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partridge pea

  Chamaecrista fasiculata

Fisher's Fundamental Theorem on the Prairie.
In 1930, R. A. Fisher, one of the architects of evolutionary genetics (not to mention statistics—oops! just mentioned it) famously proposed the “fundamental theorem of natural selection”: that a population’s increase in evolutionary fitness equals its additive genetic variance in fitness. The idea makes sense mathematically, but there are reasons to expect the biological details to be more complicated. Furthermore, in 85 years the fundamental theorem has received no direct experimental assessments in natural conditions. In collaboration with Professor Ruth Shaw and postdoctoral fellow Sheema Seth at the University of Minnesota, I’m "working on it": a large-scale field experiment at CERA on the annual plant Chamaecrista fasiculata (“partridge pea”). Students who work with me on MAPs in 2015 will develop projects on the evolutionary ecology of C. fasiculata, projects that complement the experiment and will help explain its outcomes. Students also will assist in maintaining the “big” experiment and visit replicate experimental sites and the other research-team members in Minnesota.

Mechanized agriculture and livestock production have transformed Iowa's flora to a degree that surpasses any other state. Today, Iowa's native vegetation persists only in tiny fragments in which both the quality and quantity of disturbances and interspecific interactions differ dramatically from those of the pre-US-settlement landscape.

How is it possible to preserve and, at least on a modest scale, restore the biological diversity of Iowa's pre-settlement landscape? A number of my students have used the framework of evolutionary ecology to address this question.

Publication and student projects

King EG, Eckhart VM, Mohl EC. 2008 Magnitudes and mechanisms of shoot-damage compensation in annual species of Iowa Linum (Linaceae). American Midland Naturalist. 159:200-213. pdf (BioOne)

  • Margida, Greg. 2015. Life-stage dependent effects of intraspecific density and interspecific neighbors in Chamaecrista fasciculata.
  • Sokolsky, Sam. 2015. Density, isolation, pollination, and reproductive success in Chamaecrista fasciculata.
  • Hong, Kevin. 2012. Allee effects in Echinacea pallida.
  • Luby, Ian. 2012. Multi-scale controls of plant distribution in highly disturbed landscapes: Echinacea pallida in central Iowa
  • Myren, Brent. 2010. Native species distribution modeling in highly disturbed landscapes: Echinacea pallida in central Iowa
  • Smith, Griffin. 2010. Landscape ecology of the pollinator community of Echinacea pallida in central Iowa
  • Rian, Kathryn. 2006. Diurnal and landscape-dependent habitat use by whitetail deer in a fragmented agricultural landscape.
  • Batterman, Sarah. 2005. Effects of population size, density, and isolation distance on Liatris aspera reproduction.
  • Alward, Sarah E. 2003. Detecting the signature of plant invasions in the Iowa flora by analyzing herbarium records.
  • Stein, Freya. 2003. Iowa coyotes and the mesopredator-release hypothesis.
  • Shakir, Zainab. 2001. Predicting species-introduction success in reconstructed tallgrass prairie: effects of life history, planting methods, and management regime.
  • Mohl, Emily. 2000. Geographic distribution and character variation in Iowa populations of Linum rigidumand Linum sulcatum: An analysis informed by competition theory.
  • Freedberg, Rebecca, and Johanns, Heidi. 1998. Species richness increases above-ground productivity in reconstructed tallgrass prairie.