Our research explores how environmental and biotic factors influence community assembly, trophic interactions, and the links between community structure and ecosystem functions. We work in restored, managed, and unmanaged ecosystems, and a major goal of our research is to better understand natural and restored habitats so that we can contribute to their conservation and sustainable management.
We also use manipulative field experiments and observational studies to explore the direct and indirect interactions between plants, insects, microbes, and other organisms in evolutionary and ecological contexts. Some of our current and past research projects are listed below.
Soil Microbial Communities
How do plants shape the structure and function of soil microbial communities?
Click here to learn about our new NSF-funded Rules of Life project.
Functional recovery in restored tallgrass prairies
Restoration projects are taking place around the world, but does the re-establishment of a diverse plant community also lead to the restoration of ecosystem function? Do these communities support ecosystem functions, and how does this relate to the traits of these organisms? We are investigating these questions at Nachusa Grasslands with the Jones Lab at NIU. Click here to learn about our new NSF-funded plant community assembly project.
See the ReFuGE Project page for more details or photos from our 2017 field season.
Insect community re-assembly in restorations
Insect communities are often neglected in restoration projects even though they comprise a significant portion of the biodiversity. We are studying communities of ground beetles (Carabidae) and other insects with Ken McCravy at WIU and Jason Willand at MSSU to understand how their communities re-assemble and how their role as seed and arthropod predators changes with restoration succession.
Ground beetles (Carabidae) in managed calcareous grasslands
In a collaboration with Jochen Krauss at the University of Würzburg, we are studying how grazing and mowing management in calcareous grasslands of northwest Bavaria influences functional community structure of ground beetles and their impacts on arthropod predation.
Soil microbial communities in restored ecosystems
In collaboration with the Swingley Lab at NIU, we are studying how diverse soil microbial communities respond to restoration and the impacts of re-introduced grazers.
We are also collaborating with Andrew Hipp’s lab at the Morton Arboretum to examine how phylogenetic and functional diversity of restored plant communities drives soil microbial communities. Check out this awesome aerial photo of the research site by Lane Sher.
Mycorrhizal mediation of induced plant defenses
The association between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and plants can have important effects on plant traits, but the effect on induced responses of plants to insect herbivory is poorly understood.
Above- and belowground ecological interactions
We have assessed indirect interactions between insects and other organisms linked by common host plants but separated by the soil surface, such as belowground herbivores and pollinators.
Phenological variation and herbivory
Phenological shifts under climate change will likely alter outcomes of interspecific interactions like those between plants and herbivores. We studied these changes in the context of restored oak woodlands in the Chicago region and at Morton Arboretum in collaboration with Robert Fahey.