I am a plant physiological ecologist interested in examining the physiological mechanisms underpinning ecological patterns and processes, particularly those arising in response to abiotic stresses. Broadly, I examine questions pertaining to the biophysical determinants of terrestrial plant functionality, productivity, abundance and geographical distributions at scales ranging from whole plants to entire ecosystems.
I earned a Ph.D. in Plant Ecophysiology from the University of Cape Town in 2014 under the supervision of Assoc. Prof. Adam West in the Department of Biological Sciences. South Africa. Since obtaining my PhD I have dedicated my time to pursuing postdoctoral research with a variety of professors in world-class laboratories. My first postdoctoral position was with Prof. Timothy Brodribb in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia. There I was fortunate to be funded by the South African government on an NRF Postdoctoral Abroad Scholarship. Following that position I became a Postdoctoral Research Associate with Professors David Ackerly, Todd Dawson and Sally Thompson in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California Berkeley, California, USA. Currently, I am a Future Leader of African Independent Research (FLAIR) Fellow conducting research at the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON).
My research focuses on the theory and practice of plant ecology and plant physiology, with a particular emphasis on fundamental principles of plant hydraulic function and plant response to water deficit. Mechanistic frameworks of plant response to the environment based on quantitative physiology are the only way to effectively model future changes in plant health and function. Yet, the precise physiological mechanisms underlying many plant drought responses remains poorly understood, hindering our ability to scale up and predict future outcomes. Furthermore, we lack adequate knowledge of how key physiological traits and responses vary among major terrestrial plant taxa, particularly those from diverse flora, ensuring that current frameworks for characterizing drought tolerance of plant species are incomplete. My research seeks to address these primary challenges by examining fundamental physiological mechanisms underlying broader plant processes and responses, with a particular emphasis on functionally and ecologically diverse plant taxa occurring in temperate ecosystems. Research questions/areas that I am currently examining include:
- CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORKS OF DROUGHT TOLERANCE: Can we identify the range of traits and physiological processes that determine how well a plant is able to tolerate water deficit?
- PHYSIOLOGICAL THRESHOLDS OF DROUGHT-INDUCED DAMAGE: how and when does water transport through xylem break down, and what are the implications for whole-plant functionality?
- USING WHOLE-PLANT PHYSIOLOGY TO PREDICT ECOSYSTEM FUNCTIONALITY IN A CHANGING WORLD: what are the causes and consequences of declines in plant functionality following drought events in natural communities?