My primary research interest is the evolution of symbiotic organisms, in particular those that form partnerships with fungi. I have been using phylogenetics and comparative phylogenetics to analyze the evolutionary history of lichen-forming fungi and their characters. Since many fungal groups produce a wide variety of secondary metabolites, I am also interested in exploring the potential of phylogenetic methods in natural product chemistry to understand the evolution of chemical characters and biosynthetic genes. Currently my lab is studying the effects of climate change on the assembly of fungal communities associated with plant leaves and roots using next generation sequencing approaches. We want to find out, if the composition of symbiotic fungal communities affects local adaptation of the plants. My work integrates a variety of disciplines, such as molecular phylogenetics, systematics, natural product chemistry, and metagenomics.
Effects of climate change on lichen-forming fungi and their photobionts:reactions of species/communities, diversity and stress-protective role of secondary metabolites.
Co-Phylogeography of lichen symbionts: selectivity and specifity in lichen communities, vertical vs. horizontal photobiont transmission.
Molecular phylogenetics of green algal lichen symbionts.
Secondary metabolites of fungal and algal lichen symbionts: annotation and analysis of secondary metabolite biosynthesis gene clusters in lichen genomes.
Winner of the “Mason Hale Award”; IAL (International Association for Lichenology): “The Mason Hale Award is granted to recognise excellence in research by young lichenologists for outstanding work resulting from doctoral dissertations or similar studies.”
I am primarily interested in the structure and interactions of communities in different environmental contexts. Especially how different species within a community influence each other and how those relationships are mediated by their environment. In the past I have studied root competition between shrubs from mediterranean type ecosystems in South Africa, identifying how this interaction is shaped by density dependence. Currently I am expanding my skillset and work with microbial communities from various forest substrates, which are assessed by high-throughput metabarcoding. I study community interactions and model how abiotic factors, such as forest management, are changing these micro-communities. Being able to combine fieldwork with laboratory work, statistics and ecological modeling is one of the things making this research field so fascinating and I enjoy being part of the genetically informed future of community ecology.