Dr.
Sofia J.
van Moorsel

Community
Ecologist

Research

Community Stability in Freshwater Mesocosms

LEAP in Mont-St-Hilaire

Currently, I study how evolution modifies stability of aquatic (meta)communities using a Large Experimental Array of Ponds (LEAP) at McGills Gault Nature Reserve in Mont St.-Hilaire. In these ponds (107 of them!) we assembled a food web consisting of natural lake water communities and tracked these communities over the field season 2018. We were interested in the impact of environmental stress (acidification and natural heat shocks) on community stability and community evolutionary rescue.

Follow me on Twitter for regular updates and funny field work photos: @sofiavanmoorsel

All about LEAP and the projects carried out in 2016, 2017 and 2018 you can find here.

The first results from LEAP 2016 are now available as a preprint! In this paper, led by Vincent Fugère, they looked at community rescue in response to the commonly used herbicide glyphosate. Have a look at the paper here

Community Evolution in a Grassland Biodiversity Experiment

Plantago media in Jena

We tested effects of community evolution on primary productivity in 48 different plant communities of 1, 2, 4 or 8 grassland species growin within the Jena Experiment. We found that productivity was increased if communities were assembled from plants that had previously been growing together for 8 years compared with communities assembled from plants without a common history. The observed positive effect of community evolution on productivity was independent of the presence of co-selected soil organisms but restricted to low diversity; mixtures of 8 species were not affected. We conclude that to preserve well-functioning ecosystems we need to protect interacting species in a community context.This research was published in Ecology Letters.
Link to the publication

In a second paper we tested wtheter community evolution also increased stability and resilience in these same communities in the Jena Experiment. We therefore assessed stability during unperturbed period and also resistance, resilience and recovery in response to a natural flooding event. We found that community evolution increased resilience and recovery, but not resistance.
Link to the preprint

Selection in Response to Plant Community Diversity

Greenhouse Experiment

Previously it was shown that differential selection in monoculture and mixed species grassland communities could lead to the rapid emergence of monoculture and mixture phenotypes (Zuppinger-Dingley et al, 2014).
I conducted a similar experiment showing that community diversity as selective environment can alter plant performance and functional traits. This research was published in Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics.
Link to the publication.

Underlying mechanisms for such rapid phenotypic responses are however still unclear. We hypothesize that in biodiversity experiments pre-adapted genotypes or epigenetic variants could be sorted out from the standing genetic or epigenetic variation. To test if biodiversity acted as a selective environment, we grew offspring from plants that were exposed for twelve years to a monocultures or mixture environment under controlled greenhouse conditions. Using epiGBS, a genotyping by sequencing approach combined with bisulphite conversion to provide integrative genetic and epigenetic data, we showed that plants with a monoculture or mixture background were genetically distinct. Our data reveals a strong correlation between genetic and epigenetic variation and suggest genetic variation as driving force of most epigenetic variation. This pattern was consistently observed across different plant species. These results suggest that, in perennial grassland species, selection of genetic variation underlies the rapid emergence of monoculture and mixture types.
Link to the preprint.

You can also find more information about this project in the following poster (presented at the 40th New Phytologist Symposium in Vienna, Austria).
Poster: Evidence for Rapid Evolution in Grasslands (pdf)

Plant–Soil Interactions

AMF plant-soil feedback experiment

In a project led by my PhD colleague Dr. Terhi Hahl we assessed in greenhouse experiments whether soil community history and plant selection history interact. In a first experiment we looked at interactions between plants and mutualistic soil organisms (arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi).
Link to the preprint.

We were furthermore interested how both plant diversity and co-selection between plants and their associated soil microbiota can shape the microbiome of the plant rhizosphere. In a paper led by my collaborators Dr. Marc Schmid and Dr. Terhi Hahl we found that the bacterial community composition was influenced mostly by plant identity but also by soil legacy effects. The results are published in Molecular Ecology.
Link to the publication

Currently, we're also working on a paper assessing bacterial community composition in the soils of our experimental plots in the Jena Experiment.

Links