2012 BioMaPS Projects



Student Fellows:   Andrew Thompson (Mathematics) and

                                  Sam Pellock (Biology)

Faculty Advisors:  Dr.  Kate He (Biology) and

                                    Dr.  Chris Mecklin (Mathematics & Statistics)


Biophysical Traits Associated with Invasive Plants

Biological invasion is considered as one of the most important components of global change (Mack et al. 2000).  Its impact on the biota has been enormous in terms of biodiversity loss and alterations of the structure and function of native ecosystems (Stohlgren et al. 2003, Usher 1988). One of the critical areas of invasion research is to understand the mechanisms of invasion by studying the biophysical traits of successful invaders. Many attempts have been made to create lists of common traits shared by successful invaders. Suggested traits that are influential in plant invasion include life-history strategies, reproductive and dispersal capabilities, seedling and growth patterns, body size, and phenotypic plasticity (Daehler 2003, Mack 1996, Reichard and Hamilton 1997, Rejmanek and Richardson 1996). Although general criteria have come to light for identifying the traits that distinguish invasive species from non-invasive plant species a posteriori (Bolker 2008, Kolar and Lodge 2001, Reichard and Campbell 1996, Rejmanek 1996, White and Schwarz 1998, Williamson and Fitter 1996), consistent traits have not been identified from which the future of an invader could be identified a priori.  

This group aims to: 

        1) identify biophysical traits that contribute most to the invasion success of a                     targeted invasive species; 

        2) evaluate the predictive power of the identified traits; 

        3) develop statistical sampling, and data analysis techniques, and a predictive                     model to assess invasive potential of introduced species.  



Student Fellows:  Alex Earhart  (Biology/Biomedical Science) and

                                  Elizabeth Tarter (Biology/Pre Optometry/Mathematics)

Faculty Advisors:  Dr. Claire Fuller (Biology) and

                                   Dr. Donald Adongo (Mathematics & Statistics)

Dispersal in a tropical degrader, Nasutitermes acajutlae

Degraders form the basis of the food web; in the tropics, up to 30% of degradation occurs via termites. Termites are highly vulnerable to changes in their microclimate, particularly changes in temperature and relative humidity (RH); these abiotic conditions are subject to gradual long term changes due to anthropogenic climate change. We are examining the long term rates of survival and reproduction of the tropical termite, Nasutitermes acajutlae in different microhabitats and whether termites are able to adapt to changing conditions or disperse to environments that are similar to their initial habitat. We are taking a two pronged approach: first, we are developing models to determine how abiotic conditions affect termite survival and reproduction using differential equations. These models are based on 12 years of data from 100+ termite colonies in our Caribbean field sites. Second, we are developing microsatellite markers to examine relationships between genetic diversity, movement patterns and abiotic conditions for these same colonies; we have DNA for many of these colonies that date back to 1999.

We have found 6 microsatellite primers that work in N. acajutlae and begun to optimize them. The results of these studies will allow us to assess the ability of N. acajutlae to adapt to climate change.


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