We work in the areas of plant ecology and ecoinformatics and address questions relevant to grassland ecology, invasion biology and vegetation science. Our toolbox includes data mining (programming), field observations and experiments.
Much of our research focuses on grasslands. These habitats cover a quarter of the global terrestrial surface but face unprecedented and enormous pressure by farming, non-native species, a disruption of natural disturbance regimes, and climate change. We carry out fieldwork in western Canada and the adjacent US states but have also ties to Europe and Central Asia.
Currently, we focus on the following research themes:
(1) Habitat susceptibility to non-native plants: Different plant communities respond differently to disturbance and non-native plants; some buffer it while other collapse under pressure. Why is this? Do intrinsic properties allow some communities to buffer against non-native plants? Or are some ecosystems more exposed to external pressure than others? We tackle these questions through a comparative framework across distant regions and habitat types. We explore patterns across large databases and use the R program to extract data, link it to existing taxonomic, biological and spatial databases and analyze the levels of invasion and flows of invasive plants.
(2) Invasive species management. Herbicides are one of the most common tools to control non-native plants in North American wildlands (see review in Wagner et al. 2017 Journal of Applied Ecology
54: 198-204). We collaborate with plant and soil ecologists at the University of Montana, Algoma University and the MPG Ranch to understand how this practice affects the soil seed bank, the aboveground plant community and its soil components.
(3) Much of the biodiversity of the temperate hemisphere is held in grassland and meadow communities, such as the timberline communities of the Rocky Mountains (Wagner et al. 2014, Applied Vegetation Science 17:129-141), distinguished only as “non-forest” in regional classification systems. What species and ecological functions are we losing when these communities become affected by global change? Effective conservation and restoration efforts require that these communities are identified, described, and mapped. We explore the diversity and ecosystem functions of grasslands and meadow habitats that have received relatively little attention by scientists.