Meet the Researcher: Ryan Briscoe Runquist
Research Associate | she/her/hers
Dr. Ryan Briscoe Runquist is part of an MITPPC-funded team – led by biologist David Moeller – that is building future distribution models for plants like common tansy, leafy spurge and other invasive weeds.
What are common tansy and leafy spurge, and where are they found?
Common tansy and leafy spurge are two invasive plant species found throughout all of Minnesota. Both species were introduced from Eurasia. Leafy spurge was brought to North America in at least three separate introductions in the 1800’s. Common tansy was brought to North America as a horticultural and medicinal plant in the 1600’s, but has been present in Minnesota since the 1800’s.
Both species are perennial, meaning that they die back in the fall but return year after year. They can be spread to new places easily through seeds and once established they produce vast vegetative mats that can cover large areas quickly.
Leafy spurge is very common throughout all of Minnesota and is particularly prevalent in central areas of the state. Common tansy is more common in northern Minnesota and the Iron Range area. However, both species can be found from the Arrowhead region in the northeast to the Pipestone in the southwest.
Why are these plants a problem?
Leafy spurge and common tansy invasions are common throughout pasturelands, grasslands and native remnant prairies. They are also both particularly good at growing along roadways and tolerating the salt and metal stresses associated with roads. This means that they are well positioned to move quickly and readily throughout the state.
Additionally, both species taste bad to many animals – leafy spurge makes lots of milky sap when damaged and common tansy makes a variety of musky smelling chemicals - so cattle and other livestock actively avoid eating them. This means that once they start to grow in a place, they can spread unchecked, outcompete native plants, and take over the habitat.
So far, despite lots of efforts from some really great researchers, there are not any great biological controls for either of these species. Therefore, we have to rely on herbicide application (both species) or hand pulling (common tansy) for control or eradication. Unfortunately, these methods are expensive and time-consuming for land managers.
How will your research help?
Our research is aimed at understanding a few different things.
First, we are trying to find better ways to determine which places in Minnesota are most at risk of being invaded in the future. We do this by building mathematical models that use information about the places where the species already grows and how it performs there to make predictions about where it may go next. Along with this work, we are developing computer algorithms that can detect new occurrences from publicly available data to aid in quicker detection and track how populations change over time.
Second, we need more information about how different populations of leafy spurge and common tansy may be able to adapt to the different environments found in Minnesota or how they may respond to the expected future changes in climate. If they have already adapted to different environments or are able to adapt, this will change our predictions for when and where they may invade next and how large of a problem they might be going forward.
Third, we need to understand better how leafy spurge and common tansy were able to spread so quickly throughout Minnesota. To investigate this, we will use genomic analysis on plants that we collected from almost 200 population throughout the state. The patterns of genome variation from across the state will tell us about common pathways of movement and if multiple introductions contributed to the rapid spread. With this knowledge we will be able to target pathways of invasion more effectively for leafy spurge and common tansy as well as for other invasive species.
What can people do to help?
That’s a great question! I think that the first thing that people can do is get out and enjoy all of the beautiful places and habitats that Minnesota has to offer. While you are there, take a little bit of time to notice the plants that are there. Many of us love to be out, but may not know what plants we are looking at. There are lots of great botanical guides, and iNaturalist is a great website or app that you can use to upload your photos. The app will make an educated guess about what plant is in your photo. You can also compare it to photos on the site and get feedback from the botanist community about you plant. It’s a great way to learn the native and invasive species in Minnesota.
If you happen to find an invasive species, it really helps if you can report it. In Minnesota, there are a few easy ways to report an invasive species occurrence (and if you do it will help me and my work tremendously!). In order of preferred method:
1. GLEDN (Great Lakes Early Detection Network) app – This is an app that you can put on your phone to quickly look up invasive species that might be in the area and upload a sighting with a picture.
2. EDDMapS online – This is a web-based interface where you can upload sightings.
3. MDA’s Arrest the Pest – You can also call-in or email information about an invasive species sighting directly to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
4. iNaturalist – you can also upload your sighting in the iNaturalist app.
information and ways to proactively manage the pest, I encourage you to visit www.stopBMSB.org.
When you are not out in the field or lab, what do you like to do for fun?
When not in the field, I mostly spend time chasing my two kids. They are 3 and 10 and they keep me pretty busy with different activities. Other than that, I like to jog, cook, knit and crochet, read and garden. My husband and I have been working on making our gardens mostly native plants and pollinator-friendly.
To learn more about the Dr. Briscoe Runquist's work with modeling common tansy, leafy spurge, Palmer amaranth and other invasive species, check out her web page: https://z.umn.edu/rdbrunquist.
Funding for this project was provided by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative and Citizen Commission for Minnesota Resources.