Assistant Professor

Research and/or Creative Works

Our research aims to better understand the processes that generate and impact the incredible biodiversity that exists on this planet, particularly in the contexts of complex natural ecosystems and rapidly changing climate conditions. To make connections between genes, phenotypes and the environment, we integrate genomics, population genetics, developmental biology, physiology, and ecology using natural populations in both field- and lab-based investigations. Conceptually, our research addresses integrative questions in evolutionary biology, ecological genomics, and global change biology.

We focus on marine invertebrates because of their diversity, the threats they face, and their ease of culture in the lab. Our models systems are sea urchins, copepods, and sea stars. Sea urchins allow the investigation of fundamental physiological phenotypes that are particularly important in the context of climate change; copepods are fundamental to the function of ocean ecosystems and are easy to maintain in the lab across many generations; sea stars, the keystone species from which the concept was defined, have recently experienced the largest marine epidemic in history and the cause is as of yet unknown.

Projects in my lab currently address the three major themes described below; in each, we drill down to uncover the variation that underlies adaptive physiological phenotypes and scale up to reveal the ecological and evolutionary processes that shape this variation.

The major research themes currently in the lab include:

Genetic, epigenetic, and physiological mechanisms of resilience to global change – In these studies, we are exploring the proximate and ultimate causes underlying survival in a variety of temperature, CO2, salinity, toxic algae, and pathogen conditions in sea urchins and copepods.

Mechanisms of resilience and resistance to Sea Star Wasting Disease – In these studies, we are exploring the roles of the microbiome, host physiological phenotype, and host genotype in resistant phenotypes.

Impacts of plastics in the ocean – In these student-driven projects, we are exploring the effects of plastic leachates on sea urchin larval growth, development and survival, and the effects of microplastics on copepod survival, fecundity, and behavior.

Areas of Expertise and/or Research

Ecological genomics, population genetics, evolutionary biology, physiology

Education

  • Ph.D., Stanford University, 2010
  • Stanford University 2010-2011, Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Indiana University, 2011-2014, National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow

Contact

Phone:
  • (802) 656-0628
Office Location:

Marsh Life Science Building, Rm 326A

Office Hours:

Tues. 1-2pm and Fri. 11-12pm

Website(s):
  1. Pespeni Lab