Research in my lab integrates approaches from population and community ecology, biogeochemistry, and plant physiology to better understand how environmental and individual variability influences the functions and stability of nearshore marine ecosystems.
Plant - animal interactions can influence ecosystem level processes
Seagrasses are well known to facilitate countless species of invertebrates and fishes. Interactions between plants and animals can be positive or negative.
I have shown that amphipod grazers can preferentially consume seeds potentially altering the life history traits of seagrass populations. Lucinid clam presence can decrease levels of sulfide in the sediment, potentially increasing seagrass persistence and productivity. Mesograzer communities can reduce epiphytic growth, benefitting seagrasses, or reduce nitrogen supply to seagrasses by consuming epiphytic nitrogen fixers.
I am currently investigating how genetic
diversity of plants and species of grazers (amphipods, isopods, and polychaetes) present influences the amount and impacts of grazing in seagrass meadows
Diversity can impact ecosystem function in a changing environment
The phenomenon of increased diversity enhancing function of seagrass beds is now well-known, but the underlying mechanisms are still unclear and understanding these mechanisms is critical to the application of
these lessons to conservation and restoration.
My current work addresses the mechanisms underlying these effects—teasing apart the relative influences of genotype identity, richness, genetic relatedness, trait variation, and environmental variability (i.e. temperature, water depth, nutrient availability) on the resilience of and ecosystem services provided by eelgrass meadows. This includes both field and mesocosm experiments exploring how differences in eelgrass clone traits vary temporally and respond differently to environmental change.
We can use science to improve ecosystem restoration
My research has implications for bridging gaps in ecology theory and practical application to the definition and implementation of good conservation and restoration practices. I have shown that seagrass restorations that are more genetically diverse are more stable and more successful in terms of providing services. My work has also shown that in contrast to restoration using adult plants (the most traditional method), restoration using seeds maintains the genetic diversity of donor sites. So finding and using a diverse source is important. My current work resampling meadows from systems which vary in their plant life history, hydrology, and anthropogenic influence shows that allelic frequencies and small scale distribution of genetic diversity are remarkably unchanged over a 10 year time period, suggesting that in systems not undergoing dramatic decline, older descriptions of genetic diversity and
structure are reliable for selection of restoration donor material.