- PhD Ecology Intercollege Graduate Degree Program (expected completion 2013)
- MS Weed Ecology & Management, Cornell University (2009)
- BS Plant Science, Cornell University (2005)
My dissertation research revolves around the role of herbivores in exotic plant invasion. Using the forest understory exotic plant community as a study system, my aim is to increase our understanding of how and why plant communities assemble. The ultimate goal is to extend this knowledge towards the holistic management of vegetation and wildlife. To optimize vegetation management, understanding the mechanistic interplay among the dominant and damaging organisms is a critical starting point.
Do native herbivores, such as white-tailed deer, facilitate exotic plant invasion? To answer this question, I am using a mega-analytical approach and floristic data from a widely distributed network of regional experiments in which paired fenced and unfenced deer exclusion plots were established.
Additionally, results from our controlled animal feeding preference experiments at the Penn State Deer Research Center, suggest several herbivore-mediated invasion mechanisms contribute to the regional exotic plant abundance patterns observed. Herbivores appear to facilitate the invasion of unpalatable plants by avoidance. However, herbivores also facilitate the dispersal of palatable exotic plant species.
The take home message? Yes, deer facilitate exotic plant invasion and are an important biotic selection factor in the assembly of plant communities.
I am also examining the importance of large herbivores on exotic plant invasion relative to several other leading factors in the community assembly of exotic plants, including site productivity, degree of site isolation, and forest fragmentation.
Feel free to contact me if you're interested to know more!
Previously, as a Masters student, I studied the life history characteristics of two exotic invasive plants, Vincetoxicum species. The establishment, growth, survival, and reproduction data generated is now being used to target the weak links in the life cycles of these congeneric vines and choose a classical biological control agent to aid in their long-term management (Cornell Weed Ecology Lab, USDA-ARS).
Averill KM, A DiTommaso, CL Mohler, and LR Milbrath (2011) Survival, growth, and fecundity of the invasive swallow-worts (Vincetoxicum spp.) in New York State. Invasive Plant Science and Management 4: 198-206
Averill KM, A DiTommaso, CL Mohler, & LR Milbrath (2010) Establishment of the invasive perennial Vincetoxicum rossicum across a disturbance gradient in New York State, USA. Plant Ecology 211: 65-77
Blanchard ML, JN Barney, KM Averill, CL Mohler, & A DiTommaso (2010) Does polyembryony confer a competitive advantage to the invasive vine Vincetoxicum rossicum (Apocynaceae)? American Journal of Botany 97(2): 251-260
Averill KM (2009) Vincetoxicum spp. biology and ecology in New York State: Establishment success, vegetative expansion, and physiology of two invasive perennial vines in the Apocynaceae. MS Thesis, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 123 pp
Averill KM, A DiTommaso, & SH Morris (2008) Response of pale swallow-wort (Vincetoxicum rossicum) to triclopyr application and clipping. Invasive Plant Science and Management 1(2): 196-206
Averill KM & A DiTommaso (2007) Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa L.): A troublesome species of increasing concern. Weed Technology 21(1): 279-287
Averill KM (2005) Nutritional and consumer preference tests of ‘Liberty’ apples grown under organic and integrated fruit production systems. BS Honors Thesis, Cornell Univ, Ithaca, NY. 35 pp