Faculty Spotlight

Priyanga Amarasekare

Priyanga Amarasekare Populations of animals and the ecological communities they inhabit are spread out across the earth, and dispersal ties these populations and communities together. I am trying to understand how dispersal affects the composition and spatial dynamics of animal communities, particularly how dispersal affects the trophic relationships (who eats whom) in communities across a landscape. We know a lot about other processes in animal communities, but dispersal is hard to observe "in the act" of happening, and we know much less about it. So I study the spatial dynamics of model animal communities to make predictions that I can test with experiments and field observations. One of our important discoveries is that the dispersal of some species will have much larger effects on the species richness and composition of animal communities, and on their stability, than others. I call these species "keystone dispersers." These keystone disperser species may impact not only natural communities, but also agricultural ecosystems as well. For example, dispersing species that predators don't like to eat but that are good competitors may disrupt food webs and cause local extinction of beneficial predators that control crop pests. We expect that our findings will be very useful, for example, in designing strategies to control invasive species, a big problem in agriculture and conservation.

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