Jennifer Williams

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

Ecology and Quality of the Environment
Ecological and Ecophysiological Processes

Relevant Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters



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Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Across intermediate spatial scales, a specialist insect herbivore responds to climate and host plant size, not host density (2018)

Herbivory can have important consequences for plant-population dynamics, causing changes in population growth rate, abundance, local expansion, spread and even the evolution of life history and defense traits. Studies at large spatial scales such as latitudinal gradients spanning the equatorial region to the poles, have yielded broad generalizations in patterns of herbivory. At local population scales, the effects of herbivory are often context specific, limiting extrapolation. Less described in the literature is whether patterns of herbivory manifest in between these two disparate spatial scales. At intermediate, regional scales, my research indicates that patterns of herbivory that manifest in local populations are obscured. Within a regional study area, in the southern interior of British Columbia, I found Mecinus janthiniformis, a stem mining weevil, did not respond to host plant (Linaria dalmatica) density across sites, but rather to host size. At 36 of the 39 sites sampled, herbivores were found to distribute themselves according to host plant density within populations. The direction of this effect however varied by site, resulting in no pattern at the regional scale. In conjunction with earlier research, my results suggest plant populations experiencing herbivory in different spatial patterns (i.e. more herbivory in high or low density patches) may result in different outcomes for plant population spread and persistence over time.

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Mechanisms of coexistence between native and exotic plant species (2018)

One of the primary goals of ecology is to understand the processes that maintain biological diversity. The development of a modern coexistence theory has helped to advance this understanding by proposing a set of specific mechanisms that enable coexistence, specifically, species can coexist when niche differences between species are large enough to overcome fitness differences between species. Recent advances have used fully parameterized demographic studies to explain how traits, phenology, and evolutionary history contribute to niche and fitness differences, but there is a lack of empirical evidence of how competition and the environment interactively influence coexistence outcomes. Moreover, there is little empirical evidence of how indirect interactions between species mediate coexistence outcomes. Using an outdoor pot experiment and observational data from natural plant communities I explored the interactions between a pair of native (Plectritis congesta) and exotic (Valerianella locusta) co-occuring, annual plant species. With this system I answered the following four questions: (1) Can Plectritis and Valerianella coexist over the long run? (2) Does environmental variation change the intrinsic interaction between these species? (3) Does environmental variation enable coexistence by providing each species with an opportunity for positive low density growth rate in certain spaces or at certain times? (4) Do indirect interactions with pollinators destabilize or promote coexistence? The pot experiment predicted that Plectritis will exclude Valerianella over the long run. Although the coexistence outcome did not change between environmental treatments, the parameters used to calculate niche and fitness differences experienced significant changes. I did not find any evidence that Valerianella maintains abundances through variation in the environment in natural communities. Additionally, I did not find any evidence that niche differences are decreased through indirect interactions with pollinating insects. These species are still observed to co-occur at the site level and thus Plectritis may limit, but not totally eliminate, the abundance of Valerianella. Moreover, my experiment showed how vital rates and interaction coefficients depend on the environmental context, emphasizing that abundances are driven not only by competition and environment, but also through the interaction between competition and environment.

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Long-term effects of prairie restoration: community structure and native plant population dynamics 6 years after experimental management (2015)

Restoring degraded habitats with the goal of achieving long-term ecological complexity and stability is an essential component in combatting global declines in biodiversity. The main objectives of prairie restoration are to reduce the abundance of exotic species while enhancing native species richness and abundance, but it is often difficult to extend monitoring to evaluate these as long-term goals. Understanding how initial outcomes persist or change over time is essential for evaluating treatment efficacy. Additionally, observing how specific native populations persist and spread following restoration treatments can inform future decisions regarding seeding practices and management timelines. To assess the degree to which initial treatment effects continue after project completion, I revisited remnant patches of Pacific Northwest Garry oak savanna/prairie habitat 6 years after experimental restoration treatments were applied. I evaluated the composition and structure of the plant community at each site to determine if, and how, the effects of disturbance treatments and supplemental native seeding changed in the years following experimental management. I tracked the persistence of seeded species and measured spread of their populations as a metric to evaluate longer-term success, suitability of native species for restoration, and the ability of the habitat to support native plant populations. I found that plots that received supplemental seeding continued to exhibit higher native species richness than those left unseeded, and that both seeding and disturbance treatments could positively influence the long-term pattern of native species abundance. The initially-observed effects of disturbance treatments on reducing exotic grass abundance diminished after 6 years, but nevertheless these treatments significantly influenced the population trajectories of 4 out of 8 seeded species. There was spatial advance of most seeded species’ populations, as evidenced by occurrences in previously unoccupied plots. A case study of the seeded species, Plectritis congesta, allowed for estimation of the average rate of spread per generation and quantification of the long-term spatial influence of seeding efforts. The results from my extended monitoring confirm that seed limitation of native species and difficulties maintaining the reduction of exotic grasses continue to be major barriers to success in restoration of invaded prairies.

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News Releases

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