Erik Lilleskov

Erik Lilleskov
"Change is the norm in ecosystems. What is new is the rate of change. How we respond to this change will be our legacy to future generations."


  • Adjunct Professor
  • PhD, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University
  • MS, Botany, University of Vermont
  • BA, Anthropology, Harvard College

Organisms, ecosystems and environmental change—understanding the links

Recently scientists have come to understand that change is the norm in ecosystems. What is new is the rate of change. Humans have accelerated the rates of change of ecosystems, by moving organisms, converting land use, changing atmospheric chemistry and altering our climate. I study how communities of organisms and the ecosystems they inhabit influence each other, and how these interactions are affected by these human-accelerated changes such as air pollution, climate change and invasive species. In one line of research I am exploring how structure and function of communities of symbiotic, tree-root associated fungi, called mycorrhizal fungi, are altered by changing environments, in particular increased nitrogen deposition, ozone, carbon dioxide and climate change. I am especially interested in whether changing communities of mycorrhizal fungi buffer or increase the effects of environmental change. I have recently initiated a study in our new mesocosm facility on the effects of climate change on peatland ecosystem function, exploring the feedbacks of hydrology, vegetation, carbon cycling and trace gas emissions in poor fens. This information will be used to understand the mechanisms regulating the climate impacts on peatlands, and the potential feedbacks between peatland biogeochemistry and climate change. In addition, I study the effect of invasive soil organisms on forest ecosystems. By their consumption and mixing of soil organic matter, changes in movement of soil water, alteration of soil food webs, and consumption of roots, they have large effects on forests. I study both the distribution and effects of non-native soil organisms including non-native earthworms, isopods, weevils, ground beetles, termites and ants.

Areas of Expertise

  • Forest ecology
  • Ecosystems ecology
  • Physiological ecology
  • Community ecology
  • Fungal ecology
  • Mycorrhizal fungi
  • Molecular ecology
  • Soil ecology
  • Global environmental change impacts on forest ecosystems
  • Invasive species impacts
  • Biogeography of invasive soil organisms