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University of Richmond biology professor Carrie Wu receives $200K USDA grant for invasive plant research

Carrie Wu, associate professor of biology at the University of Richmond, has received $208,095 in grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture to continue her research on the invasive spread of wavyleaf basketgrass into mid-Atlantic forests.

Trevor Dickerson

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Carrie Wu, associate professor of biology at the University of Richmond, has received $208,095 in grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture to continue her research on the invasive spread of wavyleaf basketgrass into mid-Atlantic forests.

First detected in the U.S. near Baltimore in 1996, wavyleaf basketgrass is recognized as a USDA high-risk invasive species. It has spread extensively throughout Maryland and expanded into more than 15 counties across Virginia, as well as parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.

“Wavyleaf basketgrass is a shade-tolerant perennial that spreads aggressively,” Wu said. “Left unchecked, dense, carpet-like patches mature in the understory and crowd out native plants.”

The seeds of this invasive plant are sticky, so much of the spread can be attributed to animals, hunters, and hikers.

Wu’s research focuses on developing maps and strategies to help contain the

invasive plant’s spread. With funding from the USDA, Wu will coordinate detection surveys across six states along the periphery of the current known distribution of wavyleaf basketgrass to identify and map the northern and western edges of the plant’s spread. Identifying new patches early can help communities begin removal and monitoring before the plant spreads further.

In addition, Wu will use leaf samples from newly surveyed peripheral populations along with samples from core populations in Maryland and Virginia to examine patterns of connectedness between the established clusters and reconstruct routes of spread across the region.

“This integration of regional stakeholder monitoring with spatial genetic analyses will help land managers strategically design control programs to mitigate spread into forested areas at high risk of invasion,” Wu said. “More broadly, our work will provide insight into the evolutionary dynamics of newly established populations, that can in turn inform conservation and management strategies for this and other species undergoing range expansion.”

Wu is a plant evolutionary ecologist who researches how the local environment shapes the genetic structure and evolutionary trajectory of natural plant populations. She has taught at the University of Richmond since 2009. Her research has been supported in the past by the Virginia Native Plant Society, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, and the National Science Foundation.

Wu was also recently included in The American Society of Plant Biologists list of “25 Inspiring Women in Plant Biology.” This honor recognizes the achievements of women who have a significant, positive impact on the field of plant biology, inspire future generations, and help build a more equitable and inclusive plant biology community.

Wu was highlighted as a plant evolutionary ecologist who studies how the environment shapes the genetic structure and evolutionary trajectory of natural plant populations. Her research interests broadly encompass plant evolutionary ecology, local adaptation in natural plant populations, the invasion trajectory of introduced species, hybridization, and plant responses to a rapidly changing climate.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.