Bamboo, Wind and Fire
One of my primary biological interests is bamboos, including their disturbance ecology
and clonal and reproductive biology. Bamboos are both intriguing biologically and
important as natural resources. Bamboos are semelparous - they flower, seed and die
only after decades of clonal growth. These giant forest grasses compete with trees
in temperate and tropical habitats around the world, sometimes forming monodominant
stands where diverse tree species might otherwise grow. Bamboo stands are often critical
habitat for wildlife. Many bamboos are also key renewable resources, useful in various
types of construction, as fiber, and as ornamental landscape plants.
I have sought to understand how a native North American bamboo responds to windstorm and fire disturbances, and how that response might enable the bamboo to control space alongside much larger forest trees. My research with giant cane (Arundinaria gigantea, Muhl.) has demonstrated that multiple ecological disturbances can interact to greatly accelerate clonal growth in this bamboo, potentially leading to the formation of dense, pyrogenic and monodominant stands (called "canebrakes") like those described by Bartram and other early explorers of the southeastern U.S. (Gagnon & Platt 2008a, Gagnon et al. 2007). I have also studied bamboo reproductive and seedling ecology, and my observations support the hypothesis that gregarious flowering of bamboos may be driven by pollen limitation (Gagnon & Platt 2008b).
I will continue exploring bamboo ecology in various ways. I now have multiple years of annual census data on all life stages of giant cane, with which I intend to explore long-term effects of windstorm and fire disturbances on the clonal ecology and reproductive biology of the plant using life table response experiments and stochastic demographic models. I have collected approximately one thousand leaves from each of two different bamboos (the other being Guadua sarcocarpa, Lond. & Pete. from the western Amazon), which I intend to genotype as part of a project exploring the underlying population and clonal structure of these two giant forest grasses. I am open to exploring other research possibilities around the world relating to bamboos.