Jason Palagi

Overview

I am currently completing my PhD dissertation in UIC's Ecology and Evolution program in Dr. Mary Ashley's lab.

Broadly, my interests are in plant ecology, plant-animal interactions, and conservation biology. More specifically, since most plants have some form of clonal (asexual) reproduction, the exact number of distinct genetic individuals (genets) in a patch or population is often difficult to determine in the field. Using molecular markers, such as DNA microsatellites, we can quantify the number of genets and the genet-to-ramet ratio in a patch or population. By characterizing a population, we can begin to ask questions about what factors are influencing the balance between clonal and floral (sexual) reproduction in these populations and what, if any, steps should be taken to prolong the existence of the population.

Factors that influence the rate of floral reproduction can shift the reproductive balance toward clonal reproduction. Floral herbivory (florivory) shifts the reproductive balance by reducing floral reproductive effort. Resources that might have been used for fruit and seed production can lead to compensatory clonal growth. Elevated clonal growth produces patches dominated by one or few genets, which increases the likelihood of mating between flowers belonging to the same genet (geitonogamous selfing).

Beyond my work at UIC, I was also involved in the design and implementation of a vegetation monitoring project in northwest Indiana, the Northwest Indiana Restoration Monitoring Inventory (NIRMI). NIRMI was created as an effort to promote the monitoring and understanding of over 160 ecological restoration sites within the Calumet region of northwest Indiana. Due to its location at the junction of 3 ecoregions and its unique geological history, northwest Indiana has a remarkable native plant diversity. A number of groups (>40) have recognized the importance of the region's natural heritage and have prioritized vegetation restoration as a way of maintaining that heritage. However, most of these organizations lack the resources or personnel to conduct long term monitoring of more than a few species of concern on a small portion of their sites.

NIRMI creates the opportunity for undergraduate students to learn basic plant identification skills and vegetation monitoring techniques while also teaching them about the region's biodiversity. Through the use of NIRMI's website, restoration managers can directly compare species composition of their site to other sites in the region. Lastly, the website provides a framework for research that involves or relies on the composition of the vegetation community.