“We need to be more careful about what we introduce,” says Dr. Myla Aronson, ecologist at Rutgers University who studies invasive species impacts, spread, and management in human-dominated landscapes. NYISRI is pleased to highlight her research in this month’s researcher spotlight.
What kinds of research questions related to invasive species are you currently asking?
The research in my lab focuses on understanding the ecology and impact of invasions in human-dominated landscapes, specifically urban and suburban areas. We study how invasive species are introduced and spread, what factors facilitate invasions, and how to manage these species. We are interested in particular how invasive plants compete with native plants, and how to restore native plant populations in heavily invaded areas. We are also interested how overabundant deer herbivory and invasive plants interact to affect forest canopy tree regeneration and recruitment. Another aspect of our work is examining the global patterns and spread of invasive plants, and what factors go into decision-making for management of invasive plants, particularly in cities. Finally, we use plant traits, such as leaf area, seed mass, dispersal mode, breeding system, nativity, to understand what traits enable species to be successful in urban environments.
What are the basic methods you are using to answer your research questions?
Most of my invasive species research is conducted in the field. I work primarily in upland forests and wetlands. We perform vegetation surveys and measure the environment (shade, temperature, soil moisture) We also perform experiments measuring competition between native and invasive plant species, through a variety of field experiments and sometimes greenhouse experiments. We often plant native species within invasive monocultures, as well as in areas of varying invasive cover, to see how much invasive plant cover natives can tolerate. Another aspect of my work, studying global urban invasions, relies on databases of floras in the world’s cities and examination of planning and policy documents.
Do you have a personal story or path that led to your interest in this research?
As an undergraduate at Cornell University, I majored in Natural Resources and performed research in relative undisturbed forests in upstate New York. I fell in love with forest ecology and knew I wanted to continue research in forest ecology, to understand the drivers of forest biodiversity and interactions between species. When I started graduate school in New Jersey, I was immediately struck not only by the presence, but also the dominance of invasive plant species in many of the forests here. This, coupled with the heavy urbanization pressure natural areas face in this state, piqued my interest in understanding the ecology and impact of invasions and how urbanization facilitates invasions.
How does your research relate to the wider field of invasive species prevention/management?
I am particularly excited by my research because of the management implications it has. My lab’s experiments and field observations directly inform our understanding of the impacts of particular invasive species and how we can restore native plants in invaded habitats.
What’s the most important thing about your research for managers and policy makers to know?
Most of the invasive plants in the Northeast are introductions for horticulture or ornamental purposes. We need to be more careful about what we introduce. If a species has already been shown to have invasive tendencies, it should not be widely sold or planted in our yards and gardens. Suburban horticulture is a major source of invasive plant species to our natural areas.
What do you hope the long-term impact of your work will be?
I hope that my research will have an impact on the health and biodiversity of natural areas – particularly in urban and suburban areas, so that people can enjoy the beauty of our flora into the future.
Read more researcher spotlights:
In this researcher spotlight, NYISRI interviews Dr. Jessica Rogers, who works with her student researchers to document and control purple loosestrife in Northern New York.
"I study both lakes and terrestrial islands, which are ecological kissing cousins because their relative isolation creates a sensitivity to non-native species introductions," says Dr. Meghan Brown, an academic scientist at Hobart & William Smith Colleges.
"Being able to predict which non-native species are likely to become invasive is kind of a holy grail of invasion biology that we hope to help reach," says Dr. Bianca Lopez, who studies the combined effects of invasive species and environmental change.
“There is a wealth of ecological data out there that can be applied to answer questions far beyond the original intentions.” says Jeff, whose studies aim to unlock the drivers of and resistance to invasions.
Dr. Matt Ayres of Dartmouth College is asking the important questions of what limits forest pest distribution and how climate change will influence ranges of native and non-native forest pests.
Upon seeing the disparity between “well-behaved” Phragmites in Europe vs. invasive Phragmites in North America, Dr. Joanna Freeland was drawn to study Phragmites hybrids and invasive aquatic plants more broadly.
“We need to learn from the past to shape the future,” says Dr. Dylan Parry. Studying invasive insects outbreaks, biocontrol, and more, Parry strives to connect research to practice.
By co-producing research with land managers, Dr. Andrea Dávalos ties her research on invasive species and associated stressors with management.
Struck by the dominance of invasive plant species in urban-suburban landscapes, Dr. Myla Aronson researches invasive species impacts, spread, and management in human-dominated areas.
“How do Indigenous Peoples relate to and regard introduced species?” asks Dr. Reo, Dartmouth professor and citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
While many forest ecologists have their eyes on the trees, Dr. Jason Fridley turns to the shrubs– asking how special adaptations can make some infamous invaders.
Collaborating with a new generation of ecologists, Dr. Tim McCay is researching Asian Jumping Worms– an invasive species that's spreading "right under our noses."