Biologist Helps to Coordinate International Study on Plant Evolution

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Steven Franks, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, has been named one of three coordinators of a large global study that aims to track how the growth of an invasive plant varies among its habitats.

Franks joins researchers from Duke University and the University of Bern, Switzerland in overseeing the Global Garlic Mustard Field Survey. The project involves hundreds of volunteer scientists around the world identifying and collecting data on the invasive species. The study, which is in its first phase, hopes to determine whether the plant reaches higher densities in its invading habitats, as opposed to its native areas.

Steven Franks, Ph.D. photo by Chris Taggart

A native of Europe, the garlic mustard plant is one of the most problematic invaders in North America, Franks said.

Scientists from several nations will be able to log on to www.garlicmustard.org and input their findings directly onto field survey data sheets. The data they will be collecting on the plants include:
• latitudes and longitudes,
• approximate sizes,
• ratio of juvenile to adult plants,
•  and whether the plants are growing in forest canopy, partial canopy or in the open.

Scientists also will be collecting seeds in North America and Europe for future experiments. Franks will coordinate the collection of North American seed samples.

“This project is unique in the global scale of the approach and in incorporating academic, governmental and citizen science volunteers to collect the data and contribute seeds,” Franks said. “The data will allow us to test several theoretical predictions regarding the dynamics of the populations, the growth rates of individual plants and resistance to herbivory and pathogens in the native versus introduced ranges That information will help us manage the species.”

Frank’s colleague in the Fordham biology department, Associate Professor James Lewis, Ph.D., also will be contributing to the project. A Fordham graduate student, David Waring, will be assisting in data collection.

The project will engage a broad network of scientists, students and environmentalists from across Europe and North America to collect data over multiple years. The coordinators hope that such data generates support for further funding and acts as a model for the study of additional invasive species, Franks said.

Franks encouraged people interested in participating to contact the site.

“The project is designed to be simple,” Franks said, “and to get the public involved in science.”

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