Research in the molecular ecology lab uses a combination of field and laboratory experiments and a variety of techniques to address questions about symbiotic associations and plant ecology. Two overarching questions form the core of our research: How do symbioses determine community function and diversity? What factors govern the spread and implications of invasion by non-native species?

To answer the first, we are examining orchids and their symbiotic interactions with mycorrhizal fungi. To answer the second, we are looking at nonnative earthworms and the invasive wetland grass Phragmites australis.

How do symbioses determine community function and diversity?

Orchids and their mycorrhizal fungi (which they need to germinate and grow) give us an ideal model to explore questions about symbiosis in the plant world. We are examining the effects of environmental conditions and the abundance of mycorrhizal fungi as drivers of orchid distribution and flowering. We are also applying these results to increase the success of orchid conservation.

What factors govern the spread and implications of invasion by nonnative species? How do human activities affect the spread of invasive species?

We are using microsatellite analysis to understand why the invasive grass Phragmites australis is now spreading so quickly in estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay and how its spread relates to anthropogenic effects.

What effects do nonnative species have on community and ecosystem functions?

We are examining how nonnative earthworms are affecting carbon sequestration and plant community composition. Specifically, in these projects we are investigating how nonnative earthworms impact the forms of carbon stored in the soil, and how they impact plant communities by changing the composition and abundance of mycorrhizal fungi in the soil.

Melissa McCormick, Ph.D.
Research Scientist
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
P.O. Box 28
647 Contees Wharf Road
Edgewater, MD 21037

Phone: 443-482-2433
Fax: 443-482-2380

Curriculum Vitae

B.S. Trinity University (Biology)
Ph.D. Michigan State University (Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior, 1999)