The Malmstrom Lab studies plant, microbial, and landscape ecology. Our overarching focus is on the dynamics of ‘working’ landscapes that both support conservation and produce commodities for human consumption.
We are particularly interested in understanding how ecological communities respond to human-driven perturbations, such as the increasing ‘domestication’ of global landscapes. We use multi-disciplinary approaches to solve problems and often collaborate directly with stakeholders when designing projects. Current projects incorporate bioinformatics and molecular approaches with field work and geospatial analysis.
One research theme in the lab is understanding how the smallest plant-infecting microbes—viruses, viroids, and phytoplasmas—move among agricultural and natural communities and influence ecological dynamics. In past work, we looked at the roles of viruses in influencing invasions in California grasslands, and examined the effects of crop viruses on native prairie grasses in the Midwest. At present, we are using deep-sequencing to explore the diversity of viruses, viroids, and phytoplasmas in plants and insects in several ecosystems, and evaluating the effects of these microbes on plant performance and fitness. A key question of interest is how microbial interplay with agricultural and wild plants feeds back to influence microbial traits.
In a fun twist, our work with plant microbes has recently taken us to Michigan hopyards where we are developing better methods to detect viruses and viroids that can impact hop production. We’re glad to have the opportunity to support the craft brewery industry.
We also study how invasive species influence plant communities and how management strategies such as rotational grazing, prescribed fire, and native plant restoration can improve ecosystem quality. To investigate these questions, we have worked with ranchers to analyze biomass patterns and weed spread using remote sensing.