Robert Pringle

Professor | EEB; Director of Undergraduate Studies
Ecology, Biodiversity, and Conservation
Office Phone
224 Guyot Hall

I am fascinated by nearly all facets of ecology and conservation, and research in my lab addresses a correspondingly broad suite of questions. How do ecologically similar species coexist? What do animals eat when we’re not looking, and how are food webs organized? Why are large herbivores and carnivores so ecologically important, and what happens when they go extinct? What rules govern the assembly of biological communities and patterns of biodiversity in space and time? What determines the strength and outcome of ecological interactions across gradients of climate and soil fertility? Why do species sometimes cooperate with each other, and under what conditions to these mutualisms break down? When one species invades a new environment, what happens to the species that were already there? How do plants defend themselves against animals that want to eat them? How do regular spatial patterns form in nature, and how do they enhance the stability and productivity of ecosystems? What are the mechanics of large-scale ecosystem restoration following civil war and faunal collapse? How do termites, elephants and other ecosystem architects engineer their environments? How do physiological constraints and trade-offs influence animal behavior and population dynamics?

Our work on these questions is motivated by curiosity, and the questions are united by a single goal: to understand how wild ecosystems work by studying their modular components and emergent properties. By understanding how things work, we can appreciate them more fully and understand better how to fix them when they break.

We work primarily in African savannas as well as on small Caribbean islands. We use a range of empirical and theoretical approaches, but a particular focus of our current work is to combine DNA metabarcoding and other molecular analyses with manipulative field experiments to derive a mechanistic understanding of ecological patterns and processes.

Selected Publications

Daskin, JD and RM Pringle. 2018. Warfare and wildlife declines in Africa’s protected areas. Nature 553:328-332. [PDF]

Pringle, RM. 2017. Upgrading protected areas to conserve wild biodiversity. Nature 546:91-99. [PDF]

Pringle, RM and CE Tarnita. 2017. Spatial self-organization of ecosystems: integrating multiple mechanisms of regular-pattern formation. Annual Review of Entomology 62:359-377. [PDF]

Tarnita, CE, JA Bonachela, E Sheffer, JA Guyton, TC Coverdale, RA Long, and RM Pringle. 2017. A theoretical foundation for multi-scale regular vegetation patterns. Nature 541:398-401. [PDF]

Pringle, RM, KM Prior, TM Palmer, TP Young, and JR Goheen. 2016. Large herbivores promote habitat specialization and beta diversity of African savanna trees. Ecology 97:2640-2657. [PDF] 

Kartzinel, TR, PA Chen, TC Coverdale, DL Erickson, WJ Kress, ML Kuzmina, DI Rubenstein, W Wang, and RM Pringle. 2015. DNA metabarcoding illuminates dietary niche partitioning by African large herbivores. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 112:8019-8024. [PDF]