Sunshine and visitors

Esti, Luis and Alan make the most of the sunshine at New Forest NP

Long days, warm weather, dry roads and visitors. I love summer!

Esti Palma from the University of Melbourne and Dr Luis Mata from RMIT University (and, the all-important, Alan Mata) came to visit for a couple of weeks recently. They both gave excellent talks to our ecology group in Biological Sciences.

Luis spoke about “The Little Things That Run the City”, drawing on the pioneering work in Melbourne where Luis and other folk from RMIT are joining forces with Melbourne City Council to bring biodiversity into the city – and to make people aware of, and value, it. They’ve produced a beautiful children’s book as part of this work. I’m looking forward to seeing the other things that this innovative and productive group produce.

Esti focused on her invasive species traits work where she is using 80 plant species to test whether it is more informative to separate invasive species into different “types” based on their dimension of invasiveness, or whether it doesn’t matter if all species are lumped into one category. Early results seem to point to the former – but watch this space!

Esti also spoke briefly about her work that shows trait-based trends in the types of species that are being both lost from and gained in cities. As a bit of extra excitement, Esti’s paper featured on the cover of Ecography.  

john dwyer and bjorn robroek.jpeg
John and fellow Southamptonite, Bjorn Robroek, enjoying a cleansing ale after a walk along the River Itchen (we did talk ecology, promise!).

While talking about sunny visitors, it would be remiss of me not to mention Dr John Dwyer from the University of Queensland who stopped to say hello in June.

John also educated us with a talk, this time on how trait covariance can help us understand biodiversity trends along environmental gradients. Some really lovely work by John and Daniel Laughlin.


Project kick-off: propagule pressure, functional traits, resource availability and plant invasion

As mentioned in a previous post, I was lucky enough to be awarded one of the inaugural ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards (DECRA) late last year. I officially started my DECRA research in April, so I thought it was time that I introduce it – albeit rather briefly.

In essence, I am planning to investigate the susceptibility of native vegetation edges to alien plant invasion using quantitative and experimental approaches.  The project will contain both theoretical and applied elements and will primarily examine plant invasion through a community ecology lens (or is it community assembly through an invasion lens??!).

I’ll specifically be looking at the combined (and interactive) effects of species traits, resource availability and propagule pressure on invasion success using Bayesian meta-analysis, causal modelling and a field experiment.  As stated in my grant application, “disentangling effects of alien species’ seed supply, high resource availability (light, water, nutrients) and species’ traits on invasion will indicate their relative influence on plant invasion and community assembly.  As a result, new knowledge will be gained on the efficacy of invasive species prevention and control by indicating which invasion pathways to target, and under what conditions.”

The project will run for three years and I’ll be splitting my time between Australia and the US to achieve it. The plan is to work with CEED/NERP folk on the more quantitative aspects of the project while in Australia (principally with people like Brendan Wintle, Cindy Hauser, Mick McCarthy and Peter Vesk in the QAEcology group at Melbourne Uni, but also with Phil Gibbons and David Lindenmayer at the Australian National University; more on that later). I’ll conduct the experiment at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in Minnesota working with David Tilman.  I’m planning to spend two months at the University of Minnesota this year (July-August) and then 6 months for the following two years (roughly April-Sept/Oct).  As a lover of warm weather, an endless summer comes as an added bonus!

New paper: The intermediate disturbance hypothesis and plant invasions: implications for species richness and management

Jan 2012 – Some colleagues and I have recently written a paper that examines the relationship between the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (IDH) and alien plant invasions.  Published in Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, the paper is structured around two questions: in accordance with IDH, 1) at what disturbance frequencies is alien plant colonisation most likely and why, and 2) where along the disturbance continuum (at which successional stage) are alien plants likely to reduce community diversity and why?  We use understanding of community and invasion ecology to answer these questions, drawing on empirical evidence from a variety of terrestrial ecosystems.  We conclude the paper by discussing implications and strategies for managing plant communities and how patterns of invasion might change in the future.

You can find a summary of the paper on our lab website.

If you’d like a copy, please shoot me an email.

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