I am interested in understanding the mechanisms behind plant species invasion, and how this can lead to improved management of highly invaded systems. I am also interested in the role that humans play in the spread of invasive species. My work aims to combine modeling, experimental and observational techniques to address invasion problems and share these results with scientists and managers.
My current research is focused on identifying and mitigating human-mediated vectors of invasive species spread. I am working on elucidating the mechanism behind the rapid invasion of an invasive grass, Microstegium vimineum. Our previous research has shown that this invader has relatively limited natural dispersal capabilities. In collaboration with the Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies at Penn State, we are investigating the role of rural road maintenance on the spread of this important invasive species. Preliminary results indicate that road maintenance can move invasive propagules several orders of magnitude further than natural dispersal. Our spatially-explicit modeling work shows that this appears to be an important mechanism distributing propagules along the entire roadside. It also appears that road structures, such as culverts, may be a primary mechanism for dispersal off of the road network and into the forest interior. We are working together with the CDGRS to share this information with road managers. This work is supported by the National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, grant number 2007-02917.
I also was recently awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to investigate a North American invader causing problems in central Europe. With my Hungarian colleagues Róbert Pál of the University of Pécs and Zoltán Botta-Dukát of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, I will investigate the dynamics of goldenrod invasions in order to best target management efforts. Giant goldenrod is one of the biggest threats to native biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in Hungary. We will develop models that integrate goldenrod demography and dispersal to assess which management strategies best reduce spread and local population abundance. The insights will be shared with land managers and fellow scientists. This research aims to improve goldenrod management by reducing impacts in invaded areas and reducing spread into uninvaded areas.
I completed my Ph.D. in the Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology at Penn State, working with Dr. Katriona Shea. My dissertation work focused on interactions between Carduus nutans and C. acanthoides, two congeneric invasive thistle species. It was hypothesized that their observed spatial segregation was due to interspecific competition. I developed spatially-explicit simulation models of competitive interactions between these species at both the landscape and the field levels, to explore the range of behaviors predicted, and compared these to the results of a series of response-surface experiments on competition between these species. In order to understand natural patterns of co-occurrence, I quantified the thistle distribution patterns at two resolutions: the regional level in an area of overlap, and the field level in four fields of natural co-occurrence. I examined their interactions with the existing vegetation in two ways: by quantifying their vegetative associations in four fields of co-occurrence, and by experimentally examining their germination and establishment response to microsite characteristics. Combining the results from these different approaches demonstrates that the observed distributional pattern is unlikely to be due to interactions between thistle species, and is more likely due to their spread history and their difficulty competing with established species.
My other previous projects include a review of the mechanisms underlying the intermediate disturbance hypothesis with Katriona Shea and Stephen Roxburgh. I received my undergraduate degree in Physics and German from Case Western Reserve University, and I afterwards spent two years at the University of Munich (Ludwig-Maximillians-Universitaet München), studying geology and ecology. I worked with Beate Nürnberger modeling the maintenance of genetic variation in a metapopulation.
I also have very strong teaching interests. I was selected to participate in the initial cohort of FIRST IV (Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching), an NSF-funded professional development program for teaching and learning in undergraduate biology for postdoctoral scholars. I am now a member of the Regional Leadership Team of FIRST IV, helping to train the next cohort of postdocs in scientific teaching. I have been revising and co-teaching the introductory ecology and evolution course in the Department of Biology at Penn State. I was also recently named an ESA Education Scholar by the Ecological Society of America and appointed to serve as a contributing editor to EcoEd, ESA’s digital online library of peer-reviewed teaching materials.
Outside of work, I am interested in hiking, camping, learning the guitar, knitting, art history and reading (as well as crazy house projects like rewiring our house, built in 1890). Sadly, I am no longer involved in Hungarian folk dancing, as there are very few Hungarians in central PA. My current focus is watching my younger daughter figure out how to talk.
- Rauschert, E. S. J. , K. Shea and O. N. Bjørnstad. Coexistence patterns of two invasive thistle species, Carduus nutans and C. acanthoides, at three spatial scales. Biological Invasions (in press).
- Rauschert, E. S. J. (2010). Survivorship curves. Nature Education Knowledge 1(11):18.
- Rauschert, E.S.J., D.A. Mortensen, O.N. Bjørnstad, A.N. Nord and N. Peskin. Slow spread of the aggressive invader, Japanese stiltgrass Microstegium vimineum. Biological Invasions 12 (3): 563–579.
- Nord, A.N, D.A. Mortsensen and E.S.J. Rauschert. (2010). Environmental Factors Influence Early Population Growth of Microstegium vimineum (Japanese Stiltgrass). Invasive Plant Science and Management 3(1): 17–25.
- Rauschert, E. S. J. and A. N. Nord. (2010) Japanese stiltgrass: an invasive on the move. The Ohio Woodland Journal 17(2): 15–17.
- Mortensen, D. A., E. S. J. Rauschert, A.N. Nord and B.P. Jones (2009). The role of roads in plant invasions. Invasive Plant Science and Management 2(3): 191–199.
- Shea, K., S. H. Roxburgh and E. S. J. Rauschert (2004). Moving from pattern to process: coexistence mechanisms under intermediate disturbance regimes. Ecology Letters 7(6): 491–508.