Invasion impacts working group meeting

I spent a productive week in Arthur’s Pass with a stellar group of ecologists studying plant invasions, with a focus on wilding conifers. It’s impossible to beat the combination of stimulating discussion and beautiful location! We are developing a focused review to help advance research approaches to understanding, predicting, and managing invasive species impacts, as well as designing cross-continental experiments, compiling data from across the globe, and outlining additional synthesis papers. It was a great opportunity to better connect and build our collaborative network for both the ‘Winning Against Wildings’ project funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment and other work I’m currently involved in regarding the role of species traits in predicting invasion risk and impact. Continue reading


NZES Conference 2015

Last week the 2015 New Zealand Ecological Society conference was held at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, and I presented a poster on my work in collaboration with Dr. Barbara J. Anderson that shows evolutionary priority effects occur with similar strength in secondary as well as primary grasslands in NZ. This suggests that evolutionary priority effects can persist through major environmental disturbance, providing further support for previous work in our group that has found evolutionary priority effects to occur in alpine and forest ecosystems in NZ.

The conference had a great opening session focusing on non-governmental conservation efforts, with brief talks given by leaders of several local and regional initiatives throughout NZ to enhance biodiversity value and sustainability in the lands they cherish — from Northland to Cape Kidnappers to northwest Nelson. These talks were followed up by a Massey University professor and the Director-General of the Department of Conservation, and finally a keynote address from Dr. Peter Kareiva of The Nature Conservancy, all highlighting different initiatives and examples of successful, often innovative, approaches to integrate conservation goals with social and economic concerns. It’s becoming increasingly evident that successful conservation of biodiversity requires explicit consideration of human needs, values, and involvement, rather than the false notion that humans are entirely separate from nature. This may be stating the obvious, but it is often overlooked as we become absorbed in what every other organism is doing!


A colleague just tuned me in to the fact that myself and another colleague feature in some of the photos taken from the NZES conference poster session! Check out the conference’s Facebook page and photo album.


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!

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.

Who is a woman in science?

What do women scientists look like? In what fields do they work?

To answer these questions, one of the organisers of last’s month’s Association for Women in the Sciences conference in Wellington, NZ, asked all the conference attendees to participate in a short video project. The video has now been edited and posted to YouTube so I thought I’d share it here, too. (And be sure to pay attention at 0:51 for a cameo by yours truly!)

Who is a woman in science?

ESA 2014 – Sacramento

I’ve just returned to NZ from the 99th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America, held in Sacramento, CA. It was a busy and fruitful meeting, where I was able to reconnect with colleagues from my undergraduate institution (Colgate U.), graduate school (Oregon State U.) and previous post-doc at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). I presented some of my first results from my post-doc here at Landcare Research, exploring how evolutionary priority effects in forest communities of the Murchison Mtns. vary in strength along environmental gradients and for different groups of species with different timescales of arrival to NZ. And a former undergrad from the lab in which I worked at CWRU, Angela Kaczowka, presented her first ESA poster, where she documented spatio-temporal heterogeneity in soil moisture and germination in our field experiment that manipulated soil heterogeneity using a plant-soil feedbacks framework. Both projects are in our high priority list to be written up and submitted, which is exciting for me as I’ve found it incredibly rewarding to continue working with the students from CWRU as they develop as scientists. For example, Angela K. has just moved to Tucson to begin her Ph.D. at the University of Arizona — congrats, Angela!

AWIS 2014 conference in Wellington

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the triennial conference of the Association for Women in the Sciences in NZ, held this year at Victoria University of Wellington. In addition to giving a 20/20 Science Snapshot of my post-doc research project exploring the role of evolutionary priority effects on contemporary plant community structure, I was excited to hear from a variety of amazing women scientists about both their science and their experiences being a woman in science, both in NZ and throughout the world. (Not too surprisingly, there were many nationalities represented at this conference, as one would see throughout NZ.) Both qualitatively and quantitatively, the conference speakers demonstrated that we have made much progress toward a more equitable science system, but that we still have a ways to go before we attain that goal. Several speakers provided constructive suggestions as well, such as nominating more women for awards and fellowships (which I’ve seen suggested by multiple science bloggers as well). All in all, the conference was a great opportunity to meet many impressive fellow women scientists from all disciplines and across NZ.