We live in an era of global change and unprecedented rates of biodiversity loss. It is more important than ever to determine the drivers of species declines and the strategies that can promote species persistence and recovery. In my research lab, we are interested in how local and landscape processes shape community diversity. We are particularly curious about how the assembly of plant communities is impacted by landscape structure and connectivity, climate change, land use, and disturbance regimes. We use large-scale experiments and long-term datasets from terrestrial plant communities to test basic ecological theory with applied conservation relevance. Here, I highlight findings from the world’s largest, best-replicated habitat fragmentation experiment. Using 18 years of data, I demonstrate that habitat corridors lead to long-term widening differences in species richness through changes in colonization and extinction rates. This research provides clear evidence that colonization credits can be generated on decadal scales by restoring long-term connectivity in fragmented landscapes. I conclude by comparing these experimental findings to long-term observational studies of plant community change where landscape factors also mitigate species loss and local site conditions also play an important role.

Presenter Dr. Ellen Damschen is a Full Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Department of Integrative Biology. Her research program is dedicated to understanding the causes of species diversity patterns and the impacts of human-induced global changes on biodiversity loss. She uses large-scale experiments and long-term datasets from terrestrial plant communities to test basic ecological theory with applied conservation relevance. Damschen is known for her work in the world’s largest habitat fragmentation experiment at Savannah River Site, SC where she has demonstrated that conservation corridors (strips of habitat connecting otherwise isolated habitat patches) increase plant species diversity. She and her collaborators are currently investigating the mechanisms underpinning this response and how long-lasting the effects are. Dr. Damschen received her B.A. from Luther College, Ph.D. from North Carolina State University, and completed a National Science Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California-Santa Barbara.