Bard biology professor Cathy Collins has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study how landscape fragmentation interferes with plant-pathogen interactions that maintain local plant diversity. Plant diseases are often thought of as backyard nuisances or crop destroyers, but they can also play beneficial roles in unmanaged ecosystems by maintaining plant diversity. Each plant species has its own unique cohort of specialist pathogens. By slowing the growth or increasing the mortality of plants they infect, these pathogens prevent any single plant species from dominating an area. Many ecosystems are being broken up into smaller fragments due to land-use changes such as suburban sprawl. Habitat edges and small habitat patches experience environmental extremes such as higher temperatures, more light, and lower soil moisture. These conditions, in turn, influence plant disease. Collins’s research, which includes work with Bard students, will explore if and how conditions in fragments change the way plants interact with their pathogens and the resulting impacts on local plant diversity. The project, which is in collaboration with Sarah Lawrence College biology professor Michelle Hersh, received a total of $600,000 from NSF.