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Theoretical Ecology in the Abbott Lab


We use mathematical models to explore possible causes for why species occur where they do, what makes their abundances fluctuate over time, and what creates patterns in their spatial arrangements.  We focus on identifying natural phenomena that are not fully explained by existing ecological theory, and we investigate how new biologically-motivated models might improve our mechanistic understanding of these phenomena.  At its core, all of our research explores how the inherent nonlinearities in ecological processes drive changes in the abundances and distributions of species.  The effects of these nonlinearities are influenced in complex ways by space, including habitat patchiness across the landscape and the dispersal of individuals among patches, and by stochasticity (random perturbations).

Interested in joining the lab?

Graduate student and postdoctoral positions are periodically available in my group, and we host undergraduate research projects when space is available.  Many different topics and study systems are appropriate as long as there’s a major focus on quantitative ecological theory.  I encourage students to devise research projects that suit their own interests.  If you have a strong math background and an interest in using quantitative approaches to investigating ecological or evolutionary questions, please contact me to discuss these opportunities.

I also co-direct the IRIHSE Program, which includes paid summer research opportunities for CWRU undergraduates from groups historically underrepresented in science.  Interested students should monitor the website for upcoming opportunities to work with me or other participating mentors.


We like science! And other fun things. Here are some miscellaneous photos of current and former lab members enjoying ourselves on campus and around Cleveland.

lab photos.jpg
Clockwise from upper left: (1) Fang Ji, Amy Patterson, Robin Snyder, Alexa Wagner, Alex Strang, and Brian Lerch carving pumpkins in 2018. What else can you do when the lab meeting schedule gets messed up right around Halloween?!  (2) Chris Moore, Katie Dixon, Chris Stieha, Karen Abbott, and Ben Nolting at Katie’s award-winning Research ShowCASE poster in 2014.  (3) Karen Abbott, Chris Stiehathis local celebrity, Chris Moore, Brian Lerch, Katie Dixon, and Sam Catella at an Indians game in 2016. (4) Fang Ji, Karen Abbott, Sam Catella, Alex Strang, Brian Lerch, and Amy Patterson in 2018, when we wanted to say hi to Kristen Buse and didn’t want to look boring.  You may have questions about the banana suit; so do I.  (5) Karen with the 2016 Larry O’Brien Trophy. Go Cavs!  (6) A view from Karen’s neighborhood.  (7) Fang Ji, Sam Catella, Amy Patterson, and Brian Lerch being dressy in 2017.  (8) Amy Patterson, Sam Catella, and Karen Abbott at the top of Holden Arboretum’s canopy tower in 2018.


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