I received my doctorate in 2015 from the University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources under Dr. Melanie Culver. My dissertation focused on how the enduring processes of time, climate, and adaptation have shaped the evolution of one of the Sonoran Desert’s most charismatic reptiles, the desert tortoise, Gopherus morafkai. Specifically, I used a genomic approach to describe the phylogeography of the desert tortoise: how its genetic variation fits the biogeography of the landscape. My objective was to resolve taxonomic uncertainty of the Sonoran desert tortoise by defining the mechanisms of speciation between the Sonoran and Sinaloan lineages. By clarifying the evolutionary processes that influence the distribution of desert tortoise lineages, this research will directly inform efforts to preserve the evolutionary potential of these taxa. This international project involved the collaboration of the US Geological Survey, Tucson Herpetological Society, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the Comisión de Ecología y Desarrollo Sustentable del Estado de Sonora in Mexico. Ultimately, understanding the evolutionary history of desert tortoises will not only clarify the forces that have driven the speciation of this group, but it will also contribute to our knowledge of the biogeographic history of the southwestern deserts and how diversity is maintained within them.
I first moved to Tucson in 1992 when I started work in the Department of Mammalogy and Ornithology at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This was my first introduction to the Sonoran Desert and I’ve been a passionate advocate ever since. In 2003 I received an M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona and this was when I first began my work on the conservation genetics of the desert tortoise. I am currently employed as an Assistant Staff Scientist at the University of Arizona Genetics Core where I am involved in a variety of genetic projects from fish to plants to people. I am a co-instructor (along with Dr. Hans-Werner Herrmann and Dr. Tom Wilson) for the Desert Ecology and Conservation Biology in Namibia program offered through the UA Office of Study Abroad and Student Exchange. In addition I work with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions as a “National Geographic Expert” and have accompanied programs to Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. I am a past president of the Tucson Herpetological Society and am currently a Scientific Advisor for the Turner Foundation for the Bolson Tortoise Captive Breeding and Repatriation Project.