moni berg-binder

Moni Berg-Binder

PhD Candidate

Department of Animal Biology

email address

My research interests intersect the fields of invasion ecology and animal-plant interactions. For my dissertation, I studied the consequences of native ant seed dispersal and nectar gland visitation of a notoriously invasive plant (Euphorbia esula, leafy spurge) in Wisconsin sand oak savannas. My research addresses the need for mutualism studies that test the consequences of interaction to both partners, rather than assuming seemingly positive interactions are mutualistic without proper evaluation. In addition, my research provides insight into the role positive species interactions play in biological invasion success.

Some of my recent findings include:

Euphorbia esula seeds, which possess a lipid-rich structure called an elaiosome that ants consume for food, are dispersed by several native species, including Formica obscuripes, Forelius pruinosis, Aphaenogaster sp. (fulva complex), and two different Myrmica sp.

Formica ant mounds, elevated in available nitrogen and available phosphorus, are favorable microhabitats for E. esula growth as densities and aboveground biomass is greater along mound edges than in random locations away from mounds. However, this positive effect is only realized at later plant growth stages, as there is no difference in E. esula seedling recruitment or establishment on or off mound edges.