My research focuses on grassland ecology, especially the vegetative reproduction of perennial grasses via the belowground bud bank. My current research includes examining the effects of fire and drought on bud production and outgrowth of dominant grasses and forbs in the Great Plains. I am also involved with writing an assessment on the potential ecological effects of oil and gas development for the Little Missouri National Grassland in North Dakota and calibrating PhenoMap, which is a management tool designed to assess the phenology of the National Grasslands in the western United States.
In perennial grasslands, most aboveground stem recruitment comes from belowground buds. For example, >99% of stems in tallgrass prairie originate from belowground buds rather than seeds. Therefore, the response of perennial grassland vegetation to drivers, such as grazing, fire, and climate, is mediated by the bud bank. Despite the fundamental importance of bud banks in grassland dynamics worldwide, there is minimal knowledge of basic bud bank population dynamics and structure, comparisons between native and invasive species, and bud bank responses to disturbance. I seek to increase our basic understanding of belowground bud banks in perennial grasslands in an effort to increase our mechanistic understanding of grassland response to fire, grazing, climate change, invasion by exotic perennial grasses, and nutrient enrichment.
My past research has included: 1) determining the bud bank and tiller dynamics of multiple perennial grass species in mixed-grass and tallgrass prairie, 2) evaluating the impact of flowering on vegetative bud production in Andropogon gerardii, 3) assessing bud production and root characteristics of dominant grass species in the savannas of southern Africa, and 4) determining the herbivory response of the African savanna tree Colophospermum mopane at the juvenile stage.
Bud bank research is vital to understanding grassland resistance and resiliency to drivers, such as grazing, fire, and climate. Because most stems in perennial grasslands come from buds, fundamental bud bank knowledge can provide insight into changes in annual net primary production, differences between C3 and C4 grass abundance, and spatial distribution of populations within a community. Managing for the bud bank can help focus our management practices to better promote grassland resiliency and enhance grassland restoration techniques by including both buds and seeds.