Botany colloquium and Botanical Society talks — all in one month!

It seems that neat events are often clustered (perhaps a spatio-temporal analysis is in order to back up my anecdote…), and that certainly happened this month when I was invited to speak at two events. On 9 October, the Botany department at the University of Otago here in Dunedin hosted its annual post-graduate colloquium, at which I was invited to give the guest research talk. And the following Wednesday I was the invited speaker for the monthly seminar series of the Botanical Society of Otago, a great organisation with excellent field trips in which I’ve often taken part. Both were excellent opportunities to present my current research to local botanical enthusiasts (many of whom are much more familiar with the NZ flora than me!), and I had many stimulating discussions about the eco-evolutionary dynamics in NZ plant communities with them as a result. Dunedin is certainly a great place to be a plant ecologist!



I’ve just returned to New Zealand from attending the centennial meeting of the Ecological Society of America, held in Baltimore, MD, where the first gathering of American ecologists to form the society occurred. Even President Obama made a special effort to congratulate the ESA on its 100th anniversary. It was a fantastic meeting, catching up with many friends and colleagues as well as making new contacts.

I presented at the very end of the day on Wednesday about some interesting results from work with my colleague Barbara Anderson, showing that evolutionary priority effects may persist in the face of dramatic environmental disturbance (e.g. anthropogenic habitat conversion). I had an attentive and engaged audience — they even chuckled at my Lord of the Rings references!


My ESA tote bag became famous (or perhaps infamous?) by being posted on the EEB & Flow blog’s opening ESA100 post. Photo credit to Caroline Tucker

My former post-doc advisor, Jean Burns, presented new results from our common garden experiment investigating the role of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on coexistence in an Organized Oral Session she co-organised with Anny Chung. Data on soil chemistry, moisture, and bacterial communities suggest that both abiotic and biotic drivers may contribute to mutual invasibility between Rumex congeners. Thus, our results from this multi-year experiment are supporting our coexistence prediction from the net pairwise soil feedbacks effect we initially observed on Rumex recruitment (Brandt et al. 2013). Very cool to see this project coming full-circle!

Seminar at Lincoln U

Earlier this month I was invited to present a seminar on my post-doc work at Landcare Research investigating how immigration timing of ancestral taxa and subsequent diversification of lineages affects extant plant community structure and diversity. I had a great visit at Lincoln University with my host, Will Godsoe, as well as several stellar post-docs and faculty members. Really cool work going on in the Bio-Protection Research Centre there!

Paper out in New Phytologist

My first publication from our Marsden-funded project on evolutionary priority effects in the New Zealand flora is now available for early view in New Phytologist. Led by Dr. Andrew Tanentzap at the University of Cambridge, this paper tests the hypothesis that early-arriving plant lineages had greater access to niche space in the alpine zone and were thus able to diversify within that space, preventing later arrivals from dominating the community. We find evidence to support all of our predictions. This paper was first inspired by a Radiations Symposium in Switzerland last June, attended by Dr. Tanentzap and my supervisor, Dr. Bill Lee. I also spoke about this work at the New Zealand Ecological Society’s annual meeting last November.

Two new papers out – co-authored with undergraduates from CWRU

After a busy couple of months doing final revisions and checking proofs for two manuscripts co-authored with stellar undergraduates from the Burns Lab at CWRU, I was happy to find that both manuscripts went online yesterday!

First, in an experiment that manipulated the timing of plant establishment in competition between congeners, we found evidence for plasticity in two functional traits that is consistent with predictions for adaptive trait plasticity in some species, where the later-establishing plant’s trait values would maximize resource capture. The type of plastic response — either a difference between late- vs. early-establishing plants of the same species or divergence in trait values between potmates — differed by genus. Moreover, divergence in specific leaf area between potmates positively correlated with combined biomass of those potmates, consistent with putatively adaptive trait plasticity. This work, co-authored with Conor Leahy and Nicole Zimmerman as well as Dr. Jean Burns, is now published in Oecologia. Nicole has now completed a Master’s degree in biostatistics from the University of Michigan and I especially appreciated her help with the statistical analysis in this paper.

Second, in a paper led by Gaston del Pino and now published in Plant Ecology, we show evidence for functional trait plasticity in response to experimentally-manipulated heterogeneity in both the above- and belowground environment (light and soil heterogeneity, respectively). We found that above- and belowground heterogeneity can interact to affect trait expression. We also found non-additive effects of mixing soils of two origins (i.e. collected from the zone of root influence of different plant species in the field), which is consistent with findings in my previous work with Dr. Burns (here and here).

NZES & ABNMS 2014 conferences

I spent the last two weeks of November on the North Island to attend two back-to-back conferences, first the New Zealand Ecological Society (NZES) meeting in Palmerston North and second, the Australasian Bayesian Network Modelling Society (ABNMS) meeting in Rotorua.

Our group was well-represented at the NZES conference, with my supervisor, Dr. Bill Lee, and myself presenting and our Ph.D. student, Greg Nelson, attending. I spoke about a study led by Dr. Andrew Tanentzap (University of Cambridge) in which we tested Silvertown’s 2004 hypothesis that earlier arrivals to islands encounter greater ecological opportunity and are thus able to diversify and fill niche space, limiting the opportunity for later arrivals. We used data from the alpine zone of the Murchison Mountains in Fiordland, South Island, to test our predictions. This work is currently in revision for a special feature in New Phytologist on Plant Radiations.

At the ABNMS meeting, I had the opportunity to attend a 2-day introductory workshop led by Bayesian Intelligence, a company from Melbourne, before the 2-day meeting. It was a great chance to learn a new set of tools useful for both synthesizing big data sets with expert knowledge and supporting evidence-based decision-making. The meeting was also particularly interesting as an employee of a Crown Research Institute (CRI) here in NZ because all of the CRIs were represented among the attendees, a rare opportunity to bring together our diverse fields of science and clearly see the overlap in what we do.