University of Connecticut’s (UConn) Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Robert Bagchi spoke about drivers and consequences of plant diversity in a changing world

Robert Bagchi, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut, spoke at Wesleyan about the drivers and consequences of plant diversity in a changing world on Thursday, Oct. 1. The event was hosted by Michael Singer, Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies.

Singer invited Bagchi to speak at Wesleyan in part because they have been collaborating on a research project since January 2014, when Bagchi arrived at UConn.

“We started talking very soon,” Singer said. “We developed a collaborative research project to look at how forest fragmentation in Connecticut affects species interactions and biodiversity in the forests of Connecticut.”

The talk Bagchi gave centered around some of the ideas that are central to his research project with Singer.

“I want to talk about the drivers of diversity in natural farm communities and also the consequences that diversity might have for the ecosystem functioning,” Bagchi said.

Three main questions and points drove Bagchi’s talk.

“The first [question] is what processes maintain diversity in natural systems,” Bagchi said. “Secondly, I’m going to move on to addressing the question of how biodiversity affects the functioning of natural ecosystems. Finally, I’m going to address the question of how environmental change might affect the processes that maintain diversity in natural systems.”

Singer also thought that this talk would be an interesting way for people to learn more about biodiversity.

“I was hoping that they would gain a bigger picture of that field of research,” Singer said. “So [they would learn] essentially how biodiversity is not only affected by human activities, but also how it is maintained in ecosystems and how it contributes to these things we call ecosystem functions and services.”

According to Singer, this is all part of an important area of ecological studies. It is not something that people in Wesleyan’s biology department are working on at the moment.

Additionally, Bagchi’s talk ties in with the curriculum of BIOL220: Conservation Biology. Singer is teaching the class this semester.

“Over the last three lectures, we’ve been covering that topic in [Conservation Biology],” Singer said. “I thought that it would be timely for the students but also the faculty and anyone else who wanted to attend. I thought it would be an interesting seminar and one that really presents the importance of ecology.”

Singer and Bagchi said that they will likely meet again in the future. The two are currently trying to get grant funding for a research project that deals with the topic of biodiversity in Bagchi’s talk.

“If that works out and we get funding, then we’ll be able to hire on more students and get more people involved, which is fun,” Singer said. “Then, you know we could also accomplish a lot more research. So I’m sure he’ll be back.”

Assistant Professor of Biology Joseph Coolon attended the talk because of the his interest in Bagchi’s research.

“What he is doing is really important in terms of connecting empirical work and theoretical work,” Coolon said. “It’s something that we’ve needed for a very long time in ecology, especially this area of ecology. It’s the connection between a bunch of really amazing theoretical work and then [there’s] someone to actually go out and do the empirical work like he’s doing. [His work] is important because we’re finally getting at being able to test why some of the things we see in observations and also some of the things we predict based on theory are happening.”

Bagchi’s talk was also aimed at a broader audience. Singer noted that he was effective at presenting the topic and describing its importance.

“I haven’t actually had a chance to talk with many students about how they thought it went, so I’m hoping they got a lot out of it,” Singer said. “That’s always the hope when we bring in a speaker, that not just the person who invited the speaker can get a lot out of it, so other people can too.”

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