Understanding Interactions Between Plants, Fungi, and Animals
No plant is an island. All plants interact with animals and fungi, and other plants, in diverse ways. Our research investigates two broad areas of interactions that are complex and important: the mutualistic relationships between plants and mycorrhizal fungi, and interactions between plants and their pollinators. An important question at the center of these studies is how is climate change influencing these essential interactions?
In partnership with the Door County Land Trust in Wisconsin, we are working on pollinator network studies at Ship Canal Nature Preserve. Pitcher’s thistle (Cirsium pitcheri), federally listed as threatened, is both a critical nectar source for migrating monarchs and supports a rich diversity of insect visitors that forage for both nectar and pollen. A 2016 pollination network study found that C.
Our research focuses on understanding the patterns and processes governing mycorrhizal diversity, and their ecosystem functions such as nutrient and water acquisition in the age of the Anthropocene. This includes the effects of rising temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and increased atmospheric depositions on mycorrhizal fungi. Our current research examines the effects of reduced rainfall on mycorrhizal community diversity and function in seasonal dry forests (Mexico) where there has been a perceptible loss of precipitation over the last five years.
Determining the factors that regulate plant species abundance and community composition has been a long-standing endeavor for ecologists, especially in restoration. Traditionally, this issue has been examined using a plant-centric perspective and focused primarily on the relative importance of plant diversity and competition in structuring communities. Increasingly, however, studies show that the soil biota also influences plant recruitment, community structure and succession.
Can wild bees live in human-dominated cities? Are there bees in Chicago? How many different species? We’ve learned that the short answer to this question is: “Yes, there are wild bees in Chicago, and there are more than 80 species!” But is there anything special about these bees that allow them to persist in harsh urban environments? Do they possess certain ecological traits? Do they live in certain ways? And what factors promote or degrade pollinator diversity and pollination services in the city?
Ecological communities are connected in time and space via networks of interaction occurring among species. These interactions can vary considerably through time—from hours, to days, seasons, years, decades, and beyond. Nevertheless, species interaction networks—including pollination networks—are most often studied as temporally static entities, even though the interactions that give rise to networks are often quite temporally flexible.
Wild bees provide essential pollination services in virtually all ecosystems across the globe. Despite the importance of wild bees in both natural and agricultural systems, many aspects of their basic ecology remain poorly understood, which greatly limits conservation and management efforts. To help fill in this knowledge gap, we’ve been investigating how floral food resources and climate contribute to variation in wild bee populations and community patterns.
Animal pollinators provide essential pollination services to the vast majority of flowering plant species. Critically, however, many pollinator populations across the globe are in decline. Put simply, plants will experience reduced reproduction when there are fewer pollinators around. But reproduction is just one part of the plant life cycle and the question remains: Do changes in pollination translate into population consequences for plants? If the plant is short-lived, then we would expect changes in pollination to have large effects on population dynamics.
The Moraceae family (ca. 1,000 species) includes figs (Ficus), mulberries (Morus), and breadfruit (Artocarpus). Mulberries are wind-pollinated, while figs have one of the most fascinating pollination modes, which is often used as a classic example of coevolution between plants and insecrts. In the obligate mutualism found in all fig species, female fig wasps use the enclosed fig inflorescence as a brood site, laying their eggs in some of the ovules and pollinating others. The offspring hatch and mate inside the fig.
Long-distance pollination has widespread implications, ranging from limiting population divergence, accelerating the spread of adaptive traits, disrupting gene complexes, and maintaining species cohesion. This is particularly the case for floral traits where long-distance pollinators act as agents of selection while also constraining divergence.
We commonly think of floral scent for its role in attracting pollinators, but it can also be a cue for floral and seed predators. This National Science Foundation-funded project, Landscapes of Linalool: Scent-Mediated Diversification of Flowers and Moths Across Western North America, integrates chemical ecology and comparative genomics to explore the impact of past selective pressures on current patterns of diversity in nonmodel organisms including evening primroses, hawkmoths, bees, and micromoths.