Eco-Evo effects of Geese-seagrass interactions

My dissertation research studies the intersection of ecology and evolution on contemporary timescales. Specifically, I am interested in how ecological disturbance can drive evolutionary change within populations and what consequences these changes have on communities and ecosystems. Theory predicts that disturbance can alter the evolution of populations via not only natural selection, but also through reductions in population size that can result in a loss of genetic diversity. I am conducting innovative field experiments to assess the effects of grazing disturbance by migratory Brant geese on changes in the genetic diversity of populations of the eelgrass Zostera marina. Brant feed on Zostera during the winter months and previous research showed that the genetic diversity of Zostera populations is important in helping the populations recover from overgrazing by geese. Eelgrass genetic diversity also promotes seedling success and biomass accumulation, with cascading consequences for the invertebrates and fishes that rely on the eelgrass for habitat.  Understanding how geese might alter the genetic diversity of Zostera beds is essential to understanding how changes in grazing intensity due to anthropogenic impacts will affect the sustainability of seagrass populations, as well as the organisms that seagrass supports, in the long-term. Photo credit: Gabe Ng.

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