Carla D'Antonio

Carla D'Antonio, Chair, IEES
Program Chair
Schuyler Professor

Contact Phone

(805) 893-2796

Office Location

Bren Hall 4003

Specialization

Plant and Ecosystem Ecology, Invasive Species, Species Affects on Ecosystem Processes, and Restoration Ecology.

Faculty in Environmental Studies and EEMB Departments 

Education

  • Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara

Bio

Teaching: Dr. Carla D'Antonio's teaching is in the area of ecology and the application of ecological knowledge to environmental problem solving. She is particularly passionate about teaching courses that get students out into the field to evaluate real world ecosystem management problems and to apply knowledge used in the classroom in thinking about how to solve particular challenges at hand. Her field course ES/EEMB 119, involves field trips each week to visit a variety of ecosystem and measure things about those systems. In addition students meet with managers in the field to hear first hand about the challenges and conflicts they face in trying to manage these ecosystem. This course also involves weekly field trips and hands on measurements of soil and plant characteristics and focuses on bringing lecture material to the field.

Campus Activities: In addition to her teaching, she is the faculty director of the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER). I work with CCBER staff and UCSB faculty to promote research and education using CCBER’s natural history collections and restoration sites. CCBER offers a range of seminars and internships for students including museum curation, field restoration internships, and internships working in K-12 outreach environmental education.  I am also the faculty advisor for the Coal Oil Point Reserve, part of UCSB’s Natural Reserve System, and serve on UCSB’s Natural Reserve Advisory Board. Numerous opportunities for student research and volunteerism are available through the Natural Reserve System.

Research

Dr. Carla D'Antonio's research focus has been to understand processes that control invasions by non-indigenous species into ecological communities and how and when the addition of some individual species affects ecosystem structure and functioning. She seeks a mechanistic understanding of ecological patterns and process and although she works primarily at the community and ecosystem levels, she also examines individual plant and population processes. She believes that such an integrated approach is the best way to answer questions about the importance of individual species and how communities and ecosystems will change with increasing human population pressure, increasing movement of plant species, nitrogen deposition and climatic fluctuations. She also tries to link my research questions and findings to the restoration or of community and ecosystem processes in degraded ecosystems.

Research in her laboratory that has focused on understanding both controls over vegetation change including species invasions, and the impact of individual species on 'native' ecosystems. While the studies of species invasions has important conservation implications, non-native species also offer an important opportunity to probe both factors structuring plant communities and sources of variation in species effects on ecosystem processes. Her research is not limited to introduced species as she will describe below.

Projects

1. Plant Community Change:  Research in my lab has focused on clarifying the importance of biotic interactions, seed availability and the physical environment in determining the success of plant invasions and on putting invasion biology into mainstream ecology by discussing community resistance and 'invasibility' as part of general ecological theory. I and my students use both experimental field and greenhouse studies and observational approaches to understand mechanisms responsible for resistance to invasion and variability in resistance among communities.

a. Processes influencing rates and patterns of biological invasion: Since its inception early this past century, a major theme of plant ecology has been to try to elucidate factors influencing plant community structure and the direction and magnitude of community change through time. The successful management of intact native plant assemblages depends on understanding community attributes as well as how native and introduced plants will respond to anthropogenically-driven environmental change. The prevalence of non-native species in most landscapes today introduces an element of unpredictability to studies of ecological succession yet at the same time they offer an opportunity to investigate factors structuring plant populations and assemblages. I have therefore used non-native species to conduct detailed mechanistic studies into the relative importance of different structuring forces in plant assemblages and to look at how species interactions control and will be influenced by invading species. Such studies will ultimately assist with predicting, managing and restoring native biological diversity when that is the desired goal.

b. Impacts of livestock grazing and fire on species composition of California grasslands. California grasslands are notorious for their persistent domination by European annual grasses and forbs. Not only has the lively debate over the pre-contact composition of these grasslands and influence of livestock grazing on compositional change not been resolved, but there also has been little resolution about the current influence of livestock grazing on grassland composition. In addition, the usefulness of fire as a tool to manipulate current composition is unclear. In collaboration with Claudia Tyler at UCSB, we are examining the importance of soil factors (e.g. texture, depth, infiltration rates, C,N,P) in controlling the vegetation response to release from grazing across 14 paired exclosure/control sites at UCSB’s Sedgwick Reserve. Our goal is to evaluate the sources of variability in response to release from grazing using sites that have had the same recent history of grazing/release, and experience similar climate but differ in soil properties. We have observed that on the more N rich soils, excluding grazing leads to rapid dominance of the invasive grass, Bromus diandrus (ripgut). On the more N poor soils, there are no strong consistent effects of excluding grazing.

c. Plant/litter feedbacks:  Invasive grasses accumulate large amounts of standing dead litter over time. We are exploring how this litter influences growth and recruitment of both native and non-native species in California grassland and more recently again in invaded woodlands in Hawaii.

