Dr. Jeff Corbin’s work aims to unlock the drivers and resistance to invasions. NYISRI is pleased to feature his work in this month’s researcher spotlight:
What kinds of research questions related to invasive species are you currently asking?
My focus lately has been on the biogeography of invasive species. What conditions make ecosystems susceptible to invasions? What kinds of community characteristics are associated with resistance to invasion? By studying broad patterns across the landscape that apply to multiple conditions, we can better inform policy and management.
What are the basic methods you are using to answer your research questions?
Answering these questions often relies on data collected by others, such as the National Parks Service or the US Forest Service. There is a wealth of ecological data out there that can be applied to answer questions far beyond the original intentions. For example, plot-level plant surveys, collected across hundreds or thousands of sites, can be combined with environmental, economic, or even phylogenetic data to unlock the drivers of species invasions.
Do you have a personal story or path that led to your interest in this research?
I grew up hiking in Northern California’s grasslands, unaware that most of the plants I was looking at didn’t belong there. But I still love those landscapes, and it gives me a perspective about the value of even highly invaded landscapes. We can fight to head off future invasions, and protect native biodiversity wherever we can, but we shouldn’t write off any open space as worthless. Whatever the plants and animals there, it beats a subdivision!
How does your research relate to the wider field of invasive species prevention/management?
I am always working to ask questions that have meaning for policy and management. What are best practices for control? What policies can best prevent future invasions? Lately, my work has highlighted the role of tourism as a vector for species invasions – which offers a new priority for policy-makers. Another recent finding was that habitats with a diverse native flora are better-able to resist invasions. So, preserving biodiversity can act as a “virtuous circle” by preventing invasions.
What’s the most important thing about your research for stakeholders, managers, or policy makers to know?
Well, they don’t need me to tell them, but preventing invasions in the first place is the best control method. Containment and eradication are tough work.
What do you hope the long-term impact of your work will be?
My favorite image of science is Hope Jahren’s description, in her great book Lab Girl – that we scientists stand on rocks thrown into a rushing river by scientists of the past. Our purpose is to “stand on the rock [thrown by others], bend and claw another rock from the bottom, and then cast it down a bit further and hope it would be a useful next step for some other person…” Species invasions are a reality that will get only more challenging as the climate changes. I hope that what we study now will be useful for developing even better strategies.
Read more researcher spotlights:
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.
Dr. Annise Dobson's invasion research is motivated by forest conservation for all, particularly in urban and managed forests.
Dr. Mark Renz works to improve weed management to maximize benefits to the farmer and land manager while minimizing impacts to the environment.
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.