Bradley J. Cardinale Ph.D.
I use theory, experiments, and observational studies to address questions aimed at understanding how human alteration of the environment impacts the biotic diversity of communities and, in turn, how this loss can affect fluxes of energy and matter that are required to sustain life on the planet. I focus on this topic because I believe that global loss of biodiversity ranks among the most important and dramatic environmental problems in modern history. Yet, even while rates of species extinction are projected to rival those of prior mass extinctions in the near future, we know very little about the different roles that species play in ecosystems. More importantly, we have almost no idea how the well being of our own species might be linked to the great variety of life that is the most striking feature of our planet.
Ultimately, my basic research serves to guide my interest in the conservation and restoration of ecosystems. My research currently features three primary branches:
Biodiversity & Ecosystem Processes
Much recent effort in ecology has focused on understanding how loss of the world's biodiversity might alter important ecological processes such as primary production, decomposition, the cycling of biologically important nutrients, and outbreaks of diseases and other pest species. My research seeks to outline the conditions under which diversity does or does not impact these processes so that we might better establish priorities for conservation.
My most basic scientific interest lies in understanding why communities develop as they do. Communities are assembled by sequential processes of colonization and extinction such that they are inherently a function of historical events. I study how two types of historical events -- priority effects and habitat alteration -- determine the number and types of species that become members of a food web.
The most applied aspect of my research focuses on how ecological principles can be used to guide the restoration of ecosystems. Habitat alteration is perhaps the most obvious and widespread human impact on the global environment. Many attempts to restore habitats to their original state have assumed that if we provide the correct habitat, organisms will re-colonize naturally leading to "normal" community structure and biological function (often dubbed the 'field of dreams hypothesis'). My research moves beyond this narrow view of recovery by exploring some of the factors that limit the successful restoration of ecosystems.