A field season at Cedar Creek!

I have just returned from three months at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, an amazing field station run by the University of Minnesota. I was there to set up an experiment on the enemy release hypothesis, which states that alien species succeed because they are released from their native enemies (e.g. predators, parasites and pathogens) which limit them in their native ranges. Using sixteen different grassland species as our ‘invaders’, planted into two different community contexts and hand-treated with combinations of insecticide and fungicide, we will explore the contexts (if any) under which enemy release facilitates invasion success.

When a photo opportunity presents itself in BigBio you are obliged to say yes!

The season was a busy one – everything adds up fast when you are trying to establish 288 plots, or hand-paint over 1500 seedlings with pesticide! But thanks to a great team of staff and interns at Cedar Creek, we got the experiment in the ground and some great preliminary data collected. The experiment will run for another two years, to see how enemy release affects both our target invaders, as well as the wider plant communities.

Some of our plots in the early succession community in the Lawrence strips

One of the great things about Cedar Creek is the amazing community of researchers that are there alongside you, providing plenty of people to learn from, as well as have fun with! While at Cedar Creek (which was also my first time in the USA!) I tried my first smore and about fifteen different flavours of Oreo, had a blizzard from Dairy Queen (apparently a must), helped to count bison, and played many plant-related games (I will never forget the stress of Avocado Smash). I look forward to coming back next year to see everyone again and to see the progress of the experiment – watch this space!

Harry and I ‘enjoy’ some early-morning fieldwork in the rain…

Addressing context dependence in ecology

Like many ecological research projects, one of the key things we need to – and plan to – grapple with in AlienImpacts is context dependence. Using examples from biological invasions, in this paper we propose a way in which we can think about and tackle context dependence.

Ecological Change

A phrase that you are bound to hear many times at any ecology conference is “it depends”. We see context dependence – variation in the magnitude or sign of ecological relationships depending on the conditions under which they are observed (Fig. 1) – in just about every study and every system. Such variation, especially when unexplained, can lead to spurious or seemingly contradictory conclusions across studies, which can limit understanding and our ability to transfer findings across studies, space, and time. Because of the wide prevalence of observed context dependence and the critical need to tackle it, a group of us recently knocked heads (and read lots of fabulous papers!) about how it can be addressed. Our reading, thinking, talking, drawing and writing culminated in this open access paper in TREE

Figure 1: Context dependence may be invoked when the observed relationship between two variables varies in (a) magnitude (strength), (b) sign…

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