Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Arizona
DATE: Wednesday, November 30, 2016
TIME: 4:00 P.M.
PLACE: 126 Barrows Hall
TITLE: Ecology in a Changing World: Differentiating the Effects of Natural Disturbance Regimes from Anthropogenic Changes on Ecosystems in Transition
ABSTRACT: Disturbances, such as wildfire, hurricanes, and floods have a fundamental role in structuring ecological communities, and the study of these processes and extension to novel ecological disruptions is of increasing importance due to global change. A better understanding of ecological perturbations and quantitative comparisons of their effects over multiple scales is required for both species-level and landscape-scale conservation efforts. Large-scale patterns in ecology are often described by theories of “macroecology”, whereas disturbances such as wildfire and the subsequent ecosystem responses have been the purview of the conceptually distinct field of “disturbance ecology.” In this talk, I will discuss my dissertation work, in which I attempt to unify these fields by extending a particular theory of macroecology, the Maximum Entropy Theory of Ecology (METE), to disrupted and disturbed ecosystems. Despite explicitly not incorporating ecological interactions, METE has proven reliable for estimating the species-area relationship, endemics-area relationship, and species-abundance distribution in minimally disturbed ecosystems. As a first test of METE’s predictions for ecosystems with high levels of disturbance, I compare the macroecological responses of biological communities in transition (including a primary succession landslide system, a fire-evolved conifer system, and a novel grazing regime in forb-dominated meadows). This application leads to a method for cross-system comparisons of community structure for ecosystems in transition. A related study with one of these datasets also yields the first meaningful predictions of plot-scale body-size distributions and an opportunity to unite macroecology with metabolic theory.
BIOGRAPHY: Erica Newman is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Arizona in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. She received her PhD from the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley in 2016, and a Masters in Physics from the University of Michigan previous to that. Her current work is focused on natural and anthropogenic wildfire activity and wildfire management practices as they affect biodiversity. Erica’s work spans multiple ecosystems, including French Polynesia, where human-caused wildfire is likely driving extinctions among cloud forest endemics, and California chaparral, where fire management practices are affecting disease ecology by changing the wildlife communities.