Elise Gornish Research Website

Ecology +

This is an old site as of 1/5/2015. For an updated site, please visit http://gornish.ucdavis.edu/


I am a Cooperative Extension Specialist in Restoration at the University of California, Davis. I received my PhD. from the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program at Florida State University, working with Thomas Miller, and I was a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis under the guidance of Jeremy James (Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center) and Peter Adler (Utah State University). My interests are broad; but generally, I am interested in using demographic approaches to develop more effective restoration approaches; the interactive effects of biotic and abiotic factors on grassland restoration success over short and long time scales, and using trait based approaches for ecological restoration.

Graduate work

My Master's work at FSU involved the use of long-term vegetation data to inform the development of restoration approaches on storm-damaged barrier islands. This work was conducted over two years on St. George Island State Park in Apalachicola Bay, FL (see photos here). This work was sponsored in part by the FL Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. The ideas in this research fortified my interest in climate change and the biotic consequences that can result.

My dissertation research addressed the effects of global change on range shifts in plant communities.  I used a synergistic approach that combines theory from several areas of ecology with rigorous field work, in a large experimental site at Tall Timbers Research Reserve in north Florida (see pictures here). I studied the spread of a species into novel areas to determine how changes in temperature and soil nutrients affect the rate of spread, while also determining how this novel species affects the current ecosystems.  By using an invasion framework, I was able to better understand how range changes will occur through different stages of the life cycle (dispersal, establishment, growth, and reproduction). 

Postdoc Research

Despite the widely accepted importance of dryland restoration and the enormous financial investments made annually for these activities, restoration success in drylands is low.  I am currently engaged in understanding how the demography of four bunchgrass rangeland restoration species are affected by biotic and abiotic factors across three states in the Great Basin area.  Broadly, the goal of this work is to develop, validate and deploy a systems approach for improving establishment of restoration species in arid ecosystems, which cover 40% of the Earth's land surface. We are applying transient analysis, life table response experiments, and integral projection models to understand how invasion, diversity, and microclimate affect vital rates and population growth rates of perennial grasses (see pictures here).

Side Projects

I have lots of side projects. Here is a brief review of tangential projects I am involved with:

Use of Census Data to Inform Oil Spill Effects on Gulf Coast Dune Vegetation
The oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon accident will have significant effects on the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico and recent history shows these effects on marine and coastal communities will continue over the next several decades. In collaboration with Thomas Miller (FSU), I am collecting critical data on the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the vegetation of the coastal beaches and dunes all along the expected impact zone of the NE Gulf of Mexico. Sampling occurs at six long-term coastal sites for vegetation studies, using methods consistent with current studies on St. George Island, Florida, conducted since 1998. 

Ecology of Taeniatherum caput-medusae (Medusahead rye)                     
The winter annual grass medusahead is one of the dominant invasive range species in the West. A variety of methods have been tested to control the noxious weed, including grazing, herbicide, and fire. However, there is still an absence of basic demographic knowledge of medusahead, which is necessary for developing adequate control methods. In collaboration with H. Caswell (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute), I am using periodic matrix models to examine the demography of medusahead across its life cycle with and without targeted defoliation and in oak woodland and open grassland habitat types.

Current Collaborators:
Kristin Hulvey, Utah State University 
Ken Tate, University of California, Davis
Leslie Roche, University of California, Davis
Jennifer Funk, Chapman University
Carissa Koopman Rivers, Audubon California
Hal Caswell, Woods Hole
Jeremy James, Sierra Foothills Research and Extension Center
Peter Adler, Utah State University
Theresa Becchetti, Cooperative Extension (UC Davis)
Josh Davy, Cooperative Extension (UC Davis)
Thomas Miller, Florida State University