I am interested in the evolution and ongoing maintenance of mutualisms, in particular in relation to how mutualistic interactions are affected by anthropogenic habitat change. Humans alter natural habitats, and in so doing affect both the biotic and abiotic environments experienced by mutualistic partners. We have been exploring this using ant-inhabited plants, in which entire colonies of ants live in specially grown plant structures. In return for this living space, ants protect plants from leaf eating animals, and also from encroachment by competing plant individuals. We are currently exploring whether plant mutualists can mediate a kind of “reverse Janzen-Connell effect”, whereby the negative impacts of living close to conspecifics are counterbalanced by sharing of ant mutualists.
S.T., Fayle T.M., Srivastava D.S., Lewinsohn T.M., Lewis
O.T., Novotny V., Kitching R. L., & Maunsell S.C. (2020). The role
of evolution in shaping ecological networks. Trends in Ecology and
Evolution 35: 454-466 [PDF]