A non-native species is considered invasive based on its origin and impacts on the environment it is invading. Determining impacts of an invasive species is particularly challenging because impacts may be apparent across different trophic levels. We are interested in understanding how invasive species cause fundamental changes to soil properties, nutrient cycling, and productivity. We seek to measure how these impacts manifest at different trophic levels, including impacts to plant, animal and microbial communities, carbon sequestration, soil and water quality, and biodiversity.
Ecosystem engineers fundamentally shape ecosystems and communities, and invasive ecosystem engineers have sweeping impacts on ecosystem services, native species and ecosystem function. Jumping worms (family Megascolecidae) are invasive ecosystem engineers that have the potential to dramatically change North American forests. This research seeks to understand the invasion dynamics, ecological impacts, and options for mitigation of jumping worms. Incorporating landscape genetics, niche modeling, and machine learning, we seek to identify jumping worm invasion dynamics and determine modes of spread at multiple scales. Identifying human activities or landscape features that facilitate invasion is crucial to limiting their spread. Additionally, we are assessing the impacts of jumping worms on plant communities. Using vegetation data from a large baseline study in New York City (NYC), we hope to demonstrate how jumping worm invasion modifies plant communities. We have long-term monitoring plots to follow individual plants in NYC Parks to develop demography models of native plants to project population viability and growth rate in the conditions created by jumping worms and other stressors. Finally, we hope to develop innovative evolutionary and ecological solutions to mitigate jumping worm invasion and impacts. As direct management of jumping worms is currently not feasible, we are testing solutions to build resilience in social and ecological communities. I will assess the feasibility of limiting their spread and identifying adaptation in plants of conservation interest.
Impacts of invasive plants on ecosystem structure and biodiversity
Researcher: Matt McCary
The introduction of invasive plants into local ecosystems—a disturbance predicted to become even more severe in the 21st century—is a major threat to species diversity and ecosystem functioning on a global scale. To mitigate the impacts of invasive plants on ecosystem structure and biodiversity, a basic understanding of the mechanisms by which plant invaders alter ecological communities and networks is essential. However, little is known about how invasive plants influence soil food webs (detritus, microbes, and invertebrate consumers), which are diverse communities with essential roles in decomposition and soil nutrient storage. To conserve remaining ecosystems in the face of global change, it is necessary to understand how invasive plants alter the fundamental relationships between soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. My research investigates the impacts of invasive plants on the crucial links between soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in urban landscapes.