Erin G. Eichenberger
Graduate Student | Department of Applied Ecology | North Carolina State University
2022 – 2023 Global Change Fellow
Statement of purpose:
I began studying plant population dynamics and insect interactions at the College of William and Mary, which I graduated from in 2019 with a BS in Biology and Environmental Science. My research on Asclepias syriaca, or common milkweed, sparked my interest in fragmented populations and remnant ecosystems, and I took a job through the Chicago Botanic Garden working in remnant tallgrass prairies to investigate population dynamics of Echinacea angustifolia, the narrow-leaved purple coneflower. I was excited by my work on demography and plant reproduction and decided to pursue a PhD. I accepted an offer at NCSU to work with Dr. Rebecca Irwin and Dr. Alexander Krings on the restoration of plants and pollinators native to the Piedmont prairie community.
When I learned that the North Carolina Piedmont was once home to a grassland ecosystem composed of plant and animal species not too different from the tallgrass prairies of the Midwest, I was thrilled—and frustrated. Since I grew up in Raleigh, it felt like a secret had been kept from me; when my parents and I went hiking on the weekends, it was through shady second-growth forests like Umstead and Schenck which I assumed dominated the pre-colonial Piedmont. Today, in addition to conducting my research on the factors which influence the return of this incredible native grassland system to our landscape, I delight in mentoring undergraduate students and teaching them about the hidden history of North Carolina’s natural landscape.
Description of research:
I am interested in the ecology and evolution of plants and pollinators in fragmented communities. My present work is in the Piedmont prairie, a grassland ecosystem which was thought to have occurred patchily throughout the southeast. Following European colonization, the plant community has been almost entirely extirpated from the landscape due to urbanization, agriculture, the removal of indigenous land managers, burn suppression and the extirpation of large grazers. The goal of my dissertation research is to explore the factors that drive the recruitment and reproduction of prairie plant species, incorporating individual, population and community perspectives in order to develop strategies for conservation and restoration. I work with land managers and local agencies including the NC Plant Conservation and Natural Heritage Programs to investigate questions like: What land management strategies promote the recruitment of prairie species? How do abiotic factors influence the germination and establishment of prairie plants? What are the demographic vital rates of the endangered southeastern prairie species Echinacea laevigata, and how are they mediated by light and pollinator availability? I address these questions through field experiments, observational studies and common garden experiments. My work is driven by past land use change as a consequence of colonialism, and through my experience as a Global Change Fellow I hope to learn about the future of the southeast and the ch
Rebecca Irwin (Department of Applied, NCSU), co-advised by Dr. Alexander Krings (Department of Plant and Microbial Biology)