Invited seminar in Auckland

I had a lovely visit to the University of Auckland yesterday to give a seminar in the School of Biological Sciences about my work exploring how dispersal, environmental conditions, and species interactions influence community assembly in California grasslands, patchy soil environments, and New Zealand forests. Jacqueline Beggs kindly tweeted about the seminar, too. 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.

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!

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.

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!