disease resistance, increase efficiency, or improve sustainability.