“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:
This month, we interviewed Dr. Steve Grodsky at Cornell University who specializes in the emerging field of energy ecology — the study of interactions among energy development, ecosystems, and people.
This month, we interviewed Dr. Annette Evans, a postdoctoral researcher at UMass Amherst/Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, whose work combines invasion ecology and climate change to inform land management by modeling abundance and distributions of invasive plants.
This month, we interviewed Dr. Andrew Newhouse, Assistant Director of the American Chestnut Research & Restoration Project for an update on the latest research and outlook on chestnut blight.
NYISRI interviews Dr. Scott McArt who leads research on the ecology of plant-pollinator interactions in natural and managed systems, and helps advance our knowledge of pesticide risks to pollinators.
NYISRI interviews Dr. Stacy Endriss, an evolutionary ecologist who explores creative approaches for improving how we assess the impacts of invasions and their management.
NYISRI interviews Dr. Kathryn Amatangelo, Associate Professor at SUNY Brockport who studies the genetics and control of European dewberry, mile-a-minute, and Japanese knotweed
We hear from Jennifer Koch, whose 32+ years of work and collaborations offer a glimmer of hope toward saving our native trees from forest pests, like the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).
NYISRI interviews Dr. David Wong, who seeks better solutions to managing aquatic invasive species, exploring novel tools like detection dogs.
Dr. Mark Whitmore is a well-versed forest entomologist and Director of the New York State Hemlock Initiative. Read more about his research program.
Dr. Deah Lieurance led the first all-taxa horizon scan to identify invasive species threats in the U.S. She also actively promotes diversity, equity and inclusion in scientific fields.
In a recap of our 2021 researcher spotlights, we revisit responses to: What’s the most important thing about your research for managers and policy-makers to know?
Dr. Bethany Bradley originally set her sights on Mars, but landed here on Earth still tackling a challenge of great scale: Climate change and invasive species.