My primary research goal is to quantify the ecological strategies employed by plant species in different environments, and to better understand the selective processes underlying global patterns in ecological strategy.
1) The World Herbivory Project (with Bill Foley, Ian Wallis, and 47 other collaborators)
We established 75 study sites in natural ecosystems all around the world, including rainforest in the Congo, China and Peru; desert in Israel and Arizona; tundra in Patagonia, Alaska and Greenland, and savanna in Zambia, South Africa and Australia. At each site we measured environmental conditions, plant physical and chemical defences, herbivore abundance and herbivory. We are using these data to answer a range of fundamental questions, such as “Are interactions between plants and animals more intense in the tropics?” and “Are tropical plants better defended than are plants at higher latitudes?”
2) The ecology of invasive species (with Dick Frankham and Bill Sherwin)
Introduced species are a major threat to global biodiversity. They also provide a fascinating system for studying the way plants adapt to life in a new environment. We are measuring changes in form, function and genetic make-up of introduced species since their arrival in Australia. Quantifying the rate and direction of evolution will increase our understanding of the invasion process, and help us estimate how quickly plants might be able to adapt to future climate change. We will ask whether populations of introduced plants are becoming reproductively isolated from populations of the species in their native range. It is possible that introduced species are on their way to becoming new native Australian taxa.
3) The advantages of clonal vs sexual reproduction (with Stephen Bonser)
We are using plants to provide novel tests of the idea that sex helps species escape from their parasites and pathogens, and that sexual species are faster to adapt to changed environmental conditions than are clonal species. This research will help predict how plants will respond to future changes in climate and parasite pressure.