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Misericordia Faculty and Alumna Publish Research on the Role of Invasive Species

Linda Auker, Ph.D.

Linda Auker, Ph.D., program director of Environmental Studies and assistant professor of Biology at Misericordia University, and Kate Lazzeri '21, recently published a research paper in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. The title of their research paper is "The Role of Invasion Status and Taxon of Basibionts in Marine Community Structure."

Dr. Auker is a marine biologist who works with invasive species. The research she conducted with Lazzeri examined the ecological principle known as Invasion Meltdown Hypothesis, which examines whether non-native, or invasive, species lead to new invasions in an ecosystem. Invasional meltdown describes the process whereby a new environment can facilitate the invasion of other non-native species.

“For many years, I’ve been studying epibiosis – the relationship between two organisms in which one grows on top of the other. An epibiont is a species that lands on another species and lives

there, like a barnacle on top of a mussel shell. In this instance, the mussel is the basibiont. Do invasive basibionts provide a shelter only for other invaders that settle on top of them, or do they just provide habitat for any species in a space-limited ecosystem? No one has investigated this before,” explained Dr. Auker. 

Kate Lazzeri '21

In October 2019, as part of a larger collaboration with scientists at the University of Maine, Auker visited three sites in the Damariscotta Estuary where she collected species from the bottom of floating docks, scallop farms and other areas. Using these specimens, Auker and Lazzeri were looking to answer the question, if only invasive species land on another invasive species, is that how invasional meltdown occurs? 

“My research student at the time, Kate Lazzeri, was responsible for going through all of these little vials. Each vial contained one basibiont species and everything growing on top of it. She identified everything to species growing on top of the basibiont, which was impressive. She weighed everything and calculated the diversity on basibiont," said Dr. Auker. 

Their research revealed some interesting results. "What we found was there wasn't a preference of invaders only landing on invaders or native species landing only on native species. It didn't seem to matter. So invasional meltdown was probably not happening," said Dr. Auker.  "What we did find was invasive basibionts attract a lower diversity of species settling on them, which could result in biodiversity loss in an ecosystem, which is also a concern."

In addition to their recently published paper, Dr. Auker and Lazzeri submitted a poster to the National Council of Undergraduate Research's virtual meeting in 2021. 

"The findings are promising. I'm going to the Ecological Society of America meeting in Montreal, Canada in August. I'm presenting a poster based on this paper. While I'm there I'll be looking for other universities to collaborate on this project all over north America. This research is putting this university and the Environmental Studies program on the map. And through this I hope to lead a collaboration of universities from throughout North America from Dallas, Pa.," she said. 

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution publishes rigorously peer-reviewed research across fundamental and applied sciences, to provide ecological and evolutionary insights into our natural and anthropogenic world, and how it should best be managed. This multidisciplinary open-access journal is at the forefront of disseminating and communicating scientific knowledge and impactful discoveries to researchers, academics and the public worldwide.

Misericordia University launched the Environmental Studies program in the Fall of 2021. The program was funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant was written by Melanie Shepherd, Ph.D., professor of Philosophy and department chairperson, and Cosima Wiese, Ph.D., professor of Biology and department chairperson. 

This interdisciplinary major and minor in Environmental Studies will develop students’ appreciation for the philosophical and ethical dimensions of environmentalism; cultivate an understanding of the natural environment that is shaped by evolutionary history, human history and pre-history, and the history of environmental advocacy; develop the scientific, geographical, and socio-economic literacy necessary to analyze an environmental situation; and allow students to construct and apply a framework for understanding environmental challenges from a multi- and inter-disciplinary perspective.

There are currently more than 370,000 Environmental Studies majors in the United States workforce, earning an average salary of $68,265. Such professional fields include environmental science; environmental law; environmental policy, planning, and management; and environmental advocacy, as well as middle and secondary education.