Hi, Welcome and thank you for your interest in my research. When I was thirteen years old, I was fortunate enough to travel with mother and Rotary International to Costa Rica to deliver wheelchairs. I returned to the United States with a tape worm, but also a fascination for tropical ecosystems and their biodiversity that lingers to this day. Fast forward to my undergraduate years at the University of Denver as a pre-med student. After visiting the hospital on several occasions, I realized that medicine was not for me, and I promptly switched majors to Ecology. After graduating, I went to Puerto Rico for a volunteer internship measuring trees. It was 6-month commitment, but I ended up staying 5 years, researching the beautiful forests of the island, measuring countless trees and honing my scientific skills at the Luquillo LTER. I guess that is why the call Puerto Rico, "La Isla del Encanto".
I have witnessed first-hand the devastation that climate change can have on forests. Around the turn of the century, several abnormally warm years led to the outbreak of the mountain pine beetle in my home of Summit County, Colorado. Over the span of a decade, several thousand acres of forest were decimated, leaving behind a tinderbox of standing dead lodge-pole Pine trees. This completely changed the landscape and ecosystems of Summit County, and climate change will continue to impact and shape the forests of the Mountain West and the globe.
These two experiences act as the driving forces behind my research, which focuses to understand the ecology of tropical forests in the Anthropocene.
Forests Demographics: To know how forests will change (or not; which is an open reserach question), we have to understand how they work as biological systems. Forest are complex, especially tropical forests, which can harbor thousands of plant species per hectare. I seek to better understand how tropical plants survive, grow, compete for resources, and reproduce. Uncovering the mecahnistic controls that underlie these biological processes, and how the controls scale to the ecocsystem level is a the major motivation for my work.
The Effects of Wind Disturbance on Forests: In addition to changes to the Earth's climate, anthropogenic climate change is expected to strengthen the intensity and increase the number of cyclones (typhoons & hurricanes). Thus, the effect of wind disturbance on forests will continue to be an important part of forest disturbance, succession and recovery. I am interested in understanding how wind disturbance interacts with the environment and other agents of change in forests (e.g. increasing temperatures, and changing precipitation regimes), and what these ultimately mean for the forests of the future.
The Functional Ecology of Tropical Trees: Not all plants are created functionally equivalent. The diversity of form and function in plant life has interested the scientific mind for centuries. A comparative approach that quantifies the form and function of tropical plants has great utility in linking such variation to ecologically-meaningful differences among and within species.
Root Biology: Roots are fascinating. If you disagree with me, then I encourage you to grab a shovel, step outside, and dig just below the soil surface in a vegetated area to have a look at what you find. Chances are you will unearth a variety of things; perhaps, an earthworm or two, and and engtanglement of root systems, potentially with some associated fungi. Biologically, roots function in a many ways simultaneously to interact with the soil to nourish the plant and absorb water. Some of my work seeks to understand these interactions in context and help find general rules governing them.