The Effect of Drought on Great Basin Plant and Animal Communities
Oct 10, 2022
Dr. Elizabeth Pringle
The Effect of Drought on Great Basin Plant and Animal Communities

Elizabeth Pringle is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology and the Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her research focuses on the ecology of plant-animal-microbe interactions. She is particularly interested in how plant chemistry mediates these interactions and how human-caused disturbances, like climate change and invasive species, affect ecological communities. 

Her newest project investigates the effect of drought on Great Basin plant and animal communities. To predict how drought will impact the environment, the effects of drought must be studied in the context of full ecological systems. These systems include variation across space in resources and in food webs. Plants produce mixtures of nutrients and toxins, and this chemistry varies genetically and with changes in the environment. Because plants use resources to form the base of food webs on land, plant chemistry can link variation in resources with variation in food webs. An understanding of how plant chemistry responds to extreme drought could thus shed light on the larger system. 

This research will improve understanding of (a) how plant chemistry changes in response to drought at the scales of individual plants and of plant communities, and (b) the relationship of these changes to changes in plant-animal interactions and decomposition. 

The project is based in the Great Basin Desert on the border between Nevada and California, where extreme drought is now commonplace. The researchers will test the hypothesis that extreme drought reduces environmental variation, with consequences for system function. The project will also provide training to student and community scientists in Nevada to increase access to science education.