Climate change – who can keep up?

Evolution has no forethought. An artic fox turns white at a particular time in winter due to the selection pressures experienced by its ancestors. This adaptation helped foxes in the past blend into the snowy background and more easily disguise themselves from prey. But what if timing of first snowfall starts to move later and later into the year or becomes more unpredictable? This is a question of phenology, the … Continue reading

What is that plant doing over there?

Why do we see a species growing on one hillside and not another? Why are some fields dominated by native plants, and others exotics? These are questions addressing the establishment of plants in different habitats, a core concept in ecology with many theories to go along with it. These theories split into a mix of those looking at (1) characteristics of the environment (extrinsic factors, like soil moisture or propagule … Continue reading

The upside of invasion

Most people will agree that invasive species are, generally, not good things. Especially people who have ever sat down in a patch of star thistle, or been slapped in the face by an Asian carp. However, invaders are quite fascinating (terrible yet fascinating, like your drunk uncle’s dance moves at a wedding), and can be used to address fundamental issues in ecology and evolution.  One of my personal favorites is … Continue reading

Are invaders bigger and better in their introduced ranges?

It is hypothesized that invasive species are doing something fundamentally different in their introduced ranges – they seem to grow faster and larger, spread more aggressively, and outcompete native species, lowering biodiversity. However, these assumptions have surprisingly little evidence to back them up. In my last post, I wrote about Powell et al. 2013’s article, that found invaders may not be as bad for native biodiversity as we think. In … Continue reading

An Ecological Approach to Invasion Resistance – Insights from the World of Fashion

Old fashions are often recycled by new generations of young people attempting to stand out and be unique (just like everyone else!). Bell bottomed jeans, the paragon of 1970s fashion, saw a (thankfully brief) resurgence in the late 1980s. More recently, the leg warmers and popped collars of the 1980s were suddenly cool again. Strangely enough, ideas in ecology often reappear on a similar 15-20 year cycle. In the case … Continue reading

Guilty as charged? Invasive species may not be that bad for biodiversity

Invasive species are accused of being one of the major causes of modern species extinctions and biodiversity loss, on par with climate change and habitat destruction. A few charismatic examples implicate invasive predators and disease in native species extinctions. For example, the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis), introduced to Guam in 1952, is implicated in the extinction of 9 of the 11 forest bird species, 5 of which were endemic … Continue reading

Can Invaders Become Darwinian Demons?

There are two things I think are really cool and drive most of what I think about (well, I’ll pretend there are only two). The first is trade-offs. They’re pervasive in ecological and evolutionary thinking. The basic idea is that everybody is good at doing something, but also bad at doing something else. This comes into play in ecology because each species has its own little niche in the world, … Continue reading

Do invasive species shift their niche to invade?

Invasive species are able to take over and vastly change the ecosystems where they invade. On par with climate change and habitat destruction, they are one of the top threats to biodiversity. A recent example in the news, Asian carp, threatens to invade the Great Lakes and decimate fish populations – this species alone could cause a $7 billion fishing industry to collapse, so we can see why it is … Continue reading

Novelty Can’t Last Forever

Novelty Can’t Last Forever–Rapid Evolution in the Face of Invasion The introduction of a novel organism into a community has many consequences, including generating novel evolutionary relationships between species. Considering the ubiquity of invasive species in ecosystems around the world, examining the evolutionary relationships between native and invasive species and how they can affect ecological patterns is of great interest. Richard Lankau recently published a paper in PNAS titled “Coevolution between … Continue reading