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Research

Tropical Forest Restoration

A middle school student in Madagascar plants a native Intsia bijuga sapling.

Regrowing forests – especially tropical forests – has recently risen in prominence in the public spotlight. Countries and companies across the world are declaring new tree-planting commitments, aiming both to sequester carbon and preserve biodiversity. But just planting trees doesn’t equate to growing a forest. To ensure tree-planting initiatives become successful tree-growing programs, it’s essential that they are backed up by robust science to ensure that the right trees are planted in the right place, at the right time, in the right way.

In many extensively deforested regions – including eastern Madagascar – much is yet unknown about how to grow native species, the capacity of native forests to regenerate on their own, and how to integrate trees into landscapes in a way that uplifts local stakeholders. As restoration initiatives begin to roll out, integrating scientific research into adaptive management is vital to identify and effectively scale up successful restoration techniques in the timeframe needed to conserve biodiversity and mitigate climate change.

Learning reforestation techniques in eastern Madagacar.
Photo Credit: Matt HIll, Green Again Madagascar

For my PhD dissertation, I’ll be collaborating with local stakeholders in Madagascar to investigate the potential benefits of integrating sustainable agroforestry and timber production systems into forest landscape restoration, both for biodiversity conservation and vital ecosystem service provisioning for subsistence farmers. I also hope to work alongside conservation non-profits in Madagascar to evaluate the efficacy of past forest restoration projects, allowing for effective adaptive management of future initiatives. This work is generously supported through an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and a Berkeley Graduate Fellowship.

Previous Research: Monarch Butterflies

Hundreds of monarchs awaken and depart their roost at Cape May Point State Park, NJ.

Every fall, eastern monarch butterflies travel over 2,000 miles from their summer breeding grounds in the northern US and Canada to Mexico’s high-altitude tropical fir forests, where they overwinter. This tremendous journey – covered by a tiny butterfly weighing less than a paperclip – has captured our imagination for generations. My own interest in science was fueled by my fascinating with the monarchs’ grand journey, as well as the transformation of the pudgy striped caterpillars into beautiful orange-and-black butterflies.

A steep drop in the overwintering population of monarchs in Mexico has raised concern around the continued existence of this iconic species. Increasingly challenging migratory journeys alongside decreased availability of wildflowers and milkweed (the only plant eaten by monarch caterpillars!) have likely fueled this population decline. Additionally, it is likely that climate change amplifies both of these factors across monarchs’ range.

Working with the New Jersey Audubon’s Monarch Monitoring Program, I analyzed trends over 29 years of fall migration data collected in Cape May New Jersey. My collaborators and I found that, at this study site, the fall monarch migration has shifted two weeks later in the year over this 29 year study period. Because migration is all about timing – it is, indeed, based on the need for animals to follow changes in resource abundance across landscapes over seasonal changes – this delay in migration timing may have serious implications for the survival of monarchs along their migration journey. Later migration has been linked to lower migrant survival in monarchs, possibly due to a lower availability of nectar to fuel the monarchs’ southward journey. Learn more about this work through this blog piece, this interview, and our recent publication in Global Change Biology.

A monarch refuels along its journey while passing through Cape May, NJ.

Previous Research: Anolis Lizards

Green anole (Anolis carolinensis)
Photo credit: Nick Herrmann

The high diversity of Anolis lizards (aka: Anoles) has earned them a spot in the hall of fame for the study of evolution and ecology. They also happened to be my favorite lizards to catch as a child. For my senior honors thesis, I melded my fascination with ecology and nostaligia for lizard-catching into a project studying behavioral ecology of Florida’s anoles. By experimentally introducing native green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) and invasive Cuban brown anoles (A. sagrei) to an “intruder” lizard of the opposite species, we were able to glean insight into how these two species interact in the southern US. We found that invasive brown anoles were more aggressive towards “intruder” lizards, and that when green anoles retreat from “intruder” lizards, they are more inclined to flee up into the forest canopy than brown anoles. These observations help illuminate the mechanism behind previously observed habitat partitioning between these two species. My work with anoles resulted in my first first-author paper in Oecologia, as well as another publication on morphological changes in Anolis populations after severe hurricanes.

Cuban brown anole (Anolis sagrei)
Photo credit: Nick Herrmann
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