Ecology Reading Group

Lab Group Schedule

Prospective Students



Jean H. Burns, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Department of Biology

Case Western Reserve University

2080 Adelbert Road

307 DeGrace Hall

Cleveland, OH 44106-7080

jbm122 <@> case.edu



Research in the Burns lab

focuses on community assembly and the factors influencing biological invasions.

Environmental Heterogeneity and Invasibility

Collaborative work with postdoctoral scholar Dr. Angela J. Brandt is examining the role of environmental heterogeneity in invasibility, including work on the role of soil feedbacks in determining coexistence between closely related plant species. This research has been funded by an NSF EAGER award to Jean Burns (DEB 1250170) and results have been published in the Journal of Ecology (Brandt et al. 2013, Burns and Brandt 2014).

CWRU Farm Common Garden

Much of our research is conducted at Case Western Reserve University's Squire Valleevue and Valley Ridge Farm. The common garden experiment, above, was set up with help from Alan Alldridge (pictured) and Chris Bond.

Current projects in the lab include experiments focused on the role of environmental heterogeneity, including heterogeneity in light and soil conditions, in coexistence between closely related species. We have published a methods paper in JOVE on these methods (Brandt et al. 2014).

Soil Heterogeneity Experiment CWRU Farm

Above, soil heterogeneity treatments answer questions about the role of environmental heterogeneity in governing trait expression and coexistence between closely related plant species (del Pino et al. 2015). This experiment was funded by Case Western Reserve University's Biology Department Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR)/HHMI program.

We are also collaborating with the Cleveland Metroparks and the Global Garlic Mustard Field Survey to investigate larger-scale patterns with respect to environmental heterogeneity and biological invasions.

Invasion ecology.

Biological invasions occur when species spread rapidly outside of their native range. Our work seeks to understand what makes some introduced species invasive, when other introduced species fail to invade. Above, Tiffany Knight and Eleanor Pardini are monitoring a population of the invasive plant, garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Some of our work on the demography of invasive and noninvasive species suggests that invasive species have higher projected population growth rates and greater vegetative reproduction than noninvasive species (Burns 2008). Ongoing collaborative work with Tiffany Knight's lab at Washingon University in St. Louis will focus on the mechanisms driving invasiveness in a demographic context. This work has been funded by NSF (DEB 1145274). Our comparison of the demogaphy of invasive and less invasive species in the phylogenetic framework recently came out in the journal Ecology (Burns et al. 2013).

Community assembly and phylogeny.

Understanding the mechanisms influencing community assembly is of increasing importance, as factors such as global climate change, biological invasions, and species range shifts threaten to alter species assemblages. All communities share phylogenetic history amongst the community members, and to the extent that phylogeny reflects ecological traits related to community assembly, we may be able to use phylogenetic information to better understand the assembly process. Some of our recent work, in collaboration with Sharon Strauss at the University of California, Davis, suggests that there is a correlation between phylogeny and ecological similarity (Burns and Strauss 2011) and that phylogenetic signal depends on enviromental context (Burns and Strauss 2012). This work has been funded by NSF (DEB 1120387).

Lane Chesler helps remove snow as part of Anna Osvaldsson's climate change experiment.



Tradescantia fluminensis

Tradescantia fluminensis, an invasive plant found here in a Florida understory.

Experiments in the Commelinaceae family, including on the invasive Tradescantia fluminensis, shown here, demonstrate that demographic characteristics, including high vegetative reproduction, may be associated with invasiveness (Burns 2008).