Ecological research

Study of the natural world.

I am currently a researcher in the ecological sciences which relates to climate change. In particular, I am in the process of elucidating the interactions of belowground herbivores and grassland plant species in the face of altered rainfall regimes.

Current skills

I have developed many research skills while studying ecology.

  • I am proficient in data analysis in R and rudimentary knowledge of python
  • Experimental design and fundamental data analysis
  • Follow through with research and publication
  • Theoretical philosopher on insect herbivory
  • Collaboration

Previous and current research projects

Plus some photos I have taken while researching plant-animal interactions.

Undergraduate honors thesis: Amur Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) Affects Rodent Foraging Activity in a Midwestern Forest (2007-2008)

Often invasive plant species alter vegetative cover and modify a rodent’s sense of predation risk. Thus invasive plants have the potential to change a rodent's foraging behavior. Lonicera maackii is an aggressive and highly invasive plant that is the dominant shrub in many U.S. forested areas; in some cases the invasion changes the natural patchy understory into a massive and very dense, nearly continuous vegetation. In this study I tested the hypothesis that the invasive plant L. maackii affects the activity of Peromyscus leucopus (the white-footed mouse) by providing cover from predators and food (in the form of seeds). L. maackii cover and fruit availability were manipulated in a factorial design. The removal of L. maackii cover reduced rodent activity by 28% while fruit and seed availability had no effect on activity. This result agrees with the prediction that this invasive species alters rodent activity by providing cover, but not by providing food. Check out the final article in Oecologia




Masters thesis: The ‘slow-growth-high-mortality’ hypothesis: how plant species, leaf quality, and the third trophic level contribute to the mortality of two common leaf-tying microlepidopteran herbivores (2009-2011)

I tested the slow-growth-high-mortality hypothesis, which states that plants, as a defense, slow the growth of herbivores to increase their exposure to the third trophic level. To test the hypothesis, I manipulated exposure of two common leaf-tying microlepidopterans (Psilocorsis quercicella and Pseudotelphusa quercinigracella) to the third trophic level on four species of oaks (Quercus alba, Q. velutina, Q. rubra, and Q. stellata). I found that plant traits differed among oak species and changed across the two generations of leaf-tiers. The two leaf-tier species experienced the first trophic level differently but were similarly affected by the third trophic level. Overall, mortality differed between generations, and leaf-tiers experienced much stronger bottom-up effects than top-down effects. Tree species identity resulted in differences in development time and pupal mass, however measured plant traits were not correlated with mortality, development time, or mass in P. quercinigracella and were inconsistent in P. quercicella. Additionally, the abundance of both leaf-tiers and predators, and pupal mass were highest on Q. alba, however this tree species had neither the highest or lowest leaf quality in terms of nitrogen availability. Overall the results from this study do not follow the predictions of the slow-growth-high-mortality hypothesis.

PhD project: Below- and aboveground interactions in Australian grassland under future climate rainfall scenarios (2013-present)

The interactions of most organisms are uncertain in the future under climate change; this is especially true for Australia, as most of the workable land is grassland. This type of ecosystem is highly responsive to rainfall changes and therefore would be expected to see massive shifts in communities in response. Additionally, a barely researchd topic that could be highly important in this ecosytem is the effect of belowground feeders, the majoriy of which in Australia are scarab beetle larva. How these two important forces will interact is the subject of my thesis.

Contact Me

Drop me a line if you would like to talk about my research or if you are looking for help on an R or python, ecology related problem

barnett[dot]kirk[at]gmail.com