Project 2. Effects of nutrient availability on arthropod consumers across ecosystems: A meta-analysis (S. Ramaswami, Computer Science & A.L. González, Biology)

Background. Arthropods play fundamental roles in regulating primary production and community composition, and nutrient dynamics in ecosystems. The impacts of arthropods in ecosystems are regulated by the quality and quantity of their food resources. Ecological stoichiometry theory and empirical studies suggest that nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) are essential nutrients that may affect the performance of consumers in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Nutrient availability can impose nutritional constraints on consumer performance, limiting their growth with consequences over community-level processes. Historically, N has been considered the main limiting nutrient of terrestrial arthropods, while P has been suggested to be the main limiting element in aquatic systems. Human activities are changing the availability of N and P, challenging the ability of ecologists to predict the responses of consumers to nutrient availability. It is therefore important to understand how these nutrients, independently or in combination, influence the growth and biomass of consumers across habitats. The overall potential effects of N and P limitation have not yet been investigated using quantitative approaches such as a meta-analysis. A meta-analysis is particularly suited for synthesizing results of nutrient limitation studies that cover many different ecological responses encompassing terrestrial and aquatic systems.

Research. In this project the student will perform a meta-analysis on the effects of nitrogen and phosphorous availability on arthropod consumers. Specifically, the REU student will build a database and learn to conduct a meta-analysis to examine the relative effects of N and P availability on the performance (growth, survival, etc) of aquatic and terrestrial consumers.

Student activities. In this project, the REU student will learn how to create, process, document, clean, preserve computerized databases, prepare databases for statistical analysis, and perform a quantitative meta-analysis to compare the responses of arthropods to resource quality. Specifically, the student will be exposed to principles of meta-analysis technique; protocol development; search strategies; data mining methods; large database quality assessment; meta-analytic methods; and applications of meta-analysis in ecology and evolution. In addition, the student will gain skills related to the use of R and the basic tools and information to start making their code more reproducible.