This year we published the first of our annual Harper Review series. The series is named after past BES President and Journal of Ecology Editorial Board member, the late John L. Harper CBE FRS and is designed to be thought provoking, authoritative and of broad interest to the ecological community.
Our inaugural review was written by Yvonne Buckley from Trinity College, Dublin and Jane Catford from the University of Southampton and is titled Does the biogeographic origin of species matter? Ecological effects of native and non-native species and the use of origin to guide management.
We asked Yvonne, who is one of journal’s Associate Editors, to tell us a bit about the review and her research.
– How did you feel about being asked to write our first Harper Review?
Reading Harper’s book “Population Biology of Plants” as an undergraduate sparked my interest in population ecology so it was a real honour to be asked to write the inaugural Harper Review for Journal of Ecology. I had been thinking about writing that paper some time ago but other projects kept getting in the way, the review deadline was great motivation to finally sit down and write it! My co-author Jane Catford and I had been working on a paper on the different demographic dimensions of species invasiveness (also recently published in Journal of Ecology) so we decided to work on the Harper review together as well.
– What’s the focus of your research?
Population ecology at large spatial scales has always been central to my research. I’m particularly interested in performance of populations in new ecological contexts and variation in population performance within a species. Population performance sits between individual level traits and the persistence or extinction of species so an understanding of the links from traits and physiology through to populations can help with integration of understanding across these scales.
– Can you give a brief summary of the paper in layman’s terms?
When populations of plants are moved to areas where they have never occurred before, they can become weedy and cause economic, social & environmental problems. There are some unresolved questions about plant invasions: Do these plants become more numerous in their new environment or are they in similar numbers in their home environment? Is the ecology of plants in new environments predictably different from the ecology of the native plants? We use recent global studies to show that while plants perform similarly well at “home” as “away”, non-natives do particularly well in fertilized conditions, whereas native species are often lost. We can therefore use the information about a species origin (native or non-native) to make ecological predictions. We argue that a likely explanation of the differences in ecology of natives & non-natives is the biased selection of species that humans move around. Species living close to humans and our industries are more likely to be transported and to do well in the human modified environments we introduce them to. This direct inclusion of humans into our understanding of the ecology of the system is absolutely necessary for understanding the problem and development of solutions. Humans don’t sit outside of “ecology” we are a driving force shaping species distributions & abundances.
– Why is research into invasive species so important?
Individual invasive species are economically & environmentally damaging so there is strong motivation to understand & solve those problems. The more general issue however, is of understanding the massive species redistributions we are seeing now. What will the ecosystems of the future look like? How will they function? How will ecosystem services change? Non-native species have been introduced to many different environments & can also give us insights into the responses of species to climate change.
– What additional research questions arise from your Harper Review?
There are many! I’m currently working on the population ecology of ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata, one of the commonest & most widespread species in the world to understand how it copes with environments as different as the sub-Arctic to the sun-tropics. It has been introduced outside of Europe & has a close commensal relationship with humans & our habitats. I am interested in how populations persist through growth, survival and reproduction processes in these very different environments and whether plant traits can be linked with demography. In order to look at large scale processes population ecologists need to work together and I am a fan of the coordinated distributed network approach which has worked so well for other projects like NutNet which I’ve worked with for the last 9 years or so. PLANTPOPNET is a network of researchers recording population processes for Plantago lanceolata all over the world – we already have data from 31 sites from Europe, North America and Australasia and we’re continuing to expand. The whole area of human ecology, treating humans as an interacting species rather than just observers, needs to be better developed.
– What are the key messages for managers?
Managers often have to work with limited information on the composition and ecological function of species in the communities they are managing. The studies referred to in the Harper Review indicate that for grasslands at least non-native species are likely to be more abundant and dominate communities than natives and non-native species (unlike natives) do not decline with fertilisation. These predictable aspects of introduced species arise not because they have changed their ecology outside their native range but because we tend to introduce species with these characteristics. In the absence of site specific data managers can therefore use information about a species from its native range to predict aspects of its ecology in its non-native range.
– How can policy makers help with these issues?
This work shows that understanding the introduction process and managing species introductions would be particularly helpful in preventing unwanted effects of non-native species. We need more research on invasion pathways and the types of species likely to be introduced through those routes in order to prioritise pre-border efforts on pathways (dispersal vectors) likely to bring in the most damaging species.
– When you’re not at work what do you like doing?
I hang out with my kids (6 and 4). I was having a go at hurling with them the other evening after getting in from a day in the field, it’s an Irish team sport which uses a wooden stick (a hurley) to hit a ball into the opposition team’s goal. If all of that sounds too wholesome rest assured that when they went to bed I sat on the sofa, ate chocolate and watched some trashy tv.