Department: Rocky Mountain Research Station
University System: U.S. Forest Service - Missoula
My primary research interest is to advance community ecology through studies of biological invasions and to use this information to improve invasive species management. Biological invasions serve as grand natural experiments that provide unique opportunities to view the processes that structure ecological communities. Even in the most recently assembled natural communities organisms have had hundreds or thousands of years to interact and sort themselves into the modern assemblages we see. This makes it very challenging to identify the relative roles of competition, predation, parasitism, resource availability, etc. in structuring extant communities. However, with biological invasions, it is possible to observe these processes in real-time as a novel organism invades, establishes, and dominates (in the case of strong invaders) a new assemblage. It is also possible to see how the assemblage finally settles into a new equilibrium state as the invader's dominance wanes through the ecological and evolutionary adaptation of the community to its presence. Newly hypothesized understandings of these processes can then be tested in the context of directed community assembly through the applied largescale natural experiments that are attempts to manage the invasion problem, for example, classical biological control - the intentional introduction of exotic organisms to manage invasions. Thus, biological invasions offer an opportunity to advance understandings of community ecology that can, in turn, be tested by applying these understandings to the management of the invasives problem.