I am interested in strategies used by plants to acquire resources, how competition with neighbours alter these strategies, and how all of this shapes species coexistence and community structure. I use a mix of empirical and theoretical tools to explore questions. This includes foraging theory, and evolutionary game theory.
To the untrained eye plants might appear to be more like an inanimate object than the type of organism that can play games. However, like any living organism, plants are faced with shifting pressures from the environment, competitors, enemies and mutualistic partners where their best strategy will depend on the strategy used by the plants around them. If you know where to look, you will find that plants are remarkably good at assessing and responding to these shifting pressures in ways that are often best described using behavioural models. My research has been concerned with trying to understand how plants should produce roots to forage for nutrients in soil, and how competition with neighbours influences these root foraging strategies. When plants compete, the problem turns into a game, and plants are adept at assessing and responding to the strategies used by neighbours.
Though I have often used molecular tools, I subscribe to the optimization research programme, and study adaptations by their function. The optimization approach to studying adaptation assumes that natural selection produces phenotypes that, subject to some constraints, are optimal in the sense that they maximize fitness.
Click here for a list of publications on these ideas.