Next generation community ecology

New genomic, biophysical, analytical, and experimental approaches applied to study the ecological and evolutionary assembly of biological communities.

wordle phage evolution

For decades researchers have discussed the potential power of studying ecological and evolutionary dynamics at their component  genetic parts. The goal was to make causal links between genes and the ecosystems they create. Disappointingly, the idea moved faster than technology. Naturalists were quick to adopt genetic tools, however these techniques were used mostly to identify genetic markers, rather than genetic mechanisms underlying ecologically relevant traits. I was even guilty of this in my first manuscript (Meyer et al. PNAS 2006); we found genetic markers linked to a predator-defense trait, however we did not uncover the genetic cause of it.  With new genomic, biophysical, analytical, and experimental techniques, finding these causal links is possible. In collaboration with many great researchers, I study the ecological and evolutionary assembly of biological communities using these new tools.

Most of my research is on the model host-parasite system, E. coli and one of its viruses, phage Lambda. I study this system because much is known about the genetics and biophysics of their interactions. With this information, I am able to make predictions for how they will coevolve and form ecological communities. My predictions are correct half of the time. When this happens, I am  able to test theory.  However, when experiments fail, this is when the real science happens. Figuring out why predictions fail has led to some of my most interesting discoveries. Therefor, my research is a mix of hypothesis testing and exploration. 
Lambda E. coli interactions 

side notes

Chemostat group
Cornell's Chemostat Group, 2006.   From left to right: Stephen Ellner, Gregor Fussmann, Laura Jones, Nelson Hairston Jr., Rebbecca Dore, Takehito Yoshida, and me.  We were a group of  mathematicians, a physicist, limnologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and a molecular biologist.  By combining tools from each field we were able to study biology at all of its component scales; from genes to ecosystems. This experience provided the template for how I practice science.

Kassen small lab group
With Rees Kassen at the University of Ottawa I continued to study the eco-evolutionary assembly of predator-prey communities.

Lenski Group 2007 With the Lenski Lab at Michigan State University I finally began making causal connections between molecules and ecology and evolution.  This is where I developed the lambda-E. coli system.