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We are interested in understanding the links among microbial communities, ecosystem functions, soil health, global change, and landscape management.


Our research focuses on bridging the gap between the disciplines of general ecology and microbial ecology by analyzing large and complex molecular datasets. As ecologists, we can no longer ignore the copious data on microbial communities now that we have the molecular and computer tools to interrogate this long hidden face of biodiversity.

Big data solutions to small organisms
Arid ecosystems

Deserts occupy a third of the Earth's land surface area. Climate projections predict an increase in the extension of arid zones. The provision of essential ecosystem services heavily relies on the diversity, composition and functional capacities of microbial communities. We study microbial life-history strategies in the Sonoran Desert, mesquite-associated microorganisms and the biogeography of the Sky Islands in Southwestern USA.

dispersal and dust-associated microbes

Of particular interest in microbial ecology is the impact of regional processes on local microbial assemblages. Our research explores soil erosion, the potential for dust-associated microbial communities to successfully colonize distant environments, and the health risks of mine waste contamination.


Check a video of our dust research in Scientific American:


Microbial communities play unique roles in ecological functions such as soil stabilization and nutrient cycling that facilitate or inhibit plant establishment, and thus, the progress of habitat restoration. We explore the role of invasive plants and restoration approaches on soil microbial communities.


Cities homogenize the environment and create an imbalance with the surrounding natural habitats that might have consequences on human health and well-being. For example, childhood exposure to reduced levels of microbial diversity in urban habitats may explain the rise in the incidence of allergies. We are interested in the effect of urbanization and other human influences on soil microbial communities.

Aerial View of a Houses
Big data solutions to small organisms

The rate of information collection on microbial communities by molecular techniques far outpaces the rate at which we can analyze and interpret the data. The lab uses an ecological perspective to apply bioinformatic pipelines, network analyses, path models, machine learning, spatial statistics, environmental databases and data visualization.

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