For the most part, research in the Aschehoug Lab explores the ecological consequences of species interactions. This is a big topic that scales from individuals to communities, and affects the functioning of ecosystems. We do this every-which-way we can—greenhouse experiments, common garden experiments, large observational studies, restoration experiments in real-time, and empirically based models. The prairie systems in the northwest corner of the US (Washington, Idaho, and Montana) are where we work the most, but we are always looking for new places to answer great ecological questions.

Currently, research in the Aschehoug lab falls along four major themes:

Interactions among plants and the structure of communities

How plants assemble into communities is a thorny problem that ecologists have tried to solve for decades with marginal success. The interactions among diverse groups of species are complex and highly context dependent. We are trying to tease apart the direct and indirect effects that emerge when lots of species compete in space and time and crucially, the conditionality of these interactions.

Biogeography and plant invasions

Perhaps the most important aspect of human caused global change is the incredible number of species introduced to new, novel ranges. Introduced species can have powerful, negative impacts in new ranges—impacts that are not found in their home range. For example, invasive species can change from relatively poor performers in their home communities to dominants that competitively exclude other species in their new ranges. We capitalize on this dramatic biogeographic shift in the way invasive species interact to learn how evolutionary history and coevolved traits affect the ways plants interact, and in turn how these interactions affect ecological processes.

Mutualisms between plants and microbes.

Microbes can have powerful direct effects on plants, and indirect effects on plant competition. We are exploring how microbial mutualists, such as fungal endophytes, influence plant-plant interactions, species invasions and community formation. This work has focused on Centaurea stoebe, an aggressive invasive forb in western US grasslands, and is done in collaboration with George Newcombe’s lab at University of Idaho.

Restoration and the conservation of species.

The rapid loss of habitat worldwide is driving an unprecedented rate of extinctions. We are working to save the federally endangered Saint Francis Satyr butterfly, one of the rarest butterflies in the world, from extinction. We do this through a mix of basic and applied science in a large scale herbaceous wetland research project in collaboration with Nick Haddad’s lab at North Carolina State University.