Salvia columbariae, Phacelia tanacetifolia, and Plantago insularis are key phytometers (plants that indicate ecosystem conditions) in the San Joaquin Desert of California. As the highly invasive exotic Bromus madritensis colonizes in this non-native environment it lacks the environmental suppressors and competitors it faces in its native habitat. This leads to native Californian desert ecosystems to shift to a new model where native plants are excluded due to competitive disadvantages. decreases in native biodiversity are directly correlated to the health of an ecosystem, ecosystem services, resiliency to climate change, as well as the resources and for these reasons, identifying methods of restoration ecology is crucial.
Using my 3 factor (ambient light vs shaded conditions, low vs high B.madritensis density, native seeds at 6 levels of density (0,3,6,9,15, or 30 natives)) greenhouse competition trials I aim to identify what density of native species must present in a pot with a surface area of 153cm2 to outcompete an exotic one.I have previously run an experiment to identify optimal density in pots of the same surface area using each of the native species in monoculture, implementing the same light versus shade conditions with a total of 365 replicates. I will assess if I am able to compare these differences in optimal monoculture mix density to a polyculture mix with invader presence. If my data finds an optimal density using these methods, I hope to further my research and apply my findings to population ecology by estimating necessary population metrics required to apply this to ecosystem for large scale restoration and contribute it towards field work.
My experiment currently contains 200 pots, 100 of which are shaded by a bamboo structure I suspended. Germination has begun, yet it is still difficult to differentiate among species this early on. As predicted, the shaded individuals have demonstrated leggy growth as they reach towards the light source, yet there seems to be leaf production in possibly higher concentrations in the shaded pots than the ones experiencing ambient light. It appears that the shaded pots have a higher germination and growth rate (measured by number of individuals and number of leaves per pot). Is it possible that the shade-preferring B.madritensis is facilitating growth through positive density dependence? Am I witnessing an Allee effect in the form of environmental conditioning? Or is the answer as simple as light levels in the shaded conditions being sufficient for the natives as well as B.madritensis? Using the metrics of germination of species per pot as well as leaves per species and finally above ground biomass at the end of my experiment I will continually assess success through the different factors and levels I have designed and implemented in my experiment and hope to achieve a successful conclusion.
I am currently running an experiment to observe how an invasion of red brome impacts the growth and success of 3 native Californian plants (Plantago insularis, Phacelia tancetifolia, Salvia columbariae) across 5 different watering regimes. These watering regimes simulate conditions from extreme drought to very wet years. The experiment utilizes a total of 300 pots with 10 replicates per treatment; 100 pots are being used for each species, with 50 of those pots containing brome and 50 lacking brome.
As the experiment progresses 4 measurements will be obtained:
- Germination Success
- Establishment by 5 weeks
- Final Census
- Total Biomass production at the conclusion of the experiment
My native versus exotic competition experiment is all set up in the greenhouse, so just waiting on germination now. Have planted additive densities of 0,3,6,9,15 and 25 natives with brome at high (10 seeds) and low (5 seeds) densities, 10 reps per treatment at ambient light versus shaded conditions for a total of 200 pots. I hung up a wooden bamboo structure to provide shade and imitate shrub presence to half of the pots, and hung it in a way that it is easy to suspend for pot censusing. Here are photos of what it all looks like.
The enemy release hypothesis (ERH) of plant invasion asserts that translocation to novel communities allows exotic plants to escape population controls imposed by natural enemies in native communities. The ERH predicts that 1) invader densities are greater in non-native communities than native communities, 2) natural enemies impose strong negative effects on invader abundance in the native range but in not the non-native range. These predictions are straightforward, but testing them involves conducting parallel vegetation surveys and enemy exclusion experiments in both the native and non-native ranges of invaders. Due to logistic challenges, very few studies have done this.
As part of an international team of collaborators from the USA, Canada, and Poland, we are explicitly testing the predictions above with respect to the prickly cucumber, Echinocystis lobata (fruit pictured below). This climbing vine is native to North America but invasive in Poland, where it can dominate local communities and extirpate native competitors.
So far, our surveys indicate that E. lobata is much more abundant in Poland than anywhere examined in N. America, and that E. lobata plants are larger and more fecund in Poland than in N. America. It also seems that physical defenses aimed at protecting seeds from generalist granivores are present at much higher frequencies in Poland than in N. America, which is very cool! We look forward to results from enemy exclusion experiments.
We’ll keep you posted!
Big ears with big veins are great for thermoregulation on a 37°C day on the Carrizo Plains.
Doing behavioral observations means you can spend some serious time doing lizard glamour shots.
Kit foxes caught playing on camera traps at Carrizo Plain National Monument.
Photo courtesy of Jacob Lucero
Code, data, and exploration on GitHub.