As an undergraduate, I was mentored by Dr. Jeffrey Lake in the Ostiling Lab at the University of Michigan. I explored relationships between morphological and chemical leaf traits of an invasive shrub, Elaeagnus umbellata. Commonly called, autumn-olive, the shrub is pervasive in open grasslands and forest edge habitats; however, we observed the invasive shrub in the understory of a Michigan forest at the E.S. George Reserve. I found that Elaeagnus was characterized by leaf traits of a sun-loving species, which was different from the traits of the shade-tolerant native species. With such divergent traits, Elaeagnus might function differently from the native community in regards to physiological trade-offs driving the dynamics of its establishment and spread.
Empirical Modeling of Plant Community Demography
I returned to the the E.S. George Reserve for my Masters research with Dr. Ines Ibanez. The plot I sampled for my undergraduate thesis was part of a large-scale forest census. Using the growth data from the 22,000+ trees in the site, I constructed empirical models of how the growth of Elaeagnus responds to variable light environments and how that response compares to the native species. I conducted a complementary transplant experiment of Elaeagnus seedlings along a gradient of light and canopy cover. This research found optimal invasive habitat for Elaeagnus was forest edge and gap habitat. The superior height and shading potential of native trees may be sufficient to keep Elaeagnus from drastically modifying the understory community structure, but other native species preferring gap and edge habitat may be significantly impacted by the shrubs invasion.
Coleoptera and Orthoptera Community Composition as Biological Indicator Species
I participated in a directed research project during my study abroad in New Zealand with the EcoQuest Program. We studied the response of ground-dwelling invertebrate communities to differing pest management regimes at Maungatautari and Mt. Pirongia. Maungatautari is a nature reserve with a 47 km predator exclusion fence that facilitates regrowth of natural, and often endemic, vegetation. Mt. Pirongia uses an integrated pest management regime for stoats, possum, feral pigs, and many other pests. We showed differences in functional group composition of ground-dwelling invertebrate communities between the sites.
Working thirteen hour days over ethylene glycol fumes has its downsides.