Life Science Hour Seminar Series

Name:Gery Allan
Title:Foundation species as models for studying the impacts of climate change, exotic species invasion and community-level interactions
Date:Friday, 16 February 2018
Location:Murie Life Science Bldg, Murie Auditorium.
Host:Christa Mulder


In an age of rapid climate change, I am interested in understanding how increased global temperatures affect life’s diversity and adaptive capacity. Coupled with this change is the rapid expansion of highly invasive, exotic species, which threaten biodiversity by displacing native species. The combined effects of these disturbances present an enormous challenge to 21st century science, as these impacts threaten established ecosystems and undermine ecosystem services. One way to meet this challenge is to study how these changes affect foundation species - species that establish unique ecosystems and drive ecosystem processes (e.g., water and nutrient cycles and energy flow). This study focuses on Fremont cottonwood, a foundation forest tree that creates streamside habitats in the southwestern U.S. These habitats support numerous microbial, fungal, insect and vertebrate species, but are threatened by climate change and a major invasive species, tamarisk, which displaces the native community and alters ecosystem functions. My current research uses a combination of genetic and genomic techniques, experimental common gardens and climate change-species distribution modeling to: 1) investigate the genetic connectivity (i.e., gene flow) among Fremont populations across the landscape; 2) understand how genes in Fremont cottonwood interact with the environment and tamarisk; 3) predict how climate change and invasive species will influence genetic connectivity in Fremont cottonwood; and 4) examine how changes in genetic connectivity influence dependent communities that rely on Fremont cottonwood as a foundation species.

The interactions of foundation species with invasive species and the environment will define the future of many biological communities. As the environment changes foundation species must either adapt or go extinct. The loss of streamside habitats dominated by Fremont cottonwood is critical because these habitats are hotspots of biodiversity and provide ecosystem services to human populations in the southwestern U.S. This research has the potential to transform our understanding of how foundation species respond to major environmental perturbations and provide insight into how they and their communities respond to these changes. This information will be useful for developing conservation management strategies that will lead to practical, genetics-based management solutions that can be applied to ecosystems worldwide.

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