Description: Plants don’t move for most of their lives. They rely on vectors for the dispersal of their seeds. More than half of the world’s plant species are dispersed by vertebrates. Other modes of seed dispersal include wind, water, ballistic, gravity, and invertebrate. Dispersal influences the habitat in which a seed ends up. It affects whether a seed has the resources to survive and grow, who its neighbors are, and if it escapes being killed by consumers or disease located near the parent plant. These interactions influence which plants survive to adulthood. These adults will then contribute to populations through gene flow or the expansion of a species’ range. However, human-mediated change, such as climate change, habitat fragmentation, and invasive species, affects the ecology and evolution of dispersal with potential dire consequences for biodiversity. More than one-quarter of vertebrates that disperse seeds are threatened with extinction due to overhunting, habitat fragmentation, and logging. In addition, climate change is predicted to affect dispersal ability of plants by altering wind dynamics, phenology, and frugivore populations. These changes have the potential to reduce biodiversity and ecosystem functions, such as carbon storage, but the long-term impacts of these changes on biodiversity are unknown.
Dr. Noelle Beckman uses a combination of quantitative and empirical approaches to investigate interactions between plants and their environment and examines the role of these interactions in limiting plant populations and maintaining biodiversity. Many of these interactions are disrupted by global change, and she examines the consequences of these disruptions for plant communities and ecosystem functions. Dr. Beckman earned her Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, & Behavior at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Before arriving to SESYNC, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Mathematical Biosciences Institute. In 2017, she will join the Department of Biology and the Ecology Center at Utah State University as an Assistant Professor.