Jean Burns, PhD

Associate Professor
Department of Biology
College of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Jean Burns, assistant professor of the Department of Biology, started working at the farm in the fall of 2010. Dr. Burns studies the mechanisms driving community assembly and biological invasions with an emphasis on phylogenetic comparative methods.

Dr. Burns and postdoctoral scholar Dr. Angela Brandt developed a field experiment to test the role of plant-induced soil heterogeneity in coexistence that takes place at Valley Ridge Farm. This experiment has involved developing a novel method for manipulating soil heterogeneity generated by plant-soil feedbacks (Brandt et al. 2014, JOVE). They have found evidence that this type of heterogeneity can influence plant establishment (Brandt et al. 2013, Journal of Ecology). Further, invader establishment patterns are consistent with the prediction of coexistence theory that heterogeneity should interact with population turnover rate to influence coexistence (Burns and Brandt 2014, Journal of Ecology). Graduate students working in the project include Jennifer Murphy and Colin Cope.

Dr. Brandt also collaborated with several undergraduate researchers to conduct greenhouse experiments on the role of plant traits in governing responses to soil heterogeneity. Students working on this project include Christina Yu, Jacob Hooks, Gaston del Pino, and Xiaoni Zhao.

Biological Invasions

Colin Cope, a PhD student in the Burns lab, is conducting research on invasive earthworms in northeastern Ohio. In collaboration with Toby Jin, a Department of Biology SPUR fellow in 2014, they designed an experiment to determine whether invasive earthworms interact with the invasive plant, garlic mustard.

PhD student in the Burns lab, Jennifer Murphy is conducting research on the mechanisms governing invasions in Rosa. For example, Rosa multiflora is a highly invasive rose species planted in the United States as a living fence.

Climate Change

PhD student in the Burns lab, Anna Ósvaldsson is conducting research on the response of spring ephemeral plants to climate change at Squire Valleevue Farm. Spring ephemeral plants emerge briefly in forests in the spring, before the trees leaf out. Because these species rely on a brief window of light availability in early spring, they might be particularly vulnerable to changing climates.