I work to better understand the interactions between microorganisms, their biogeochemical environment, and the Earth’s climate. A relatively small number of metabolic pathways drives the global cycles of climatically important elements, and microorganisms mediate the majority of this cycling. My work hypothesizes that the activity of microbes within an ecosystem is sufficiently predictable to provide insight into the formation of large-scale biogeochemical features, such as anoxic oxygen minimum zones and patterns of nitrification. The predictability results from an assumption that much of the large-scale function of the microbial community can be understood by reducing that activity to the underlying chemistry of metabolism and the physical limitations of a microbial cell. Interactions of diverse microbial populations with each other and the environment results in the geochemical distributions that we observe. I develop mathematical models with mechanistic descriptions of microbial growth and respiration to examine these distributions, their connections to rates of microbial activity and the biogeography of the microbial communities, and their sensitivity and potential feedbacks to changes in climate.

In the news:

“New study sets oxygen-breathing limit for ocean’s hardiest organisms”

“Understanding Microbial Competition for Nitrogen”

“USC biologists devise new way to assess carbon in the ocean”