2. Species effects on ecosystem structure and function. An exciting development in ecosystem ecology over the past decade is the rise in interest in the impacts of individual species or groups of similar species on ecosystem processes such as rates or patterns of nutrient accumulation and flux, energy flow, and soil and hydrological processes. My interest in this area is centered around trying to understand the conditions within which a species or group of similar species will have measurable impacts versus when climate, soils or other factors will be override the effects of individual species. I first became interested in this while a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara when I found that the introduced succulent Carpobrotus edulis, has significantly greater effects on soil chemistry in some sites than in others and that the strength of the effect was correlated with soil texture. Since then, my research in this area has focused on the effects of non-native invasive species on disturbance regime and nutrient cycling.

a. Exotic grasses & the grass fire cycle. Since 1990 I have worked on the impact of exotic grass species on fire regimes mainly in Hawaii but also in Nevada. This work has focused largely on alteration of fire frequency as an important ecosystem level change occurring in semi-arid habitats as a result of the widespread movement of invasive exotic grasses. By changing the distribution and abundance of fine fuels through space and time, introduced grasses have increased the occurrence of fire in ecosystems with little prior history of fire, causing large scale loss of native species and profound alteration of ecosystem functioning. With resource management specialists at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I have investigated variation in the outcome of grass-fueled fires across an elevation gradient and also specifically on ecosystem change within seasonally dry mid elevation woodlands. I am interested in how environmental conditions influence fuel biomass and distribution and how this in turn affects the outcome of grass-fueled fires.  In Nevada I investigated variability in the outcome of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) fueled fires across salt desert and shadscale shrubland habitats. Currently I participate in a Great Basin wide network of scientists setting a research agenda on alien annual grass invasions across the western USA (http://greatbasin.wr.usgs.gov/GBRMP/bwg.html).

b. Species effects on nutrient cycling: The prevalence of invasive exotic plant species on the landscape has provided a tool for examining how species effects on nitrogen cycling develop. With former graduate student Michelle Mack and undergraduate students, we produced a major body of work on the effect of introduced grasses on nitrogen cycling in Hawaiian woodlands. We found that contrary to our expectations, introduced grasses had little to no effect on nitrogen cycling in otherwise undisturbed Hawaiian woodlands despite their very high abundance and large amount of standing litter. This was because they did not replace native species but rather interacted with them in a competitive and compensatory manner. By contrast, after fire these woodlands become dominated almost exclusively by exotic grasses, nitrogen cycling is speeded up and overall ecosystem N retention greatly decreases. The increased leakiness of this system after fire is due to the loss of native species caused by fire after grass invasion rather than direct inputs from the grasses.  We are now going back to these systems that we studied in the 1990s and with postdocs Stephanie Yelenik evaluating how ecosystem nitrogen cycling and retention has changed in the 15 more years that have passed since the initial fires and dramatic community change. Our initial results suggest that although the exotic grasses are still dominant in these burned ecosystems, exotic woody species are beginning to invade. Also in unburned woodlands, exotic grass composition in the understory is changing dramatically. In NSF sponsored research, we are exploring the consequences of these changes.

With collaborator Jeff Corbin (Union College) we are investigating the effect of grass origin and life form on ecosystem N retention and cycling in a California coastal prairie. We have found that introduced annual grasses that have displaced native perennial species in California grassland, cause increased nitrate leaching from ecosystems and decrease nitrogen retention. In addition to comparing annual exotic to native perennial grasses, we are comparing both of these groups to a new group of invaders in coastal prairie, cold season perennial grasses from Europe. Using planted plots of known composition, we are comparing N retention and cycling among these three groups of species. We use a combination of field and lab soil and plant measurements and experimental additions of 15N labeled ammonium to evaluate species effects on N cycling in this system.

3. Collaborative studies of ecosystem change:

a. Impacts of wildfire on coastal ecosystems: In collaboration with the Santa Barbara Coastal Longterm Ecological Research (http://www.lternet.edu/sites/sbc/) program we are evaluating plant and soil responses to high intensity wildfire events that have occurred within watersheds that have been monitored for the past decade. As part of this NSF sponsored research, we are evaluating soil and plant N retention and recovery after fire as well as working with UCSB geographers to evaluate recovery using a combination of remote sensing and on the ground measurements.

b. Nutrient limitation in grasslands throughout the world:  As part of the “Nutnet” global network of grassland sites (http://nutnet.science.oregonstate.edu/), we are maintaining a fertilization experiment in exotic species dominated grasslands at the Sedgwick Reserve one hr from campus. Annually we measure biomass and compositional responses to N, P and micronutrient fertilization as well as maintaining a litter manipulation and native plant seeding experiment that is cross with the fertilization treatments.  

Publications

D'Antonio, C. and P. Vitousek.  1992.  Biological invasions by exotic grasses, the grass-fire cycle and global change.  Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 23:63-88.

Levine, J. and C.M. D'Antonio. 1999. Elton revisited: a review of evidence linking diversity and invasability. Oikos 87: 15-26. 

D'Antonio, C.M, J.T. Tunison and R. Loh. 2000. Variation in impact of exotic grass fueled fires on species composition across an elevation gradient in Hawai'i. Austral Ecol. 25:507-522.

D'Antonio, C.M., R.F. Hughes and P.M. Vitousek. 2001. Factors influencing dynamics of invasive C4 grasses in a Hawaiian woodland: role of resource competition and priority effects. Ecology 82:89-104.

Please click here for a full list of Dr. D'Antonio's publications.

Courses

ES 100: Environmental Ecology
ES/EEMB 119: Ecology and Management of CA Wildlands
ES/EEMB 128: Foundations of Ecosystem Restoration
ES/EEMB 595: Plant Ecology Research Seminar