Postdoctoral Researchers

aaron david

Aaron David

Aaron is interested in how plant-microbe interactions influence plant conservation and restoration. Specifically, his work considers how plant-soil feedbacks affect the demography of endangered plants. He is conducting his research at Archbold Biological Station, which boasts populations of several listed plant species endemic to Florida. Aaron is a member of both the Afkhami and Searcy labs. To learn more about Aaron’s interests and experiences please see his website!

Graduate Students

blessingBlessing Mutiti

Blessing joined the lab in Jan 2018. She is interested in understanding the role of below-ground mutualisms in driving or limiting the establishment of rare or endemic plants in novel habitats as well as the use of genomic tools to link ecological processes to their molecular basis.  She is fascinated with the complexity of mycorrhizae and rhizobium and describes it as the study of “logistics of below ground highways of nutrients.”  Her interests in this subject were inspired by her post graduate research where she worked on an endemic plant system found in one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots: South Africa’s Core Cape Subregion. In this study, she tested the effects of cultivation on the assemblage and abundance of mutualistic rhizobia associated with an endemic tea plant called rooibos (see her research here ). She is currently working on a project sequencing the soil microbiome in the imperiled Florida scrub habitat.

damianDamian Hernandez

Damian is a PhD student interested in understanding the crosstalk between plants and their microbiome at a molecular/systems level. He became interested in molecular plant biology while completing his Master’s thesis on transcriptional complexes in hormone-mediated immune responses. He has continued researching molecular plant biology, but with a focus on plant-microbe interactions and the regulation of their underlying molecular network.

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Brianna Almeida

Brianna joined the lab in August 2017. She is fascinated by the mechanism that shape different levels of biodiversity. This stems from her previous work in a seed bank germination study from different possible restoration areas in the Dinner Island Ranch wildlife
management area. She is interested in how plants interactions with mycorrhizae may influence distributions and diversity of different
plant communities.

Kasey Kikasey2esewetter

Kasey is a PhD student broadly interested in understanding the effects of the climate change on communities. She became interested in community ecology during her undergraduate study where she wrote her honors thesis on phenological mismatch in ant mediated seed dispersal. She would like to continue researching community interactions but focusing on how plant-microbe interactions influence communities and their effects for conservation and restoration. Currently, Kasey is investigating the impact of fragmentation on herbivore-microbe interactions in the imperiled Pine Rocklands of Southern Florida (2% remaining of habitat).

Visiting Scientists

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Kailani Acosta 

Kailani is interested in mutualisms and microbe interactions in soil. She is currently working with Aaron David and Blessing Mutiti on soil-microbe interactions and metagenomics. She is also interested in climate change and nutrient cycling in both terrestrial and marine environments. She will be starting her PhD in September 2018.

Undergraduate Students


Sathvik Palakurty

Sathvik is an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Biology and Mathematics (Applied). He is interested in emerging systems biology approaches to complex problems. His first project in the lab uses coexpression network analyses of RNAseq data to ask about the molecular basis of Multiple Mutualist Effects and was recently accepted for publication in Molecular Ecology. He is currently working on a modeling project (in collaboration with Dr. Don DeAngelis) and has been selected as a CCS (Center for Computation Science) Fellow (in collaboration with Dr. Neil Johnson).

Jordan Reid

Colleen Cook

Christina Villar


At her poster on “Plant fitness correlation to microbial communities”

Leydiana Otano

Chris Dorizas

Kira Fullerton

Lab Pet

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Chloe on a 6-mile hike in California’s Coast Range.

Epichloë (aka Chloe)

Chloe, named after the fungal endophyte Epichloë, is a “fluffy” corgi. She has been with Michelle since grad school and is excited for any and all attention!