Student: James Woodell, Graduate Student in Integrated Biology, University of Iowa
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Maurine Neiman
Space Invaders: What can invasive species teach us about colonization of other planets?
I study the evolution of invasive species after introduction to new environments. Humans rely on natural ecosystem services in order to survive, meaning that developing self-sustaining ecosystems in human space colonies will be needed for success. Relevant and important insights into the key factors that determine success or failure of these new ecosystems can come from the study of biological invasions here on Earth.
Invasive species can alter community interactions and nutrient cycles, disrupting the stable processes that sustainability requires. Forward contamination, wherein invasive species are brought from Earth to other planets, could destabilize developing ecosystems. The reverse may also be possible if life on other planets is returned to Earth. I am currently evaluating how invaders evolve in response to colonization bottlenecks, competition with natives, and alien environmental conditions – similar issues facing the species that we will bring to support our space colonies. Understanding how and why some invasive species succeed when others do not along with characterizing the evolution of invasive species in new habitats will provide critical information on how to predict and control biological invasions in a space colonization context. I will be summarizing insights invasion biology can provide for space colonization in a literature review.