Dr. Aimee Phillippi
Evolutionary Ecology in Marine Systems
I am an evolutionary ecologist who has worked primarily in marine systems. Questions that involve reproductive and life history traits, genetics, and interspecific interactions involving plants, fungi, protists, or invertebrates are most interesting to me.
Local Adaptation in Common Milkweed
There has been much concern about the decline of Monarch butterflies. As a result, many people choose to plant milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) to help promote the butterfly population. Seedlings can be purchased commercially and shipped directly to your home. However, the source of those milkweed seedlings might be an important consideration before planting. Many species develop genetic complexes that promote local adaptation. If a locally adapted population is grown outside of its home range, its particular traits may not be successful. If those non-locally adapted individuals then breed with those that are locally adapted, negative effects on the population may result. In this study, A. syriaca seedlings from our local population are being grown along with those from other geographic regions with fitness measurements being taken annually. This is a cooperative project with researcher involvement from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic.
Marine Fungal Endophytes
Fungi are far more interesting than just your typical mushrooms. Fungi form all sorts of symbiotic relationships with other species. Some fungi live inside of plants and produce chemical compounds that keep other microbes away. Some of these compounds have such strong antimicrobial activity that they can be useful for humans. A lot of work has been done with the fungal endophytes in terrestrial plants, but much less is known about marine species. Along with colleague Dr. Ellen Batchelder, I have been examining the endophytic fungi in seaweeds. We have been culturing some of these endophytes for identification (both morphologically and with DNA) and also extracting their secondary metabolites to assay for antimicrobial activity.
Ascophyllum nodosum (aka, rockweed) harvesting
Ascophyllum nodosum is an intertidal macralga that is harvested commercially in Maine. Environmental groups, state agencies, and seaweed harvesters all have an interest in ensuring that harvesting methods are sustainable for not only the seaweed, but the species that utilize it. I have been involved in a few research projects examining the impacts of harvesting, both to A. nodosum and to the invertebrates that live under its cover. In one study I learned that harvesting appears to not significantly alter the sediment structure beneath its canopy nor the invertebrate populations within those sediments. I am currently involved in a project to monitor the long term effects on A. nodosum growth from cutting. Students from the Marine Biology club and the Marine Botany class have helped with this project.