Our ecosystems are under siege by plants hailing from exotic realms. Can one of nature’s most ubiquitous insects be the key to saving protecting our native locales from invasion?
The novel interactions Dr. Avanesyan studies are those between nonnative grasses and native grasshoppers. Through her research, she aims to see if a native grasshopper like those of the genus Melanopus contribute to an ecosystem’s biotic resistance by consuming nonnative grasses (such as the native Asian Miscanthus sp. Grasses)more frequently than their native counterparts (Figure 1). Biotic resistance is can be understood as an ecosystem’s ability to resist invasions by exotic organisms. The reasoning behind Dr. Avanesyan’s research is one that ecologists have pondered before. Exotic plants don’t share an evolutionary history with most organisms in an introduced locale, so they may not have the defenses necessary to avoid becoming the new favorite snack of native herbivores like grasshoppers. And this is exactly what Dr. Avanesyan observed when she gave native grasshoppers choices between nonnative and native grasses to feast upon.
About the Authors:
Dylan Kutz is a Msc student in the Lamp Lab at the University of Maryland, where he is studying natural enemy habitats in agroecosystems. He is currently working on a project assessing the value of agricultural drainage ditches as refugia for the spiders of agroecosystems.
Serhat Solmaz is a MS student in the vanEngelsdorp Lab at the University of Maryland.
Avanesyan, A., & Culley, T. M. (2015). Herbivory of native and exotic North-American prairie grasses by nymph Melanoplus grasshoppers. Plant ecology, 216(3), 451-464.
All photos provided by Dr. Avanesyan