Areas of Expertise (4)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Ph.D.
Recent Media Appearances (1)
Living, learning — and playing Quidditch
Minnesota Private College Newsletter online
Research has shown that when students feel part of their campus community — academically and socially — they tend to stay at that institution and do well. That’s why some colleges have developed “living learning communities” where students not only live together but take part in an academic experience. This can support learning and personal growth. Read about examples from St. Catherine University, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and Concordia College.
Recent Event Appearances (2)
Why are these ants on my plants? A brief exploration of ant-plant interactions
COS 101-10: Formica ant mounds as a potential favorable microhabitat for invasive leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) in Wisconsin sand oak savannas
The 95th ESA Annual Meeting Pittsburg, PA
Recent Articles (2)
Mary I. Sarwacinski and Moni C. Berg-Binder
Bluff prairies are extreme habitats centered on southwestern facing bluffs along major rivers in the driftless area of the upper Midwest. Characterized by steep slopes, thin soils, and intense exposure to sun and wind, bluff prairies harbor a much warmer, drier microclimate than is found elsewhere in the region. Such harsh conditions help preserve bluff prairie habitat for unique communities of plants and animals. However, like many prairie habitats, bluff prairies are shrinking in size and experiencing fragmentation, resulting in smaller prairie remnants rather than larger, intact prairies. This shrinking and fragmentation is likely a consequence of non-prairie and/or non-native plants encroaching from the edges. One prominent introduced invasive species, leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula), has the ability to spread quickly and displace native plants. During the summer of 2012, the native flowering plant communities (excluding grasses, rushes, and sedges), prairie remnant sizes, and invasive leafy spurge presence and cover were surveyed in 10 bluff prairies in southeastern Minnesota. It was found that native flowering plant species richness is positively correlated with prairie remnant area and negatively correlated with percent leafy spurge cover. The current study provides insight into the current habitat quality of southeastern Minnesota bluff prairies and enables future studies to monitor changes in prairie size and community composition over time.
Moni C. Berg-Binder, Andrew V. Suarez
Ant-mediated seed dispersal may be a form of directed dispersal if collected seeds are placed in a favorable microhabitat (e.g., in or near an ant nest) that increases plant establishment, growth, and/or reproduction relative to random locations. We investigated whether the native ant community interacts with invasive leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) in a manner consistent with predictions of the directed dispersal hypothesis. Resident ants quickly located and dispersed 60% of experimentally offered E. esula seeds. Additionally, 40% of seeds whose final deposition site was observed were either brought inside or placed on top of an ant nest. Seed removal was 100% when seeds were placed experimentally on foraging trails of mound-building Formica obscuripes, although the deposition site of these seeds is unknown. Natural density and above-ground biomass of E. esula were greater on Formica mound edges compared to random locations. However, seedling recruitment and establishment from experimentally planted E. esula seeds was not greater on mound edges than random locations 3 m from the mound. Soil from Formica mound edges was greater in available nitrogen and available phosphorus relative to random soil locations 3 m from the mound. These results suggest Formica ant mounds are favorable microhabitats for E. esula growth following seedling establishment, a likely consequence of nutrient limitation during plant growth. The results also indicate positive species interactions may play an important role in biological invasions.