I have developed duckweed plants (Lemna spp., Wolffia spp., Spirodela spp.) into a tractable model system for the study of plant-microbe interactions. Currently, I am using this system to investigate how plants and bacteria compete for nitrogen in aquatic habitats, and how microbes affect coexistence dynamics in aquatic plant communities.
A primary goal of my disseration research was to demonstrate links between changing microbial communities and the functioning of their ecosystems (or hosts). To accomplish this, I studied how microbial communities develop and change over time within the digestive leaves of the carnivorous pitcher plant Darlingtonia californica. This unique plant relies on a microbial food web to break down captured insect prey in a manner somewhat analagous to our own microbiota. My research entailed enumerating all compartments of pitchers' communities (viruses, bacteria, protists, & arthropods) and linking their dynamics to rates of carbon and nitrogen mineralization using stable isotope tracers and respirometry. My results indicated strong associations between community turnover, biomass degradation, and host nutrient uptake.