Wilsey Lab

the biology of grasslands book with nature photos behind it
Left to right: Field days at experimental plots, Biology of Grasslands (Oxford Univ. Press), Sylvan Runkel Prairie Preserve in Loess Hills of Iowa.

Research Interests of the Wilsey Lab

In the Wilsey lab, we are interested in the ecology of grasslands. Tallgrass prairies are among the most species-diverse ecosystems. We commonly count 20-30 plant species in Iowa within small quadrats (0.4 m2), and most small prairies (< 10 ha) support more than one hundred species ( Martin et al. 2005, Wilsey et al. 2005a). It is still largely unknown how this very high species diversity develops and is maintained over time. Developing a better understanding of mechanisms behind diversity maintenance is a central focus of work in the lab (e.g. Wilsey et al. 2005, Polley et al. 2005, Martin and Wilsey 2006, Isbell et al. 2009, Wilsey et al. 2009). Furthermore, we are studying how changes in species diversity influence community stability and ecosystem process rates (Isbell et al. 2009, 2011, Wilsey et al. 2014). Plant diversity and native species dominance can be important to plant-microbe and plant-insect interactions, which is the focus of our most recent work. Information from our studies will be useful in the management and restoration of grassland ecosystems.

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Process Rates

Is diversity an important predictor of ecosystem process rates? Biodiversity is declining worldwide from human activities, and it may lead to reductions in community persistence, resilience, and resistance to environmental changes. It may also be associated with changes in carbon and nutrient cycling rates. Since the late 1990's, we have focused on how diversity can impact community and ecosystem processes. Comparing the ecology of native-dominated and non-native dominated grasslands (i.e. invaded) has been a focus of recent work.