Polar fish genome evolution
Many organismal groups have invaded the subfreezing marine environments of the Arctic and Antarctic. To persist in these environments, many of adaptive changes must take place. One of the most ubiquitous is the rise of antifreeze proteins (AFPs) which bind growing ice crystals to prevent cellular freezing. We are taking a global, comparative genomic approach to better understand how one group of fishes -- the eelpouts -- adapted to a life in subfreezing water and what that could mean in light of anthropogenic climate change.
Long-term monitoring of alpine streams in the Rockies
Climate change is reducing the cryosphere on global scales. In alpine environments, glacier and snowfield meltwater is the primary source of streams. With rapid recession of alpine glaciers and reduced seasonal snowpack, the anticipated changes to stream environments are no doubt immense but difficult to predict.
Since 2015, a team of talented researchers (see Collaborators!) and I have established 10 long-term monitoring sites in the Teton Range, 6 sites in Glacier National Park, and are in the process of establishing sites in Beartooth Range of southern Montana. These sites run the gamut from being purely glacier-fed to groundwater-fed, a wide environmental gradient. At each site, we're collecting a suite of abiotic and biotic data, ranging from in situ water temperature monitoring to microbial and macroinvertebrate genetic data. This effort will help us better understand how climate change is affecting the same alpine streams through time.
The ice worm genome project
If you spend enough time on glaciers in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll eventually encounter an enigmatic, extremophile: the glacier ice worm (Mesenchytraeus solifugus). Ice worms are the largest glacier-obligate residents known, and M. solifugus is only present in coastal mountains from Oregon to southern Alaska. Though globally rare, individual populations can number in the tens of million, suggesting the potential for an important functional role of ice worms in glacier ecosystems. To feed, ice worms come to the glacier surface during summer nights and overwinter at this summer ice-snow interface, letting deep, seasonal snow act as a barrier against plunging winter temperatures. Their unique, ice-obligate biology make ice worms an interesting model for evolutionary research but they also present a significant conservation challenge. How do you effectively monitor an organism that lives in rugged terrain, is only active at night, and is threatened by the loss of glaciers? Our efforts to sequence the ice worm genome will serve as a useful evolutionary model and template for developing eDNA-based monitoring approaches.
Microbial ecology of extreme environments
Extreme environments, like much of the Earth, are teeming with life, typically of the prokarytotic variety. Microbes play substantial roles in the functioning of ecosystems and make up a major portion of the total diversity Earth, but until recently, cataloging their diversity and probing functional roles was challenging. Through modern molecular tools, my collaborators and I are working to understand the ecology of microbial communities in hydrogen sulfide rich springs in southern Mexico and supraglacial and snowfield communities in alpine regions of North America.