I am interested by the high tree diversity in the tropical forest. How can so many species coexist in the same forest? To address this question I use both field observations and computer modeling.
In 1970 and 1971, Daniel Janzen and Joseph Connell (JC) separately proposed that natural enemies of seeds and seedlings are responsible for the maintenance of the high diversity of trees in the tropics. As a Masters student at Michigan State University, I investigated the JC hypothesis from the point of view of natural enemy diversity analyzing variation in leaf damage types. This research opened an array of questions and avenues of research from which i am currently developing a phd project.
For my doctoral work at Columbia University, I have chosen to approach the same question of high diversity by investigating how the actions of mycorrhizal fungi and plants enemies (such as pathogens, herbivores..). I developed a conceptual model of plant population dynamics and using empirical data from El Yunque National Forest (Puerto Rico) in order to test some assumptions of the model.
Currently, I investigate the role of partner choice in the maintenance of a diversity of mutualists fungi with Dr. Charlotte Lee. I am also collaborating with the first tropical warming experiment that takes place in Puerto Rico (http://www.forestwarming.org) to evaluate how plant natural enemy communities and herbivory respond to warming, and collaborating with Dr. James Clark (http://sites.nicholas.duke.edu/clarklab/) to investigate the joint response of plants and their microbiome to the environment (https://sites.duke.edu/neon/). Finally, some of my current work has important applied questions such as how the microbiome of the future will impact human health in urban environment.