How do plants respond to reduced water availability?

Precipitation in arid and semi-arid environments can vary strongly within and across years and plant fitness can depend on rapid or efficient utilization of water during these events. Plant species adapted to arid systems possess numerous leaf, stem and root traits that serve to minimize water stress, but it remains unclear whether these water conservation traits limit a plant’s ability to rapidly respond to precipitation events. Our research addresses how traits pertaining to water acquisition and conservation correlate with plant fitness in plant species from a southern California coastal sage scrub community.

What factors contribute to plant invasiveness?

Invasive species have a significant influence on human health, economics, biodiversity, and ecosystem function in many areas of the world. There has been a great deal of interest in identifying characteristics that promote plant invasiveness as this may facilitate prediction of future invasions, determine the best ways to control invasive species, and help understand the impact of invasive species on native systems. Our current work on invasiveness examines patterns of resource use efficiency and phenotypic plasticity for functional traits related to resource acquisition. Click here for a Nature podcast highlighting some of this research.

Using functional traits to restore invaded ecosystems

Comparing the functional traits of invasive and native species may identify ways to promote the growth of native species and/or curtail the growth of invasive species. This information can be used by resource managers to prioritize areas for invasive species control and to evaluate the potential for resource manipulation (light, nutrient, water availability) as a restoration strategy. Our current work in Hawaii and Mediterranean-climate ecosystems (including California, Australia, South Africa and Spain) focuses on comparing plant functional traits between invasive and native species to identify which native species can outperform invasive species and what environmental conditions are required to favor the growth of natives over invasives during restoration.

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