Biotic drivers of biological invasions

Biological invasions are a leading cause of ecosystem changes worldwide and many of these changes go unoticed. Specifically, the invasion of exotic plant species is a global phenomenon which is significanlty altering native plant diversity and ecosystem function . Invasive plants alter the composition, richness, and relative abundance of native species and can, in some cases, directly alter soil processes and the functioning of ecosystems. However, the underlying mechanisms by which some introduced, exotic species successfully spread and displace native species remain poorly understood and the consequences of these invasions on poorly studied components of native communities and ecosystems are largely unknown. For example, recent studies suggest that soil microbes could play an important role in determining the success of invasion in introduced species of trees. In addition, interactions with other plants and with insect and mammalian herbivores could further influence invasion success. Our lab is addressing a series of interconnected questions regarding the role of biotic interactions in mediating biological invasions. Our first project under this research theme focuses on the displacement of native Sugar Maples by exotic Norway Maples. Our research team will investigate the potential roles of soil microbes and insect herbivores in promoting the invasion success of exotic maples.