Community ecology of species invasions

I am a broadly trained community ecologist who uses a combination of field and greenhouse studies, mathematical modeling, and literature synthesis to understand how native food webs respond to and influence species invasions. 

Species invasions often cause important and ubiquitous disturbances to various parts of food webs, yet empirical ecologists have yet to fully consider species invasions in complete food web contexts. My primary goals are to:  

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1) Enhance understanding of how species invasions alter the nature and strength of direct and indirect interactions between plants, microbes, herbivores, and predators. 

2) Identify invader traits that will result in the greatest food web and ecosystem impacts, as well as identify the attributes of food webs that make them vulnerable to invasion.

3) Expand consideration of food web-mediated effects of invaders to ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling and plant-soil feedback. 

For more information, check out my publications.

My Background

When I started my research career, I was primarily interested in the way invasive plants used toxic allelochemicals to invade native plant communities, a topic that continues to fascinate me.  While collecting seed from the invasive plant garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) for an experiment, I noticed that garlic mustard’s fruit structure serves as an ideal substrate for cobweb-building spiders.  This observation shifted my view of plant invasions, from a perspective focused on plant-plant and plant-soil interactions, to a broader view that considers the entire food web.  I began to explore this interaction and found that garlic mustard promotes elevated spider densities in invaded areas - up to a 14-fold increase compared to native vegetation. Through field experiments, I found that garlic mustard initiates a trophic cascade that decreases insect abundance, increases native plant growth, and even increases the availability of phosphorus in the soil. My current postdoctoral work examines the implications of this trophic cascade initiated by garlic mustard and the spiders it promotes, as well as broader interactions between invasive species and native food webs.

I am currenty a Postdoctoral Fellow with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). For more information on my research, download my CV or feel free to contact me if you have questions.

Visits since 13 September 2015

© Lauren Smith 2014