Research

I have broad interests in community ecology, predator/prey interactions, agricultural biodiversity and ecosystem services. I examine many seemingly disparate systems, but constantly evaluate context-dependent, environmental drivers of biological control of crop pests. And of course, there is plenty of room in applied study systems for basic discoveries. Here are the major themes of my research:


Omnivory, structural complexity,  and top-down control

seed-food-web.pngMost of the predators in agroecosystems are omnivores. Broad diets enable them to persist in highly disturbed environments where prey availability is not particularly stable.  That means the food webs in crop environments are thrillingly complex (to a trophic ecologist) or frustratingly unpredictable (to a farmer). Furthermore, structurally complex refuge habitat, like cover crops, changes the foraging behavior of many predatory insects! To top it all off, predator foraging patterns and refuge use are both shaped by fluctuating cycles of predation risk (after all, predatory insects are often prey themselves). I use seed-based food webs to examine how omnivores shift their diets in response to predation pressure (“the stress diet”), and how this in turn affects biological control services.


Mixed signals: Dual-guild herbivory and tri-trophic interactionsdual guild.pngPhotos Megan Asche


 

Soil microbial diversity and biological control


Environmental drivers of predator community evenness