Washington University in St. Louis
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Teaching, Outreach, and Internship Opportunities

Research Mentors

Dr. Stephen Blake (research scientist) - Box turtle movement and health: My research interests focus on the movement ecology of megavertebrates with strong applications for the conservation of species and ecosystems. Conservation biology offers myriad opportunities with smaller species much closer to home, which is why, along with the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine, we developed the St. Louis Box Turtle Project at Tyson Research Center and Forest Park. We combine research on box turtle movement ecology and health with locally relevant outreach to contribute to the conservation of these well-known but threatened animals. Email: sblakewcs[at]gmail.com
St. Louis Box Turtle Project fact sheet
Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme
Saint Louis Zoo Institute for COnservation Medicine

Chris Catano, MS (PhD candidate, Myers Lab) - Disturbance, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Stability: Confronted with unprecedented anthropogenic change, conservation today requires a sound understanding of how ecological systems change during disturbance. However, it is unclear why some communities are more sensitive to disturbance and how biodiversity buffers ecosystems against climate extremes. To address these questions, I study the mechanisms through which disturbances, such as changes in climate and fire regimes, alter ecological communities and ecosystem functions. The general questions I am pursuing at the Tyson Research Center are: 1) Why do similar disturbances often lead to dissimilar changes in biodiversity? 2) What permits some communities to remain resilient to disturbance, thus stabilizing ecosystem functions (primary productivity, nutrient retention, carbon sequestration)? 3) How do species traits, dispersal abilities, and environmental heterogeneity influence community assembly? As a team we will learn to identify plants in Ozark forests, sample their functional traits, conduct landscape-scale fire experiments, and analyze ecological data. Excited members of our team will have the opportunity to pursue additional research projects after the summer field season that may lead to authorship on journal publications or presentations.
Email: chcatano[at]gmail.com

Dr. Joseph LaManna (post-doctoral research associate) - Community ecology across trophic levels: My research focuses on the processes that structure communities and drive turnover and demographic rates of plant and bird species. My work has shown that vegetation can drive turnover of bird species via impacts on reproduction. At Tyson and across the Ozarks, I will be examining how and why turnover of woody plant species is associated with turnover of bird species. At Tyson, my team and I will be testing potential mechanisms that drive this relationship. These include: 1) nest-searching and monitoring to examine reproductive success and traits of birds; 2) mist-netting and banding birds to estimate survival rates and morphological diversity; and 3) surveying lepidopteran abundance and diversity among tree species to examine food availability.
Email: joe.a.lamanna[at]gmail.com

Dr. Scott Mangan (assistant professor) - Plant-soil dynamics: My current research is focused on understanding the ecological and evolutionary importance of plant-soil dynamics. Soil communities are exceptionally diverse and include both mutualistic and pathogenic plant symbionts (soil-borne fungi, bacteria, viruses, etc). Interactions formed between plants and their soil-borne symbionts can serve as a strong force in determining plant community assembly through both positive and negative feedback processes. Using both field and greenhouse experiments at Tyson, we seek to understand the importance of these feedbacks in determining plant species relative abundance. These experiments will complement our existing research in tropical forests of Panama, allowing for tropical-temperate comparisons.
Email: smangan[at]wustl.edu

Dr. Kim A. Medley (Tyson director) - Ecology/macroecology of disease vectors: My research focuses on understanding species ranges—how their abundance structure and overlap generate patterns of biodiversity and what causes their limits and/or expansion. My research team is currently investigating questions driving the range structure and limits for two insect vectors of disease: the invasive Asian tiger mosquito and the Lone Star tick. The Asian tiger mosquito is a native of Southeast Asia, but spread rapidly in the US following its establishment in Houston, TX in 1985. It currently overwinters further north than expected based upon its native climate; my team is investigating mechanisms leading to expanded climatic tolerance (e.g. gene flow and adaptation, genetic diversity, enemy release). Secondly, the Lone Star tick is abundant at Tyson Research Center (TRC), and its distribution is affected by climate change. My team is embarking on a study to evaluate population dynamics of the tick at TRC, in addition to potential applications to manage local abundance.
Email: kim.medley[at]wustl.edu

Dr. Jonathan Myers (assistant professor) - Community ecology, biogeography and biodiversity of temperate and tropical plant communities: Our research group studies mechanisms that shape the assembly, diversity, and dynamics of ecological communities across scales. At the Tyson Research Center and across the Missouri Ozarks, we are exploring three main questions: • What is the relative importance of ecological mechanisms that cause variation in biodiversity in regions with contrasting biogeographic histories? • How does environmental change alter plant community assembly and dynamics? • What are the ecological causes and consequences of plant trait diversity across spatial scales? Our focal study site is the Tyson Research Center Plot (TRCP), a large-scale (25 ha) and long-term (30-year old) oak-hickory forest-dynamics plot that is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Forest Global Earth Observatory (ForestGEO), the largest, systematically studied network of forest-ecology plots in the world. Ongoing projects in the TRCP include studies of tree community assembly, drought-forest dynamics, seed dispersal and the maintenance of seedling diversity, plant-functional traits and diversity across environmental gradients, and comparative studies of diversity and dynamics across temperate and tropical forests. We combine these studies with field experiments, quantitative models, and surveys of plant communities across the Ozarks to study patterns and processes at scales ranging from local assemblages of interacting species to global patterns of biodiversity.
Email: jamyers[at]wustl.edu
Smithsonian ForestGEO Network
The Story and Science of a ForestGEO video

Dr. Eleanor Pardini (assistant director of environmental studies) and Dr. Tiffany Knight (visiting professor) - Population biology of rare coastal dune plants: We are examining long term population dynamics of the federally endangered Lupinus tidstromii (Tidestrom’s lupine) in coastal dunes at Point Reyes National Seashore. Tidestrom’s lupine is threatened by introduced European beachgrass because it stabilizes sand movement, reducing the amount of early successional habitat that is favorable to lupine regeneration and because it houses high densities of native mice that cause high levels of lupine seed predation. We are studying population dynamics in the context of large beachgrass removal efforts by the National Park Service, which provide the rare opportunity to test predictions of our population models within the context of a real and large-scale restoration project. We are using long-term monitoring data on plant survival, growth, and predation levels to parameterize population models and make predictions about the effects of removing beachgrass on persistence of Tidestrom’s lupine. Work on this project will consist of a short, intense field season (7-10 days) that can be combined with work on another project at Tyson for the remainder of the summer program. Please inquire to learn more.
Email: epardini[at]wustl.edu

Dr. Claudia Stein (post-doctoral research associate) - Species interactions and invasion: My main research interests are directed towards understanding the influence of species interactions, especially plant-herbivore and plant-soil feedbacks, as well as biological invasions on the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Recent work has recognized both the role of species interactions and climate change in predicting the spread and success of invasive species. For my research at Tyson, I will pull these elements together to understand and predict how interactions of species will determine invasive success in changing environments. We will be establishing a series of field and common garden experiments that address the importance of soil biota and herbivores (e.g. snails, small mammals) in maintaining plant diversity, driving species invasions and influencing ecosystem functioning and how those interactions might change under changing precipitation patterns.
Email: cstein[at]wustl.edu

Dilys Vela Diaz, MS (PhD Candidate, Myers Lab) - Relative importance of functional traits to explain relative abundances in tree communities: One of the main challenges in understanding biodiversity is determining what causes changes in tree abundances; in other words, why are some trees common (e.g. white oak), and why are others rare (e.g. winterberry). The implication of understanding these patterns goes beyond enhancing our knowledge in patterns of diversity. It also informs our knowledge of the role species play in ecosystem function and aides in designing effective conservation efforts. Functional traits, or plant physiological characteristics, are considered to be a useful proxy for detecting biotic and abiotic pressures that plants need to overcome, which ultimately will influence their abundance in communities. In this context, my research is trying to answer these questions: Are tree abundances determined by their preference for certain habitats? Do tree species compete for soil resources? How efficient are tree species at overcoming differences along environmental gradients? As a team, we will measure functional traits of common and rare tree species and learn morphological characteristics useful for identifying tree species at the Tyson Research Center and in the Ozark region which will compliment similar research to be carried out in the lowland Amazon forest in Peru.
Email: veladd[at]wustl.edu

Sara Wright (PhD Candidate, Olsen Lab) – Ecological genomics in white clover: My research lies at the intersection of field ecology and genomics and makes use of a common plant species that has been studied for over 60 years—white clover! This charismatic, lawn-loving perennial produces hydrogen cyanide (HCN) following tissue damage as an anti-herbivore defense (cyanogenesis), but only some individuals can make HCN, while others cannot. Worldwide, higher proportions of HCN-producing plants are found in hotter and drier climates. My research uses a combination of ecological field studies, population genomics, and genetic mapping to disentangle the selective factors maintaining cyanogenesis patterns, as well as to quantify the relative importance of this trait vs. other genomic factors in contributing to local adaptation in white clover. In addition to a healthy dose of fieldwork in Tyson’s new experimental garden plots over the summer, participating students will learn about and perform complementary molecular genetic lab work (e.g., PCR, gel electrophoresis, qPCR). Dedicated undergraduates will have the opportunity to complete independent projects that could lead to honors theses and may be invited to work in the Olsen Lab during the fall and spring semesters, with a larger emphasis on generating and analyzing genomic data. Additionally, a portion of my work will be collaborative with researchers and students in both Florida and Minnesota. I am therefore looking for highly motivated students that would be interested in using social media to collaborate and perform powerful multi-site field studies.
Email: sarajeanes[at]wustl.edu

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