I am particularly fascinated by the diversity of ecological strategies employed by species within and across habitats. In my research, I apply complementary perspectives in order to understand the factors that allow species to persist and coexist across a diverse range of global environments:

First, I am interested in evolutionary responses that allow species to cope with and overcome a variety of environmental constraints.
Second, I focus on the ecological and evolutionary factors that regulate diversity and structure species composition within and among communities.

By linking these approaches, I ultimately seek to disentangle how species’ traits mediate interactions with other species and the abiotic environment to shape geographic distributions and global diversity patterns. These goals necessarily require thinking across scales of biological organization, from the physiology and behavior of individual organisms to the dynamics of populations to continental patterns in community level traits. With few ecosystems remaining untouched by human impacts, answering these fundamental questions has important implications for predicting how species will respond to continuing environmental change.

My current research directions are outlined below. If you would like to learn more, please feel free to contact me.



Adaptations to environmental constraints

ravenA fundamental problem in ecology is to understand how species traits and environmental conditions interact to determine the extent of species distributions. These interactions often occur as eco-evolutionary feedbacks: certain environments can select for particular traits but trait evolution can also facilitate expansion into new environments. I explore these dynamics through the use of physiological models, by investigating population responses to environmental change, and with phylogenetic comparative methods applied to large, often globally distributed, samples of species. In particular, I am interested in how adaptations in varied traits such as cognition or thermal physiology can help species to cope with extreme or fluctuating environmental conditions.

Figure 3a

Publications and selected presentations:

Fristoe, T. S., Iwaniuk, A.N., & Botero, C.A. (2017). Big brains stabilize populations and fascilitate the colonization of variable environments in birds. Nature Ecology and Evolution, In Press.

Fristoe, T. S., Burger, J. R., Balk, M. A., Khaliq, I., Hof, C., & Brown, J. H. (2015). Metabolic heat production and thermal conductance are mass-independent adaptations to thermal environment in birds and mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(52), 15934-15939.



Ecological and evolutionary drivers of community structure

Figure 2

Despite longstanding interest, the mechanisms that drive global patterns in diversity remain poorly understood. With strong evidence that environmental productivity can place upper limits on species richness, I focus on the currency of energy in order to work out how resources are allocated to generate biodiversity. My work in this area often takes advantage of temperate bird communities as a convenient study system because they are well documented by citizen science projects such as the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, and eBird. In addition, migratory birds can drastically change community composition across seasonal cycles, providing a unique opportunity to test drivers of diversity that act over ecological times scales. I am also interested in how evolutionary processes have shaped community structure over longer periods. In particular, I am currently working to understand how evolutionary divergence can facilitate species coexistence.


city owlOngoing natural and anthropogenic habitat changes can be thought of as natural experiments that provide opportunities to better understand the processes that structure community composition. Focusing on urbanization, I am investigating the mechanisms driving change in continental scale biodiversity patterns. While this approach can be leveraged to reveal insights into fundamental ecological processes, it also has the potential to inform conservation and mitigate the effects of human impacts on natural communities.

lapland longspur

Publications and selected presentations:

Murthy, A.C., Fristoe, T.S., and Burger, J.R. (2016) Homogenizing effects of cities on North American winter bird diversity. Ecosphere, 7(1):e01216.

Fristoe, T.S. (2015) Energy use by migrants and residents in North American breeding bird communities. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 24: 406–415. doi:10.1111/geb.12262

Fristoe, T.S. The contribution of migrants to diversity and energy use in North American bird communities across the seasons. Poster presentation: Meeting of the International Biogeography Society, Bayreuth, Germany (2015).

Fristoe, T.S. The contribution of migrants to North American winter bird communities. Oral Presentation: University of New Mexico Biology Department Brown Bag Seminar (2014); Poster presentation: Meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union, Chicago, Il (2013).



Human macroecology

SamonDiagramAs in other species, the distribution and structure of human societies is shaped by interactions with the environment. Along with interdisciplinary collaborators, I use a macroecological approach to understand the underlying processes that determine emergent patterns across human cultures over large spatial and temporal scales. By taking advantage of parallels between cultural and biological evolution, we apply cutting edge evolutionary methods to understand how human culture has been shaped by environment and vice versa. Through much of this work, the overarching goal is to approach the study of humans through an ecological lens in order to inform thinking on global sustainability.



Hammond, Sean T., James H. Brown, Joseph R. Burger, Tatiana P. Flanagan, Trevor S. Fristoe, Norman Mercado-Silva, Jeffrey C. Nekola, and Jordan G. Okie. (2015). Food Spoilage, Storage, and Transport: Implications for a Sustainable Future. BioScience, 65(8), 758-768.

Brown, J.H., Burger, J.R., Burnside, W.R., Chang, M., Davidson, A.D., Fristoe, T.S., Hamilton, M.J., Hammond, S.T., Kodric-Brown, A., Mercado-Silva, N., Nekola, J.C., and Okie, J.G. (2014) Macroecology meets macroeconomics: Resource scarcity and global sustainability. Ecological Engineering 65: 24-32.

Nekola, J.C., Allen, C.D., Brown, J.H., Burger, J.R., Davidson, A.D., Fristoe, T.S., Hamilton, M.J., Hammond, S.T., Kodric-Brown, M., Mercado-Silva, N., and Okie, J.G. (2013) The Malthusian-Darwinian dynamic and the trajectory of civilization. Trends in ecology & evolution 28.3: 127-130.

Burger, J.R., Allen, C.D., Brown, J. H., Burnside, W.R., Davidson, A.D., Fristoe, T.S., Hamilton, M.J., Mercado-Silva, N., Nekola, J.C., Okie, J.G., and Zuo, W. (2012) Macroecology of sustainability. PLoS biology 10.6: e1001345.