NSFDEB-NERC: Diversity, Disturbance and Invasion. Using experimental microcosms to illuminate ecological theory

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences


Biological invasions have major economic and environmental impacts on agriculture, epidemiology and conservation, yet our current understanding of the processes involved is hampered by studying causal drivers in isolation and largely ignoring rapid evolution. Here, we aim to use experimental populations of microbes, combined with a related theoretical and modeling agenda, to study: 1) the effect of independent, and combined, manipulation of disturbance and diversity on invasion success; and 2) the role of pre-adaptation to disturbance regimes in mediating invasion resistance. This integrated theoretical-empirical approach will greatly improve our conceptual understanding of the role disturbance and diversity play in mediating invasion.

Planned Impact

Non-academic beneficiaries will be students.

Undergraduate independent student research: This proposal will provide research opportunities for several undergraduates from the Departments of Biology and other quantitative programs at Penn State. Undergraduates will be introduced to the theoretical research proposed here (no funds required during the academic year), and the best will be encouraged to conduct related independent research (REU funding will be requested for three students, one in each summer, or via internal PSU undergraduate research funding opportunities). The PI has considerable experience with REU students; to date she has mentored a total of 10 REU students (including women and minorities), and published 14 papers with REU undergraduates as first or co-author3,15,17,18,47,62,63,123-129 (in bold in references). Undergraduates have also presented their work at meetings and conferences. We intend to continue this work at the education-research interface. Undergraduates will be recruited into the lab by general advertisement, through the large body of undergraduate science majors and the Schreyer's Honors College at Penn State, and through two NASA-funded programs: the PI has had great success recruiting through the Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) and the Minority Undergraduate Research Experience (MURE) programs

High school and middle school students: We are also involved with pre-university education. For example, Shea has given research presentations to the Governor's School for the Agricultural Sciences (a program for scientifically talented High School students) and to the FASI (Food and Agricultural Sciences Institute) program (for academically talented ethnic minority high school students). We plan to host two groups of under-represented middle school students (~12 students in each, plus a teacher) during a summer visit to Penn State in each year of the project. These students will be part of the Higher Achievement Program, a non-profit, academic support program that prepares students to complete high school and be college-ready. We will present our research, as well as information about science careers, to these groups. Shea also mentors high school students through Summer Experience in the Eberly College of Science (SEECoS), a six-week summer research program for low-income/minority high school students (see Results from Prior Research). We propose to mentor 6 SEECoS students (3 in each of two summers), helping them to develop their own, related research project to augment the proposed work (either using the Pseudomonas system or the invasive thistle field system, as they prefer).


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Description Disturbance, ecology and evolution interact to affect invasion of alien species
Exploitation Route Used to stabilise microbial communities in biotech and the environment
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment