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Robert Pringle

  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Position: Assistant Professor
  • Ecology
Office: 224 Guyot Hall
Phone: 609-258-8273
Robert Pringle

I am fascinated by nearly all facets of ecology and conservation, and research in my lab addresses a correspondingly broad suite of questions. How do ecologically similar species coexist? What do animals eat when we’re not looking, and how are food webs organized? Why are large herbivores and carnivores so ecologically important, and what happens when they go extinct? What rules govern the assembly of biological communities and patterns of biodiversity in space and time? What determines the strength and outcome of ecological interactions across gradients of climate and soil fertility? Why do species sometimes cooperate with each other, and under what conditions to these mutualisms break down? When one species invades a new environment, what happens to the species that were already there? How do plants defend themselves against animals that want to eat them? How do regular spatial patterns form in nature, and how do they enhance the stability and productivity of ecosystems? What are the mechanics of large-scale ecosystem restoration following civil war and faunal collapse? How do termites, elephants and other ecosystem architects engineer their environments? How do physiological constraints and trade-offs influence animal behavior and population dynamics?

Our work on these questions is motivated by curiosity, and the questions are united by a single goal: to understand how wild ecosystems work by studying their modular components and emergent properties. By understanding how things work, we can appreciate them more fully and understand better how to fix them when they break.

We work primarily in African savannas, because they are so enchanting, so enigmatic, and so important to so many people. We also work on small Caribbean islands, because they are elegant and experimentally tractable model systems for addressing unsolved ecological mysteries. We use a range of empirical and theoretical approaches, but a particular focus of our current work is to combine DNA metabarcoding and other molecular analyses with manipulative field experiments to derive a mechanistic understanding of ecological patterns and processes.

To get a sense for what this work looks like, please watch this short film.

To learn more about community ecology, and how it is practiced in the Pringle Lab, check out the 2015 Holiday Lectures on Science.

For more, please visit the Pringle Lab webpage.

Selected Recent Publications

Tarnita, C.E., Bonachela, J.A., Sheffer, E., Guyton, J.A., Coverdale, T.C., Long, R.A., & Pringle, R.M. (2017) A theoretical foundation for multi-scale regular vegetation patterns. Nature, 541, 398-401.

Pringle, R.M. & Tarnita, C.E. (2017) Spatial self-organization of ecosystems: integrating multiple mechanisms of regular-pattern formation. Annual Review of Entomology, 62, 359-377.

Pringle, R.M., Prior, K.M., Palmer, T.M., Young, T.P. & Goheen, J.R. (2016) Large herbivores promote habitat specialization and beta diversity of African savanna trees. Ecology, 97, 2640-2657.

Kartzinel, T.R., Chen, P.A., Coverdale, T.C., L, E.D., Kress, W.J., Kuzmina, M.L., Rubenstein, D.I., Wang, W. & Pringle, R.M. (2015) DNA metabarcoding illuminates dietary niche partitioning by African large herbivores. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112, 8019–8024.

Pringle, R.M., Kimuyu, D.M., Sensenig, R.L., Palmer, T.M., Riginos, C., Veblen, K.E. & Young, T.P. (2015) Synergistic effects of fire and elephants on arboreal animals in an African savanna. Journal of Animal Ecology, 84, 1637–1645.

Bonachela, J.A., Pringle, R.M., Sheffer, E., Coverdale, T.C., Guyton, J.A., Caylor, K.K., Levin, S.A. & Tarnita, C.E. (2015) Termite mounds can increase the robustness of dryland ecosystems to climatic change. Science, 347, 651–655.

Pringle, R.M., Goheen, J.R., Palmer, T.M., Charles, G.K., DeFranco, E., Hohbein, R., Ford, A.T. & Tarnita, C.E. (2014) Low functional redundancy among mammalian browsers in regulating an encroaching shrub (Solanum campylacanthum) in African savannah. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281, 20140390–20140390.

Ford, A.T., Goheen, J.R., Otieno, T.O., Bidner, L., Isbell, L.A., Palmer, T.M., Ward, D., Woodroffe, R. & Pringle, R.M. (2014) Large carnivores make savanna tree communities less thorny. Science, 346, 346–349.

Tarnita, C.E., Palmer, T.M. & Pringle, R.M. (2014) Colonisation and competition dynamics can explain incomplete sterilisation parasitism in ant-plant symbioses. Ecology Letters, 17, 1290–1298.

Pringle, R.M., Doak, D.F., Brody, A.K., Jocqué, R. & Palmer, T.M. (2010) Spatial pattern enhances ecosystem functioning in an African savanna. PLoS Biology, 8, e1000377.