Monday, December 11, 2017

Trait-based ecology in the Rocky Mountains

--- Daniel Laughlin

I am thrilled to be working in the Botany Department at the University of Wyoming. Kara and I settled into Laramie this summer, and are really loving this small college town that is full of friendly folk and surrounded by native prairie and forested mountain ranges.

My lab studies how plants function to understand where they grow, how they interact, and how they change the world. In other words, we integrate ecophysiology and community ecology to predict community dynamics and restore wild landscapes.

We develop quantitative approaches to understand and predict how plant species and communities respond to global change and test trait-based models that translate ecological processes into statistical frameworks to predict how communities assemble along environmental gradients and how species interact at local scales. We study how traits differ among and within species, how traits influence demographic rates and drive species sorting along environmental gradients, and how traits determine the outcome of species interactions.

The goal for this work is not only to gain a deeper understanding of basic ecological processes, but also to inform the restoration of degraded ecosystems, which is one of the most important applied challenges for ecology. The science of restoration ecology strives to develop general principles to guide the practice of restoring ecosystems. Our long-term goal is to develop empirically-sound trait-based methods to restore urban and wild landscapes.

Alice Stears joined the lab this fall to pursue her Ph.D. in Ecology. Alice is interested in the effects of climate change on native plant communities. She will be asking how phenotypic traits influence species growth and survival rates in response to interannual climatic variation. Yearly variation has always been a feature of western climates, but extreme weather events are becoming the new norm. Alice’s work will determine which phenotypes will win and lose in response to these variable years.

Dr. Löic Chalmandrier will be joining the lab as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Spring semester. Löic will be working on integrating species interactions into the Traitspace model of environmental filtering to improve our predictions of community assembly.

Laughlin Research Lab website:

Departmental webpage: