Tag Archives: plants

Next Generation Field Courses: Enhancing ECR Development Through Open Science and Online Learning

This is a guest post by Jonathan von Oppen, Ragnhild Gya, Sonya Geange, Tanya Strydom, Sara Middleton and Brian Maitner.

Many careers in Ecology and Evolution begin with a trip to the field. Stumbling around a rocky beach or a fragmented grassland can be an awakening experience for a young researcher, as it’s often the first time a person perceives themselves as really doing science. Field courses, and of course field work, provide opportunities to inspire the next generation of biologists. These experiences allow people to engage with nature from a scientific perspective, experiencing the challenges and joys of translating biological theory into hands-on research. Project-based field courses in particular provide an opportunity to work through the research workflow in a supportive environment, and experience what it means to put together a meaningful experiment. As such, project-based field courses have been an important and well-established element in the training of early-career researchers (ECRs) not only in Ecology and Evolution, but across all scientific disciplines, from psychology to genetics. 

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Like a House of Cards

An empirical attack tolerance test alters the structure and species richness of plant–pollinator networks (2020) Biella et al., Functional Ecology, https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.13642

Image Credit: Adamantios, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped

The Crux

Put simply, ecosystem function is the process that control how nutrients, energy, and organic matter move through an environment. Think about a forest. You have small plants that are eaten by small animals, small animals that are eaten by larger animals, and those larger animals are eaten by even larger animals. When those animals die, they are broken down and consumed by scavengers, fungi, and bacteria. These processes result in a continuous flow of nutrients and energy through the ecosystem. However, if one link (organism) in this chain breaks (goes extinct), the ecosystem could lose its function, and other species that depend on this cycle could go extinct as well.

The way in which a given ecosystem reacts to or recovers from any negative impact that it sustains is key to understanding how ecosystems function. Classically, this is tested with attack tolerance tests, in which all species on a given trophic level are removed and the ecosystem is then monitored to see how/if it maintains its function. In studies of plant-pollinator networks, this is usually modeled with computers, but studies which use natural systems are lacking. Today’s authors wanted to use a natural plant-pollinator system to see what happens.

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The Root of Disease

Fields full of herbaceous plants such as these can be incredibly diverse and complicated ecosystems, and the multitudes of species that inhabit them can influence the magnitude of disease that the organisms that inhabit it may encounter (Image Credit: LudwigSebastianMicheler, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)

Past is prologue: host community assembly and the risk of infectious disease over time (2018) Halliday, F.W. et al., Ecology Letters, 22, https://dx.doi/10.1111/ele.13176

The Crux

Everything in ecology is based around the environment that a focal organism inhabits, including the interactions it has with other organisms and the non-living aspects of the habitat itself (temperature, water pH, etc.). That being said, it’s no surprise that disease dynamics are likely to depend on the environment that a host inhabits, and that the environment itself is a product of what came before. That is to say, the group of organisms that originally populate a given ecosystem can have an effect on how that ecosystem will look in the future (lakes with freshwater mussels will have clearer water than those without).

The scientific literature is full of experiments, observations, and hypotheses about which environmental conditions lead to fluctuations in disease dynamics. As such, it is difficult to come to a consensus with a “one-size-fits-all” rule for disease dynamics and community structure. The authors of today’s study used a long-term experiment to determine what exactly moderates disease over time.  Read more

The Common Ragweed

The common ragweed, set to become a nightmare for hayfever sufferers

Image Credit: Sue Sweeney, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped.

In this series, we’ve already learnt about the impacts of alien trees and garden plants in Norway, but others are invading too, including some that are easier to overlook. And some of them can not only out-compete native species, but also pose health problems for humans. In today’s guest post by Vanessa Bieker, we look at Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common ragweed), which produces highly allergenic pollen and is one of the main causes of hay fever.

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Invaders in the Garden

The Japanese Knotweed, an invasive species often found in gardens (Image Credit: HOerwin56Pixabay license, Image Cropped)

Guest post by Malene Nygård

Garden plants have a long tradition in Norway; from being used as medicine and food in the gardens of Catholic monasteries in the Middle Ages to today’s exotic ornamental plants. But this tradition also represents several centuries of unmonitored introductions of alien species, and it has left its mark in Norwegian nature.

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