Hello EcoLab friends! I wanted to introduce myself—I’m Dr. Zach Sylvain, the new Science Director for the Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab. I started this past August as an assistant professor in the Biology Department at Marian, where I’m teaching environmental science and ecology courses; I’ll also be conducting research in the EcoLab and other urban green spaces around Indianapolis. I focus mostly on invertebrate animals such as insects and soil organisms (little critters like mites and nematodes) and their interactions with plants. My background studying soil ecology even gave me a nickname—Dr. Dirt! Before I moved to Indianapolis I was teaching at Wartburg College in Iowa, and I’ve also worked with the Agricultural Research Service branch of the USDA studying rangeland restoration, and with the Canadian Forest Service studying insect outbreaks.
I’m looking forward to working closely with the EcoLab community to study how to better control invasive plants and more successfully restore degraded habitats with native plant species. My primary research interests are in understanding how invasive plants alter the soils in which they grow, and how this can prevent native plants from successfully re-establishing or assist in reinvasion by exotic species. Do plant invasions change the types of organisms that live in the soil and alter how those organisms interact with other plants? If so, can we address these changes so that we can create conditions more suitable for getting native plants to grow successfully once again? I’m also really interested to see whether invasive plants alter relationships and interactions between insects and plants present in an ecosystem.
When I’m not teaching classes or out getting dirty in the field, I really enjoy reading fiction and playing games with my friends. I also love spending time with my fiancée and our dog, a 2-year old Cardigan Welsh Corgi named Pippin (after the hobbit from The Lord of the Rings; hopefully we’ll be getting a partner in crime named Merry for him soon). It’s been great to explore the area and go for walks in the parks and green spaces around Indianapolis, and one of our favorites is of course the EcoLab—from his first walk there (leashed!), Pippin’s acted like he knows every nook and cranny of the grounds. I’m looking forward to getting to know the area so well myself!