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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