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

Did you see a plant there? Me neither.

At a seminar on sexual selection in frogs I attended recently, an evolutionary ecologist (who studies plants), joked that compared to things like frogs that make noise and move, plants are really pretty dull. I can think of many reasons why plants are in fact the awesomest (being in the plant biology department makes me a little biased), and one particular example that came to mind was from an Am … Continue reading

Evolution isn’t so simple

To steal a line from the paper that I’m about to talk about: “Herbivores have fed on plants for more than 400 million years”. I thought this was a pretty striking way to start a paper; it suggests that these interactions might play a really important role in how plants and herbivores evolve. And indeed countless papers have discussed the effects of herbivores in driving the evolution of plant defenses … 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