Welcome to the Plants and Games Lab at Purdue University
I am a member of the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology and the Centre for Plant Biology at Purdue university. I also hold a courtesy appointment in the department of Biological Sciences' Ecology and Evolutionary Biology group.
Research in my group investigates interactions among plants and other organisms as an evolutionary game. In a game (e.g. checkers) your probability of winning the match depends on your strategy, and the strategy of your opponent. If you think about interactions in nature, these interactions really possess all the essential features of a game: the success of one organism depends on its traits, and the traits of the organisms (e.g. predators, competitors, mutualistic partners) with which it interacts. Research in the lab tends to focus on belowground interactions, but any biotic interactions can find their way into the lab! This includes resource competition among plants or microbes, resource trading among plants and mutualistic partners, or resources lost through attack by enemies such as herbivores or pathogens.
Research in the lab involves a mixture of empirical and theoretical tools to explore questions. I generally approach questions using three steps: (1) I like to try to think through how I imagine the system works and describe all my assumptions and ideas with a mathematical model; (2) It can be useful to check some of these ideas and assumptions in the greenhouse with a model system. (The first and second step may go back and forth for a while, depending on how wrong I was in the first step.), and; (3) Once I feel like I understand the system I try to scale it up to natural ecological systems (e.g. a grassland or a forest).
Ultimately, I describe myself as a community ecologist. I am interested in patterns of diversity, community structure and function, and mechanisms of coexistence. Admitidly, I've come at this from a slightly circuitous route (i.e. I've spent most of my career so far in steps (1) and (2) described in the previous paragraph), but those sorts of questions are what motivate all of my research. I am reaching a point now where I feel like I understand enough about the kinds of ways that plants respond to biotic interactions, that I can move to step (3) and start working in the field.
Interested in joining the lab?
Currently, I don't have any graduate student positions available. However, if you are interested in joining the lab it can always be worth having a converstaion! Undergraduates are always encouraged to contact me about research opportunities!
Some interest in mathematical modelling is going to be an asset in my lab, but I rarely do anything more complicated than you saw in your first year intro calculus class. Most of the folks in my group did not do any modelling before they began, and I am happy to help as students learn. I only started dabbling with mathematical models in 2011 myself, so please don't be intimidated. It's actually a really powerful way of generating testable hypotheses. I will consider both PhD and MSc applicants. Some training in principals of ecology and/or botany will also be considered assets. Currently, funding is not available for additional students. Students would be expected to apply for funding throughout the duration of their studies, and are required to TA for at least 2 semesters total during their programme. Canadian students eligible to take an NSERC PGS to the USA are particularly encouraged to apply. Students are generally admitted for the beginning of the autumn or spring terms.
There are several avenues to joining my lab:
1) I am primarily a member of the department of Botany and Plant Pathology. Most students would join the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, the requirements for application can be found here and the BPP grad student handbook can be found here;
2) I can also advise students who join the Department of Biology's Ecology and Evolution group, the requirements for application can be found here.
3) Students may also wish to join the Integrative Plant Sciences training group through the Purdue Interdisciplinary Life Science (PULSe) programme and explore a rotation among several labs before deciding who they will work with to complete their degree. This can be a good way to explore options if you are ready for graduate studies that involve plants, but are not sure about committing to one lab. The Integrative Plant Sciences training group is very diverse and includes biochemists, molecular biologists, geneticists, physiologists, ecologists and evolutionary biologists. The requirements for application to PULSe can be found here
More information about the school of graduate studies at Purdue can be found here.
June 6, 2015, CBC radio's Quirks and Quarks question roadshow: Listen.
June 24, 2010, Edmonton Journal article on Plant behaviour.
June 24, 2010, Vancouver Sun article on Plant behaviour.
July 15, 2009, Globe and Mail article on Plant behaviour.
March 30, 2009, I was interviewed on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active about plant foraging!
March 2009, Research featured in University of Alberta's "Express News!"