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

Plants fungus and insects OH MY!

Post by Zoe Getman-Pickering One of the first lessons you learn in ecology (be it a class or research) is that the natural world is infinitely complex with countless direct and indirect interactions, and it is one we ecologist repeatedly learn through our careers. I was reminded of this lesson reading the paper, “Mycorrhizal abundance affects the expression of plant resistance traits and herbivore performance” by Rachel Vannette and Mark Hunter. … Continue reading

All I Really Need to Know, I Learned from Aphids

In our lab, we throw around the terms “eco-evolutionary dynamics” or “eco-evolutionary feedbacks” pretty loosely to describe any interactions between ecological and evolutionary processes (two more terms that are defined pretty abstractly). But we can do a better job of defining eco-evolutionary feedbacks, and a recent paper by Martin Turcotte, Dave Reznick, and Daniel Hare reminded me of that. This is another paper from the Eco-Evo special feature in The … 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

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies (or how tarweeds lure fruit flies to their doom and use the poor unsuspecting victims to bribe predator defenders) Smell is the sense of memory, and anyone who has walked through a Californian grassland in the heat of summer will never forget the scent of tarweeds. That scent oozes from thousands of glandular trichomes that produce the characteristic sticky stink, and a big question is WHY? … Continue reading