We are a group of community ecologists interested in understanding mechanisms regulating the structure and functioning of ecological communities. We use a combination of experimentation, field observation, and data syntheses in our research. Below are some sample topics that we study as ecologists.
The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (BEF)
The Earth is losing its biodiversity, and understanding how this biodiversity loss impacts ecosystem functioning is an active area of current ecological research. Our lab has done substantial work in this area, contributing to a better understanding of BEF relationships and mechanisms. In particular, we have made considerable effort, combining laboratory experiments, field experiments, and meta-analyses, to elucidate diversity-stability relationships and associated mechanisms across levels of ecological organization and ecosystem types.
Phylogenetic Community Ecology
Phylogenetic community ecology emphasizes the relevance of species evolutionary history for understanding species interactions and patterning of community structure. It has become an exciting field of research that improves our understanding of mechanisms regulating the structure of natural communities. Emphasizing experimental approaches, our lab has provided the first experimental tests of Darwin’s phylogenetic limiting similarity hypothesis and Darwin’s naturalization hypothesis. We have followed up these works with studies of the roles of phylogenetic diversity for priority effects, ecosystem functioning and stability, and studies of global environmental change effects on grassland community assembly from the phylogenetic perspective.
Global change ecology
Many of the Earth’s ecosystems are undergoing extensive environmental change. In collaboration with colleagues in China, we have been investigating the assembly and reassembly of natural grasslands subject to different components of global environmental change. Using the island in the Thousand-Island-Lake in China as a model system, we have also examined the effect of habitat fragmentation on the assembly of plant and microbial communities.
Historical contingency of community assembly
Natural communities do not come to existence all of a sudden but are typically assembled through sequential species colonization events. Using microbial microcosms, we have investigated how a host of ecological factors, such as species dispersal, disturbance, predation, species and phylogenetic diversity, modulate the historical contingency of community assembly. We have also aimed to explore the significance of community assembly history for ecosystem functioning and link species coexistence mechanisms to the context dependency of community assembly.
Adaptive radiation is an important evolutionary process that generates biodiversity, but ecological mechanisms regulating adaptive radiation are not well understood. Adopting a community ecology perspective, we have experimentally investigated how different ecological factors, including competition, predation, parasitism, and temporal and spatial niche availability, on the diversification of the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens.
Engineered nanoparticles are widely used in various industries, but current nanotoxicological research has focused on single species. Adopting a community ecology perspective, we have been experimentally investigating how nanoparticles alter species interactions and, in turn, the structure of the impacted communities consisting of bacteria and/or protozoans.