Kelly Andersen

Ph.D. student
Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

I received a B.S. in Conservation Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000. After gaining field research experience in both temperate and tropical forests, I started my Ph.D. in the Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Illinois. I am interested in plant species partitioning of soil nutrient gradients. My Ph.D. research examines how soil heterogeneity is contributing to the maintenance of high species diversity of understory palms in lower montane forests. My primary field site is located in Western Panama within the Fortuna Forest Reserve . I am using the Fortuna-palm system to examine the extent to which niche and dispersal assembly processes may be responsible for non-random species distributions. The two major questions my dissertation research can be broken down into are:

1. How are understory palm communities structured? a) Do species distributions appear to follow niche assembly processes resulting in associations between species and nutrient distributions? or b) Do species distributions appear to follow dispersal assembly processes whereby community similarity decreases predictably with increasing geographic distance?

2. If niche assembly processes are driving palm-soil associations, what mechanisms allow species to partition the soil nutrient gradients? Using seedling transplant experiments, I am testing the relative importance of three competing mechanisms by which plant-soil associations may occur: 1) through differential biomass allocation to below-ground resource acquisition, 2) through differences in use efficiency of limiting nutrients, or 3) through trade-offs in allocation of resources to defense against herbivores versus growth.

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Dept. of Plant Biology School of Integrative Biology
Program in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology University of Illinois