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YPIE Scientist: Julia Azulay

Updated: May 30, 2023

Research: Comparing the Impact of an Invasive Tree Species on Neighboring Plant Species in its Native Versus Non-native Range

Awards: WESEF 2022, Participant in Westlake Science Fair (2021)

Mentor: Teatown Environmental Science Academy (TESA)

Research Location: Teatown Lake Reservation, Ossining, NY


Various exotic plant species, which originate from a different native range or environment and are transported outside of this range, are recognized as responsible for ecosystem invasions on an international scale. Once an exotic species is categorized as invasive in its non-native range, it has the capacity to outgrow native counterparts, alter ecosystem functions, and ultimately contribute to biodiversity loss. In order to prevent such circumstances in which invasive plants, trees specifically, strip natural environments and human societies of resources retrieved with the presence of biodiversity, studies have attempted to identify selected environmental or biological traits that enable plant invasions. Scientists have pinpointed biomass production, leaf area, growth rate, and root competition to be main contributors, but the full extent to which an invasive tree species can effectively displace another species has not been conclusively answered. As a result, we plan on conducting a field study utilizing the black locust tree (R. pseudoacacia) within a 2-3 year period as an assessment as to how an exotic plant goes about outcompeting native species. Black locust, being native to the southeastern United States but invasive in areas further north or west, will be examined alongside one species native to the southeastern U.S. and one native to New York State. Above ground growth of black locust and its surrounding species will be measured in centimeters yearly in both study grounds. Control groups of the selected neighboring species will also be examined for comparison. Based on previous research regarding the high competitiveness of certain species such as black locust (example: Kawaletz et al. 2013), it can be hypothesized that black locust will generally hinder or stunt the growth of surrounding species in its non-native range, while it will likely coexist with surrounding species in a native environment. It is also likely that the selected surrounding species will exhibit a slower growth rate on the non-native grounds contrasted with a regular growth rate pattern that could be present in control groups. Assessing the benefits and/or liabilities that black locust poses in a native versus non-native environment may provide a better understanding of the complicated process of tree invasions.

About this Scientist:

Julia Azulay is a senior at Yonkers High School who will be attending Haverford College in the fall. Her research, which took place between her sophomore and junior years, revolved around determining if agricultural land use in an area was correlated with the presence/abundance of invasive plant species in Westchester County. She completed this research with help from Teatown’s Environmental Science Academy in July of 2021.

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