B.S., 2017, College of William and Mary; Biology, Environmental Science, and Policy
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Broadly, I am interested in the evolutionary ecology of species interactions in food webs. For my master’s thesis, I am focusing on the ecological consequences of animal personality (consistent behavior across contexts); namely how personality mediates predator-prey interactions and food web structure. Understanding the ecological consequences of personality is important because the stability of predator-prey interactions depends on the functional responses of the prey – flexible responses tend to increase stability, whereas inflexible responses may decrease stability. I am also interested in the evolutionary outcome of prey personality. While behavior is typically considered a tremendously plastic trait, the personality concept places a limit on adaptive behavioral plasticity because individuals are constrained both by their behavioral type and by carryover across ecological contexts and time. There is potential for rapid evolution of personality under variable predation regimes, given that personalities are heritable traits and there is standing trait variation.
To answer these questions, I use old-field arthropods as a model system, specifically grasshopper Melanoplus femurrubrum and its spider predators, Pisaurina mira and Phiddipus spp. Because arthropods are a particularly tractable study system, I am able to do a range of field experiments, behavioral and physiological measurements, and ecological stoichiometry.
My previous research has ranged from grassland fire ecology to salt marsh ecosystem ecology. I have always been fascinated by the consequences of a changing environment on species interactions, including invasion events, landscape alterations, and pollution. During my undergraduate career at the College of William & Mary, I studied ecotoxicology and noise pollution in zebra finches with the Institute for Integrative Bird Behavior Studies, and the evo-eco dynamics of predator introduction in Trinidadian guppies.
I also pursued a range of opportunities during my summers, beginning with field research in the Northern Territory of Australia as part of a NSF International Research Experience for Students. While there, I studied the impacts of an invasive species on fire regimes, and how that invasion altered avian habitat use. I was also a NSF REU Fellow with the Marine Biological Laboratory at the Plum Island LTER, examining how the collapse of nitrogen-polluted salt marsh creek banks resulted in the decoupling of a bottom-up trophic cascade. For my junior and senior years, I was an EPA GRO Fellow (undergraduate equivalent of STAR), and I interned at the Atlantic Ecology Division in Rhode Island, where I explored rates of nitrogen uptake and allocation as a mechanism of competition between salt marsh grasses.
Hill, T.D., Sommer, N.R., Kanaskie, C.R., Santos, E.A., Oczkowski, A.J. (2018). Nitrogen uptake and allocation estimates for Spartina alterniflora and Distichlis spicata. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. doi.org/10.1016/j.jembe.2018.07.006.
Sommer, N.R., Moody, N.M, Lantz, S.M, Leu, M., Karubian, J., Swaddle, J.P. (2018). Red-backed fairywrens adjust habitat use in response to dry season fires. Austral Ecology. doi.org/10.1111/aec.12629.
Nelson, J.A., Johnson, D.S., Deegan, L.A., Spivak, A.C. Sommer, N.R. (2018). Feedbacks between nutrient enrichment and geomorphology alter bottom-up control on food webs. Ecosystems. doi.org/10.1007/s10021-018-0265-x.
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School of Forestry & Enviro Studies
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