How and why are these invasive species so successful?
While ecologists and land managers have been tackling this question for decades we’re going to give it another try, focusing here on phenology—the timing of seasonal life history events, such as flowering or losing leaves in the fall. We have four hypotheses to test. The first hypothesis is that there is a vacant temporal niche within the environment and the invasive species are able to utilize the resources available at unique times of the year compared to native communities. The second hypothesis is based on a first-come, first-serve idea, that the earlier a plant starts growing, the more resources it can sequester for its own use. Hypothesis three suggests that exotic species can do everything more and better (i.e. grow more leaves, have more flowers), while the last theory suggests that invasive plant species are earlier and faster responders to climate change because of their genotypic differences to native plants. With these four ideas in mind, we’ve set out to test whether phenology affects plant invasions and hopefully it will be able to help in predicting and managing invasive species.
We’re taking a bioinformatics approach, which means compiling lots of data to start. We have phenology data for a couple thousand species but we need some additional ‘trait’ data to help constrain our analyses. So the first step for me this fall to help answer the bigger question is to determine the different pollination modes of each species of plants. I’ll be in the library and online figuring out whether our species are wind, animal, or self-pollinated. For the current data set, I am looking at a list of plant species from Tucson, Arizona’s Sky Islands area. I have been able to go through a majority of the Poaceae family and label all subsequent genus as wind pollinated, which has slightly cut down the still daunting list. I hope that further investigation into the book, Principles of Pollination Ecology, which I am currently perusing, will help shorten the list by providing more information on the pollination modes of several plant families. I’ll then fill in the gaps with information from the Jepson online resources and USDA PLANTS database.
Stay tuned for progress on the work. We’ll post thoughts, fun updates and results here as we go. In the meantime, the design and layout of this blog will be continuously updated until Lizzie REALLY likes it.