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Some plants from other continents outcompete native plants in our grasslands with devastating and fascinating consequences. Devastating because losses to biodiversity, habitat quality and ecosystem functions occur. Fascinating because invaders challenge our understanding of the forces that structure plant communities and determine ecosystem productivity.

Together with Dr. Dean Pearson at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula and Dr. Ozkan Eren at Adnan Menderes University in Turkey, we initiated a project to better understand plant invasions. This fall, students Birsen Karakus from Adnan Menderes University and Natasha Boote from University of Montana worked hard to collect plants from between 5 and 10 populations of six target species. They dug up plants, measured shoot dry weight, collected roots and soil, and counted and weighed seeds. This week, we will consolidate the data and see what it can tell us. Do successful invaders grow bigger, produce more and larger seeds, escape enemies, and/or associate with more and better mutualists in their exotic range (Montana) compared to their native range (Turkey)?

Birsen and Natasha

Birsen (left) collected plants and soil in Turkey and Natasha (right) collected plants and soil in Montana. They will consolidate data for their theses, which will help us understand what makes invasive plants so successful in North America.

About the Author

Ylva Lekberg

Ylva graduated from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences with a M.Sc. in Biology and Horticulture in 1996 and a Ph.D. in Ecology from Penn State University in 2004. She received the Alumni Association Dissertation Award for her work in agroecology and subsistence farming in Sub-Saharan Africa. Post-doctoral positions at Montana State University and later at Copenhagen University as a Marie Curie Fellow allowed her to explore the role of arbuscular mycorrhiza, a root-fungus symbiosis, for geothermal plants in Yellowstone National Park and coastal grasslands in Denmark. Her research has been published in international journals such as Nature Communications, Ecology Letters, and New Phytologist.

Ylva joined MPG Ranch in 2010. Since then, she has explored how invasive plants common to western Montana, including spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe), leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) and cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), influence soil microbial community composition and function, and how this in turn may affect invasive success. A lot of her research also focuses on the AM symbiosis in terms of community ecology and physiology. A current project addresses how exchange ratios in this symbiosis may differ among co-occurring plants and depend on soil nutrient availabilities. She uses surveys, field and greenhouse experiments, and literature approaches such as meta-analyses to address questions. To learn more about research and publications from Ylva and her group, see CV below and the Soils, Plants and Invasion section.

In addition to her work at MPG Ranch, Ylva is an adjunct professor at University of Montana at the Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences.