Plant-Animal Interactions

We know from a growing number of studies that interactions between plants and their consumers and mutualists can have strong impacts on plant performance and even plant fitness. Yet, quite surprisingly, we still have a very rudimentary understanding of the conditions under which these pervasive negative or positive interactions influence plant abundance or distribution. As a result, predicting the conditions under which anagonists or mutualists have important population-level impacts on plants has proved difficult. We are interested in understanding the population-level consequencs of plant-animal interactions and determining the ecological and environmental conditions that may predict when these interactions strongly or weakly influence plant distribution or abundance. Previous work has explored the impact of insect herbivory and rodent granivory on habitat specific demography and abundance of the native nitrogen-fixing shrub, bush lupine (relevent publications: Maron and Simms 2001, Maron 1998, Maron and Jefferies 1999, Maron and Gardner 2000, Maron 2001, Maron and Kauffman 2006, Kauffman and Maron 2006). Other research, has examined how rodent consumers influence plant recruitment and population size of native forb species in Montana (relevent publications: Bricker et al. 2010, Bricker and Maron 2012).

bodega landscape
ghost moth

Role of biotic interactions in affecting plant range limits

While it has long been appreciated that abiotic conditions play a strong role in affecting the geographic distribution of species, how biotic interactions, alone or in concert with the abiotic environment, influence range boundaries remains surprisingly understudied.  We are interested in how range-wide spatial variation in the abiotic environment interacts with spatial variation in biotic interactions (particularly insect herbivores and pollinators) to influence range boundaries and differences in population size across the range.  Current work, spearheaded by Ph.D. student Katie Baer, is examining limits to the geographic range boundaries of the native forb, Astragalus utahensis.