Dr. Bianca Lopez’s current research is helping move us toward better understanding and planning for invasive species threats in a changing climate. NYISRI is pleased to feature her work in this month’s researcher spotlight:
I’m currently working on a project looking at the combined effects of invasive species and global environmental change (i.e. warming temperatures, drought, nitrogen deposition) on ecosystems, asking whether environmental change will make the effects of invasive species worse. I’m also interested in which plant species become invasive, and whether we can use information on plant traits (i.e. growth rates, environmental tolerances) or evolutionary relationships (i.e. plant family or genus) to help make predictions.
What are the basic methods you are using to answer your research questions?
To look at impacts of invasive species and environmental change, I’m doing a meta-analysis combining the results from almost 100 ecology experiments. This allows me to look for general patterns across different habitat types and invasive species. To try to understand which species become invasive, we’re pulling together a ton of data from across the U.S. on which plant species have been introduced to the states and where those species are found now. Then we can compare the traits and evolutionary histories of introduced plants in those areas that have spread and become invasive.
Do you have a personal story or path that led to your interest in this research?
A lot of my research has been focused on how urban development affects plant communities. Non-native species are a big part of the plant diversity in urban and suburban areas because of ornamental plantings. In my research, it became clear that these species affect the ecosystem and, in some cases, respond differently from native species to novel urban environments. That got me interested in studying the impacts of invasive species.
How does your research relate to the wider field of invasive species prevention/management?
I’m lucky to be part of the Northeast RISCC (Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change) management network, and the major research questions I’m currently pursuing are ones that are not just interesting to me but have also been raised by invasive species managers in the network. One of my hopes for studying the combined effects of invasive species and environmental change is to be able to provide predictions for whether invasive species impacts in general will get worse with ongoing environmental change, and where (location) and what (species) managers can target to get the biggest bang for their buck. 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, because it could inform policies regulating plant imports to prevent the spread of the most likely invaders.
What’s the most important thing about your research for stakeholders, managers, or policy makers to know?
I think it’s worth knowing that invasive species and climate change together are going to (broadly speaking) create worse impacts for ecosystems than either one alone. We need strong policies to mitigate climate change and prevent new invaders from being introduced, since it’s much harder to control them once they’ve spread.
What do you hope the long-term impact of your work will be?
I hope my research will encourage policy changes that will reduce new introductions. I also would like my research to help managers prioritize which species and habitats to focus their efforts on, since it’s impossible to work on everything.
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."