Dispersal is at the heart of a number of important ecological theories, such as neutral theory, island biogeography, metapopulation & metacommunity theory, and historical contingency theory. However, application of these theories to field systems is complicated by the logistical difficulties of studying dispersal at large scales. One of my major research interests is looking at the role of dispersal and other stochastic processes in community assembly. My thesis work used an island biogeography framework to study ectomycorrhizal “tree-islands” – patches of host trees embedded in a non-host matrix – as a way to look for evidence that immigration and extinction affect ectomycorrhizal assemblages. These tree-islands generally conformed to the expectations of island biogeography theory – larger tree islands housed more species of ectomycorrhizal fungi, and more isolated tree islands had fewer species of ectomycorrhizal fungi. This work led to one of the few published species-area relationships for fungi and provided evidence for a competition-colonization tradeoff in ectomycorrhizal communities. We are continuing this work with manipulative experiments to measure the scale of dispersal and colonization using next generation sequencing and quantitative PCR.
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