The Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research (MPCER) Executive Committee is made up of NAU faculty members from a wide array of disciplines, including biology, ecology, environmental sciences, engineering, forestry, and geology. In guiding the MPCER, the diverse training and perspectives of the executive committee members fosters the cross-disciplinary approach that MPCER seeks to advance in both research and education. The exceptional scientists and faculty members that make the executive committee include the following people:
Gery is a professor and the director of the Environmental Genetics and Genomics Facility, Member The Allan lab investigates questions relating to the genetic underpinnings of trait variation in cottonwood trees and how the environment shapes this variation across broad geographic areas. Currently his lab is focused on developing molecular genetic markers to assess how a combination of landscape features, climate, and invasive species influence gene flow and genetic connectivity in Fremont cottonwood. He also uses landscape modeling to evaluate how changes in genetic connectivity influence arthropod and fungal community connectivity, and associated ecosystem processes. A related key interest is the application of molecular genetic methods to the conservation and restoration of cottonwood habitat as important centers of biodiversity and renewable natural resources.
Kitty is a professor and the co-executive director of MPCER. The Gehring lab studies plant- associated fungi and their influence on populations, communities and ecosystems in basic and applied contexts. Just as humans have a microbiome that influences their health, plants have a microbiome that influences their ability to survive, grow and reproduce. Fungi are a particularly important part of the plant microbiome, sometimes call the mycobiome. The Gehring lab examines the importance of plant genetic variation to the mycobiome, and also explores the effects of global changes such as climate change and invasive species on the mycobiome with an emphasis on how such changes influence host plants. Projects involve a combination of field studies, common garden studies, greenhouse experiments and molecular and morphological analyses in the laboratory. The Gehring lab also participates in large scale synthesis studies aimed at more broadly understanding the importance of beneficial fungi in natural and managed systems.
Liza is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. The Holeski lab has interests in plant evolutionary genetics and ecology, plant-herbivore interactions, plant responses to changing climates, and quantitative genetics and trait evolution in plant populations. The lab utilizes field, greenhouse and laboratory studies to address these questions, often focusing on the model plant species, yellow monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), its insect herbivores and chemical defenses. The Holeski lab also has interests in poplars such as cottonwoods and aspen, exploring relationships among plant stressors such as herbivory and climate change, and plant genotypic and epigenetic variation.
Tom is a professor of ecophysiology in NAU’s School of Forestry. The Kolb lab focuses on understanding controls on the distribution, abundance, and productivity of forest plants from a physiological perspective. They address a broad range of basic and applied research questions, such as how do trees die during drought, insect attacks, and climate change and can forest management treatments be used to ameliorate climate change impacts on forests? The Kolb lab addresses these questions using a combination of field, greenhouse, and laboratory studies. The lab includes modern equipment for measuring photosynthesis, respiration, transpiration, water stress, leaf area, tree growth, tissue- and soil-nutrient levels, light quantity and quality, and site environment.
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Stephen M. Shuster
Steve is professor of invertebrate zoology and the curator of marine invertebrates and molluscs, NAU Department of Biological Sciences. Research in the Shuster lab focuses on three major themes: alternative mating strategies, mating system evolution and community genetics. The Shuster lab’s studies of alternative mating strategies focus on marine isopods but includes a wide range of animals and plants. Their goal is to understand the genetic and environmental mechanisms that allow alternative mating strategies to persist in nature. The Shuster lab focus in community genetics explores methods for estimating the intensity and form of genetic interactions within and among species from individual to ecosystem scales. The Shuster lab is also interested in exploring statistical approaches for estimating how and to what degree individuals, species and communities may become genetically and phenotypically distinct.
Thomas G. Whitham
Thomas Whitham is the Executive Director of the Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research and Regents’ Professor. His research is focused on cottonwood riparian communities and pinyon-juniper woodlands. These studies emphasize plant-herbivore interactions and a community-level understanding of the consequences of plant genetics and environmental stress on keystone species.