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Travel Awards 2015

Alessandro Ossola, tweet @lessandrOssola, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Australia. “Arthropod biodiversity and decomposition processes in urban ecosystems: effects of habitat complexity”.

OssolaAlessandro works across various topics connected to ecology and sustainability within the Urban Biodiversity, Ecology and Conservation research group and the Green Infrastructure Research Group at the University of Melbourne, Australia. His current research focuses in unravelling functional relationships among soil biodiversity, habitat and landscape structure, and ecological processes in both natural and urban ecosystems. Urban ecosystems are characterized by habitat structures with rare counterparts in natural and semi-natural ecosystems, mainly created and sustained by human management. This provides unique experimental settings to test and challenge ecological models and theories derived from traditional investigations of natural ecosystems. Building upon these considerations, Alessandro’s PhD project aims to investigate decomposition and comminution of organic matter in relation to the complexity of urban habitats and the structure of microbe and arthropod assemblages. A further aspect of his research is dedicated to understand how humans modify arthropod community assembly rules through environment-trait filtering, using ants a target taxon. Alessandro is also interested in investigating fine-scale hydrological processes within urban and natural ecosystems, and how they are affected by habitat characteristics, biodiversity and management.

David Lowenstein, Urban Landscape Ecology, University of Illinois at Chicago. “Distribution of flowering resources across urban neighborhoods and implications for pollinators”.

Lowenstein_photoDavid is an entomologist with interests in community and landscape ecology. He is particularly interested in socio-ecological drivers of plant and insect communities in urban areas and agro-ecosystems. To combine these diverse research interests into a PhD dissertation, David worked on two projects studying pollination and biological control in urban agriculture. Both insect-based ecosystem services have become increasingly relevant as Midwestern USA cities convert vacant lots into gardens and food production sites. Beneficial insects will require resources beyond urban agriculture to maintain stable populations. Yet, much remnant green space exists on residential lots. David aims to understand patterns of floral plantings within cities and the effects of planting habits on flower-visiting insects. David’s work investigates how residential yard and farm management practices impact pollinators and insect natural enemies. The results of this research will offer an improved understanding of socioeconomic and ecological patterns on urban insects. David hopes his work will encourage selection of plant species, which provide resources and habitat for insects, on public thoroughfares and private residences.

Lauren J. Frazee, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA: “Patterns of plant species diversity and sexual reproduction in extreme urban environments”

IMG_0984I am entranced by the global diversity and dominance of spontaneous plants in the world today and hope to investigate the many ways that weedy floras have evolved to succeed in human-dominated landscapes. With this data set in particular, I plan to analyze patterns of functional, phylogenetic, and taxonomic filtering occurring within urban landscapes. The local, urban weeds of highly physiologically stressful environments in New Jersey are comprised mostly of herbaceous plants in the sunflower, grass, and bean families, including a surprising number of species native to the continental US.

My other sub-projects include comparing urban, suburban, and rural populations of Pic1common plant species in transplant and common garden experiments as well as quantifying the amount of gene flow that occurs between plant populations within and among northeastern US cities. A synthesis of ecological and genetic research will clarify patterns of urban plant dispersal and differentiation that may be crucial to conserving plant diversity in the future as urbanization and development continue.

I enjoy engaging in botanical and ecological research in the field, lab, and herbarium as well as in public outreach and education here at Rutgers University and throughout the region.