Microbial feedbacks and conservation of endangered plants
Plants associate with many microbes in the soil, and these microbes feedback to positively or negatively influence plant fitness. Yet, the extent to which microbes influence plant populations is not well understood, and this has important consequences for sustaining populations of endangered species. We are studying how soil microbes influence the population dynamics of endangered plant species in the Florida scrub. We are collaborating with Eric Menges at Archbold Biological Station to better understand how microbes influence populations of some of the endangered species that the station monitors.
Endosymbionts are organisms that live inside of a host. Communities of endosymbionts are broadly influenced by 4 factors: dispersal, environment external to their hosts, host species (or genotype), and the interactions among endosymbionts. As part of my dissertation work I researched the relative roles of these factors in beachgrasses along the Northern Oregon and Southern Washington coast. This system provides an excellent opportunity to explore these questions because of its strong environmental gradients and relatively low plant diversity. I am using of a combination of observation studies and field/lab experiments to show the relative roles of these factors, and how these roles change for endophytes in different parts of the host plant. I am also collaborating with Drs. Jennifer Rudgers at the University of New Mexico and Sarah Emery at the University of Louisville to ask similar questions using dune grasses in the Great Lakes.
Plant Succession in Invaded West Coast Dunes
West Coast dunes have long been invaded by the European dune-building grass Ammophila arenaria. Over the last 60-70 years, dunes have been invaded by a second invasive species, A. breviligulata from the Eastern USA. This invasion has been associated with changes in dune morphology and changes in plant diversity. Using datasets of foredune plant communities in Oregon and Washington collected by Drs. Sally Hacker, Phoebe Zarnetske, Peter Ruggiero, and Eric Seabloom, I am investigating how the two invasive grasses distinctly alter the succession of the dune plant communities, and differences in the environmental and temporal effects caused by invasion.
Risk Analysis of Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes
As part of the Introduced Species and Genotypes IGERT program, I have been working on a framework for identifying potential adverse effects of releasing GE mosquitoes in Africa to combat malaria. There are a range of technologies currently being researched and tested to either kill off the malarial mosquito species (Anopheles gambiae) or replace them with strains that won’t transmit the malaria parasite. Despite this rapid progress, risk analysis of GE technologies has lagged. My collaborators — Joe Kaser, Amy Morey, Alex Roth, and Dr. David Andow — and I have developed a framework for looking at the potential effects during different population phases of the release in order to make risk assessment more comprehensive. This research was done at the request of the US National Research Council.