Benkman Lab at the University of Wyoming
I'm an evolutionary ecologist whose recent research has focused on mostly four questions. 1) How do interactions between crossbills (Loxia) and conifers influence crossbill diversification, and what influences the form and strength of these and other plant-animal interactions? 2) What are the most important factors causing reproductive isolation between diverging lineages of crossbills? 3) Why has the South Hills crossbill declined by 80% since 2003 and what can be done to minimize future declines? Such a dramatic decline, apparently due to increasing temperatures that reduce seed availability in winter, is especially alarming as this genetically distinct crossbill is confined to two small mountain ranges in southern Idaho. 4) Why and how do certain interactions between mammals and plants lead to trait-mediated indirect interactions that cascade to other community members and ecosystem processes?
The great naturalist and myrmecologist from Cornell University, Dr. William L. Brown, Jr. (1922-1997), wrote in The Quarterly Review of Biology in 1957 "Were I an ornithologist, I think that the finches of the genus Loxia would take up most of my research time. No group of birds seems to offer more tantalizing problems in that area of biology where systematics, ecology, zoogeography, population dynamics, and ethology overlap." I agree.
See A Small Mammal With Outsized Impact, a post of our blog on our recent publication in PNAS.
Teachers: see CourseSource for a coevolution lesson plan based on the coevolutionary interactions between crossbills, squirrels and lodgepole pine.