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Michael Schuster

HOME DEPARTMENT:                                           Forestry and Natural Resources

MENTOR/ADVISOR:                                                     Dr. Jeffrey Dukes

SPECIFIC RESEARCH AREA/PROJECT:                       Climate change induced precipitation variability impacts on invasive plant species and ecosystem processes

UNDERGRADUATE/M.S. INSTITUTION:                          Hamline University (Saint Paul, MN)




"My research primarily focuses on how detrimental ‘invasive’ plant species interact with their environment and how this relationship might be altered by a changing climate. Invasive plant species significantly alter ecosystem structure and function, and are consequently a threat to the preservation of many ecosystems and the services they provide; both in natural systems and in agriculture. Invasive plant species will often customize their surroundings in order to favor their own success over that of resident native species by using nutrients in drastically different ways.  At the same time, climate change stands to benefit invasive plant species by disturbing native plant communities and providing opportunities for further spread of invasive plants. Particularly, greater variability in temperature and precipitation regimes are likely to induce greater stress upon many native plant communities, leaving them vulnerable to invasion. Thus, understanding mechanisms of invasive plant success via nutrient cycling and how these mechanisms might change with climate is an important step in managing invasive species now and in the future.

To explore these issues, I’m conducting a series of field experiments in the United States and across Europe that combine climate science, invasion ecology, and ecological stoichiometry. In the United States, I am conducting experiments that examine the influence of invasive trees on forest decomposition dynamics, as well as ones that expose prairie communities to more variable precipitation regimes and fertilization to measure community composition and nutrient cycling in response to climate change and nitrogen run-off from agricultural fields. In Europe, I’m collaborating with scientists in four nations as part of the SIGNAL experiment (http://www.bayceer.uni-bayreuth.de/signal/) to evaluate how extreme drought influences impacts of invasive plants on grassland decomposition and how this might contribute to their spread under future, more extreme precipitation regimes."


"What is there to say about ESE as a program? Well, I’ll put it this way: if ESE were to be described in its high school yearbook, ESE would be voted ‘most supportive’ by its peers. Yes, indeed, my experience with ESE stands out as one that has been made tremendously rewarding, largely as a result of the support of my peers, as well as ESE faculty and staff. ESE prioritizes building community and promoting collaboration between its members. All first year graduate students are required to participate in a two semester colloquium that builds trans-disciplinary thinking and offers a rare opportunity amongst graduate programs to build professional and social relationships with ESE-ers across a wide array of fields. This facilitates the organic growth of a support network amongst ESE members that makes it one of the most cohesive interdisciplinary graduate programs based on my perspective. Dr. Linda Lee, the head of ESE, and Christal Musser, the program’s coordinator, are especially noteworthy in this regard, as they are accessible and continually demonstrate an exemplary interest in the success of ESE students and their research; something that has been invaluable in providing opportunities for my professional development and growth as a graduate student. I’ve also been fortunate to have an advisor, Dr. Jeffrey Dukes, whose research interests align tightly with my own and with whom I have a great relationship. Within this community, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as Chair of the annual ESE Symposium, the ESE representative on the University’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Program Student Advisory Board, and as a founding member and current treasurer of the ESE graduate student organization. Furthermore, ESE has also been essential in gaining funding for my research at home and abroad, without which I would be unable to pursue my professional interests. Based on my interactions with individuals in other programs and at other institutions, ESE provides one of the best environments for graduate students interested in interdisciplinary issues of the environment, engineering, and human dimensions."


Schuster M.J, Torres Martinez L., Dukes J.S. 2012. Distribution of terrestrial ecosystems and changes in plant community composition. In: Global Environmental Change: SpringerReference (www.springerreference.com), B. Freedman, Ed. Springer-Verlag, Berlin. DOI:10.1007/SpringerReference_300096.

Schuster M.J. and Dukes J.S. 2014. Non-additive effects of invasive tree litter addition shift seasonal N release: a potential invasion feedback. In review.

Smith N.G., Schuster M.S., and Dukes J.S. 2014. Increased rainfall variability enhances effects of N addition on grassland diversity. In review.


Native-invasive tree litter mixtures enhance invasive species' impacts on nutrient cycling during the growing season," Poster presented at the Midwest Invasive Plant Conference in Columbus, OH. December 2013.

Evidence of non-additive effects in the decomposition of native-invasive tree litter mixtures. Poster presented at 97th Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting and 2012 Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources Research Symposium.

Non-additive decomposition of native-invasive tree litter mixtures. Poster presented at the 97th  Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting.

Prairie invasion and climate experiment (PRICLE): Design and initial performance. Poster presented at 2012 Ecological Sciences and Engineering Symposium.

Prairie communities under global change: Impacts of more extreme precipitation regimes and N deposition on community composition and exotic plant invasions. Presented at the 2013 Purdue University Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs Spring Reception and 2013Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources Research Symposium.

Non-additive effects of native-invasive tree litter mixtures enhance invasive species’ impacts on nutrient cycling during the growing season. Invited speaker at the 98th Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting.


USDA Agro-ecosystem Services National Needs Fellowship (2010)
Purdue Climate Change Research Center Seed Grant (2011)
USDA Dissertation Research Travel Allowance (2012)


Chair, ESE Symposium 2011: Solutions for 7 – 7 Billion People, 7 Grand Challenges (2011)
ESE Representative, Purdue Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs Student Advisory Board (2010 – present)
Treasurer, Ecological Sciences and Engineering Graduate Student Organization (2013 – present)