How do they do it?
Reproduction is complicated - it requires coordination across a wide array of physiological systems and behavioral changes related to sociality and parental care. In mammals, pregnancy also requires massive remodeling of maternal tissues and physiology to support fetal growth during and after gestation. I am broadly interested in the changes in physiology that allow moms to accomplish this impressive feat.
When do they do it and why?
Female reproduction can look very different from a physiological perspective depending on the individual or species. For example, the average litter size of mice is very different than that of elephants. Similarly, one individual might produce only 3 pups per litter whereas a female of the same species produces 5 or more. I am fascinated by the systems and signaling pathways that are responsible for this variation. I focus on two different aspects: first, what signals underlie stable variation in reproductive function (e.g., adaptation and reproductive function); and second, how does mom use environmental and physiological cues differently across her reproductive cycle (e.g., pregnancy vs. lactation, incubation vs. nestling care) to determine investment.
I have experience working with a wide range of vertebrates, including birds and mammals, in captive, semi-natural, and free-living contexts. I am interested in contrasting female reproductive physiology and the systems underlying it both within and among taxa.
Utilizing Integrative Approaches
Endocrine & Molecular Tools
Hormones communicate information about environmental cues and endogenous condition. Hormone systems are based on a network of organs, and I use a combination of traditional endocrine and modern molecular techniques to examine changes in activity across these systems. These tools include ELISA, qPCR, and immunohistochemistry.
In Vitro Models
Hormone production and signaling varies substantially at the level of the organ and tissue. To understand these more localized changes in organ activity and function, I incorporate in vitro maintenance and growth of reproductive tissues. I have experience working with whole ovaries, isolated follicles from mammals and birds, and primary uterine cell types.
I believe that observation and knowledge of a species's natural behavior provides critical context for answering questions about reproductive function. For those reasons, I use behavior to generate questions and measure changes in physiology in my work.