Modern intensive agricultural practices are a major threat to biodiversity at local, regional and global scales. Further agricultural intensification may have substantial ecological impacts in the future. Agroecosystems are essential for human activity because they provide food, fiber and energy. In addition, agricultural lands provide ecosystem services such as air purification, regulation of climate, pollination services, and biological control of pestiferous organisms. The associated biodiversity of the agroecosystems mediate these ecosystem services. Thus, it is imperative to understand the community dynamics of associated biodiversity, services they provide, and the multitrophic interactions in the agroecosystems.
Two suites of particularly important associated biodiversity include weeds and arthropods. Weeds are often considered as an impediment to production in agroecosystems and thus detrimental organisms. However, weeds can provide food and habitat for beneficial insects including carabid beetles and pollinators. Because many carabid beetles are seed predators and pollinators regulate seed production, these arthropods may in turn affect plant community structure. Conversely, weeds may provide habitat for pestiferous insects and may indirectly have deleterious consequences for crop production. For example, grassy weeds may provide alternate host for the wheat stem sawfly - the most economically important agricultural pest in Montana.
Agricultural management systems may alter these multi-trophic interactions and consequently affect the provisioning of ecosystem services such as pollination and biological control. My research focuses on the effects of different agricultural systems (organic vs. conventional) and cover crop termination strategies (sheep grazing vs. tillage) on biodiversity (weeds, carabid beetles, wheat stem sawfly, and pollinators). Also, to assess the impacts of these management systems on ecosystem services, I am comparing bee colony success, pollination networks, and wheat stem sawfly pest pressure among conventional and tilled organic agroecosystems as a proxy metrics of pollination and pest regulation services, respectively. My research takes place at Fort Ellis Experimental Farm in Bozeman, MT and several organic and conventional farms in Big Sandy, MT.
In addition to my current research projects on the community dynamics of associated biodiversity in agroecosystems, I am also interested to study the interacting effects of climate change and farming management systems on plant-pollinators interactions and pollination networks. Climate change may alter the synchrony of plants’ peak blooming time and pollinator’s peak activity. This asynchrony coupled with farming systems may have several negative consequences on pollinator’s population dynamics, the plant’s reproductive success, and ultimately to the sustainability of the Global agricultural productions.
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