EEB Professor and Chair Diarmaid Ó Foighil presents the award to Paul Glaum. Image: Dale Austin

Kudos to recent alumnus Paul Glaum (U-M EEB Ph.D. 2018) on his selection to receive EEB’s 2018 Outstanding Paper Award for his Nature Communications paper. The award was recently announced at the annual department’s spring picnic by Professor and Chair Diarmaid Ó Foighil.

Glaum is first author of “Functional reduction in pollination through herbivore-induced pollinator limitation and its potential in mutualist communities,” published Dec. 11, 2017 and coauthored by André Kessler, Cornell University.

In sports, sometimes a player has to take one for the team. The same appears to be true in the plant world, where reduced individual growth can benefit the broader community. Their findings help explain the persistence of some plant communities when theory predicts they should go extinct.

"We looked at how chemical defense cues from plants, meant to deter herbivores, can also deter pollinators," said Glaum, who is beginning a postdoctoral fellowship with U-M EEB and the Michigan Institute for Computational Discovery and Engineering. He will be working in the lab of EEB Professor Fernanda Valdovinos. "The surprising model result is that while this can lead to fitness losses for individuals, the population effects can be positive for pollinators and plants under some circumstances."

Many plants, including the wild tomato species used in this study, produce chemical compounds to repel insect pests and other hungry herbivores. But those same chemical defenses can reduce the number of visits to the plant by pollinators such as bees, resulting in less pollination of individual plants and decreased growth.

"Biologists have puzzled over how such a costly defense mechanism can be maintained in these plant populations," Glaum said. "How would a plant population with such a strategy persist?"

A metallic green Halictidae bee visiting a wild tomato plant, Solanum peruvianum, in the mountains of Peru. Image credit: André Kessler

Glaum and Kessler developed a computer model showing that decreased growth of individual plants can benefit overall populations and community resilience by indirectly controlling herbivore population growth. The results introduce mechanisms of persistence into communities previously found to be prone to extinction in theoretical models. As a graduate student, Glaum worked in the lab of Professor John Vandermeer.  

Each spring, EEB presents this award, worth $500, to a current graduate student. A committee of postdoctoral fellows reviews the papers and selects the most outstanding paper. This year’s committee included: André Green, Nina Wale and Zhengting Zou.

“The contributions this year were substantial in many respects: scope, significance, originality and clarity, to name only a few,” wrote the selection committee. “They were a pleasure to read. We ultimately chose Paul Glaum’s work on the interactions between plants, herbivores and pollinators because of its potential impact on future efforts to model mutualistic community dynamics. The paper is written with clear logic, showing solid analytical methods and discussions linking mathematical results with biological implications.”

Read full Michigan News press release by Jim Erickson.