EPSCoR - Montana NSF

International Ecoscience Conference
Dr. Ragan Callaway text_container

Due largely to global climate change, there is a growing need for research that promotes stewardship of plant communities dealing with stressful conditions. With the help of international scholars, Ragan Callaway, Ph.D. and the research scientists at the Plant Ecology Laboratory at The University of Montana are making advancements in the understanding of positive interactions among plants. In order for accurate modeling of the effects of stress on plant communities to occur, positive interaction must be taken into account as well as the more widely studied negative interaction between species. Understanding positive interaction allows better intervention when trying to protect a species or facilitate healthy plant communities. For example: if someone wants a particular kind of tree to thrive in an area, it is better to know where to plant new trees so they will be helped, rather than hindered, by other nearby plants. Dr. Callaway says, “Integrating such ecological knowledge into practical conservation science saves money and greatly increases the effectiveness of restoration programs.”

In September 2005, with the assistance of Montana NSF EPSCoR, Ray Callaway’s passion for plant ecology brought experts from all over the globe to Montana. With a focus on alpine ecology, the primary goals of this conference, “The importance of biodiversity in stressful conditions: focus on facilitation”, were to stimulate new research, publicly share current research developments with other scientists and to educate the students in attendance. The five international scientists, along with Dr. Callaway, convened at The University of Montana. As part of their visit, they each participated in a symposium on September 29, 2005, speaking about their individual research that contributed to the broader focus of the conference. Rob Brooker of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Banchory Research Station in Banchory, Scotland, spoke about biodiversity in his speech, “A great big packet of M&Ms”. Richard Michalet, representing Université Bordeaux, France, presented, “Indirect interactions in forest ecosystems”. From York University in Canada, Chris Lortie lectured on, “A test of the stress-gradient hypothesis using metaanalysis”. “Native cushion plants facilitate invasion by Taraxacum officinale in the Andes” was presented by Lohengrin Cavieres of Concepcion University, Chile. Finally, the keynote address was given by Alfonso Valiente-Banuet of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City. He spoke on, “Positive interactions in Mediterranean-type ecosystems: the importance of ancient evolutionary lineages”.

In addition to the conference, the scholars held a retreat at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch, which resulted in the development of a co-written paper that was submitted to Ecology Letters. Also, a proposal has been submitted to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This submission, “Macroecological experiments in alpine community ecology: coordinating complex experiments with colloquia”, will also be the groundwork for a proposal to NSF and, potentially, other organizations.