I study plant-insect interactions from molecules to ecosystems. I am an integrative and comparative biologist with an interest in the chemical senses. Everything begins with natural history.
Floral scent, the focus of my research, is a key sensory component of plant-pollinator communication, a poorly explored dimension of floral phenotype, and a major chemical expression of biological diversity. I work at the rich biological interface between insects and plants, an important source of terrestrial biodiversity and complex ecological interactions. To a great extent, this richness is manifested in chemistry: the chemistry of defense and resistance, of mimicry and deception, of communication between mutualists, and in physiology; the physiology of signal detection and processing, of sensory integration and its impact on behavior. My training in plant and insect biology reflects my commitment to understanding chemical communication from the standpoints of signal production and detection. Due to technological challenges and historical visual biases among pollination biologists, the study of floral scent remains a biological frontier with unlimited potential for novel research initiatives. During the past decade, I have dedicated myself to the goal of integrating floral scent into the field of pollination biology, through my own multidisciplinary studies and publication of several review papers, through training students and postdocs in volatile analysis and behavioral bioassays and through organizing and chairing the first Gordon Research Conference in my field.
My goals as an instructor are to nurture independent, critical thinking, to foster an appreciation for the process of science, and to empower students to direct their enthusiasm and interests toward productive educational experiences and careers. I respect diversity in the learning styles, opinions and backgrounds of my students, and I do not direct my teaching only to the most gifted or the most challenged students. In addition, I teach with multiple media and encourage my students to immerse themselves in their subject of study, through attending outside seminars, using the internet, relating course material to current events and interviewing other scientists engaged in that particular field of study. The energy and creativity that I have invested in my teaching activities has attracted many bright young students to my lab and revealed new, exciting directions for my research. My teaching at Cornell consists of lectures contributed to large undergraduate courses (BioNB2210 Intro to Animal Behavior; BioNB390 Chemical Ecology) to smaller topics courses (BioNB4200 Multimodal Communication), including a new course (BioNB 4460) on the subject of Plant Behavior.
Awards and Honors
- Silverstein-Simeone Award (2017) International Society for Chemical Ecology
- Exemplary Mentor (2015) Claremont Graduate University Quality of Life Research Center
- Alice H. & Constance E. Cook Award (2013) Cornell University
- Carl Gustav Bernhard Research Medal (2011) Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
- Young Faculty Teaching Excellence Award (2011) Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Presentations and Activities
- Discussion of: Floral to green; mating switches moth olfactory coding and preference. Neuroscience Journal Club. December 2013. Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University. Ithaca, New York.
- Context is everything: the impact of relative humidity and spatial scale on hawkmoth behavior. Cornell-Stockholm Symposium on Insect Biology. October 2013. Stockholm, Sweden.
- The role of chemistry in the geographic mosaic of coevolution. New Phytologist Coevolution Workshop. September 2013. Cornell University. Ithaca, NY.
- Studying scent: bridging the gap between proximate and ultimate studies of floral chemistry. September 2013. University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- Do flowers smell in dialects? Geographic variation in plant-pollinator communication. Seminar series in Neurobiology and Behavior. September 2013. Cornell University. Ithaca, New York.
- Fragments, fragrance and fitness: translating pollinator sensory biology into gene flow. International Conference on Pollination Biology, Health and Policy. August 2013. Pennsylvania State University. State College, Pennsylvania.
- PEEPS (Cornell Plantations Environmental Education Program for Sustainability). August 2013. Cornell Plantations. Ithaca, New York.
- Novel traits or new neighbors? Exploring the causes and consequences of pollinator shifts in Clarkia. Botanical Society of America. July 2013. Botanical Society of America. New Orleans, Louisiana.
- Liberty Hyde Bailey Lecture. June 2013. Cornell Alumni. Ithaca, New York.
- Spring Workshop Series. April 2013. Cornell Plantations. Ithaca, New York.