Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dr. Paige Warren speaks about human influences on species interactions in urban communities

As part of the requirements of FOR 797, students share responsbility for reporting on speakers in the WiSE Professions Speaker Series. The following was prepared by Amanda Gray, Amanda Pachomski, Jennifer Potrikus, Emily Van Ness, and Qing Ren.

Dr. Paige Warren, Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Conservation at U Mass, Amherst, presented her research as well as the research of several collaborating scientists on human influences on species interactions in urban communities at ESF on Thursday, February 6, 2014. This presentation launched three spring SUNY College of Environmental Professions speaker series: Women in Scientific and Environmental (WiSE) Professions, GraduateStudent Association (GSA) Speaker Series, and Adaptive Peaks. The Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, GSA and the ESF Women’s Caucus jointly co-sponsored the seminar.

Dr. Warren discussed findings from five different cities (two in the Western US (Fresno,CA and Pheonix, AZ) and three in the Eastern US (Boston, MA, Baltimore, MD, and Raleigh, NC)) that looked at human influence as the dominant mechanism of species presence and interaction in urban communities. She determined that for the cities in the Western US, water use is the main driver of species presence and interaction; for the cities in the Eastern US, forest cover is a more important driver. Other human-driven factors are also at work in each city and so the actual role of species interaction in determining community structure is still unclear.

The most direct human influence on species presence and interactions in each city relates directly to the two driving factors mentioned previously. Landscaping decisions in each city has a huge affect on which species appear in urban areas and the species interactions within the urban areas. In the western city of Phoenix, AZ where water is the major driving factor, there is a stark contrast in types of yards, largely dictated by neighborhood. There are xeric yards which are drier and support native and non-native vegetation similar to the surrounding flora of the region, and then there are mesic yards which are wetter and more lush that support some native, but mostly non-native vegetation that is very dissimilar to the surrounding vegetation. These different vegetation types support different types of animal species and can therefore influence the presence and interactions of species in the city. In the eastern city of Baltimore, MD, where the primary driver is forest cover, a direct correlation was seen between the canopy cover and amount of dead branches in the area and the number of woodpeckers present.

Under these more direct human influences, there are a variety of human influences that are likely to be interacting with the primary driver in each city that affect species presence and interaction. For example, in Phoenix, there was a pattern seen between the income level of a household and the type of food being fed to birds. The higher income families often left nectar and thistle for birds, which attracted more specialist bird species, whereas lower income families often left bread crumbs, which attracted more generalist bird species. The resulting consequences of these different food types include differences in species richness, competition, and the giving up densities of the birds at each location. Dr. Warren’s research looks at wealth as well as many other social science factors such as policy, institutional investment, consumer tastes and lifestyles to try and untangle the complex association of humans and the unban ecosystem.

Dr. Warren received a B.A. in biology from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. in Zoology, from the University of Texas-Austin. Before she joined the faculty at U Mass, Amherst, she served as a Research Scientist at Virginia Tech and a Post Doc in the Biology Department and Center for Environmental Studies at Arizona State University. Dr. Warren was also recently on sabbatical as a Visiting Scholar in the School of Sustainability and School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.

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