Function, morphology and microclimate of cryptogams. Lichens and bryophytes present a set of convergent approaches to the challenge of being a terrestrial photosynthetic organism that make for interesting comparisons with vascular land plants. On top of that, their reliance on atmospheric sources of water and nutrients means that their morphology and anatomy are often even more coupled to local environmental conditions than are vascular plants. This makes them particularly great organisms for getting at the interplay between shape, anatomy and function for photosynthetic organisms. Functional traits of bryophytes: Data on plant trait trade-offs informs global models and helps test fundamental theories of plant biology. Most studies have largely focused on vascular plants, however, non-vascular plants play a major role in ecosystem processes in many globally important carbon sinks. I am developing a framework relating the morphological and physiological traits of bryophytes to their environment and to ecosystem processes. Morphology and function of lichens: I have been working in lichen-dominated ecosystems in Chile and Peru for a decade, studying both how lichen morphology responds to conditions and how lichens affect their surroundings . With Reinaldo Vargas (Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación, Chile) and Peter Nelson (University of Maine), I am continuing this work looking at hyper-diverse lichen communities in desert coast oases.
Influence of plants and plant traits on their surroundings: The counter-point to the impacts of environment on plant traits described above is the influence that plants have on their local and not so local environments. Microclimatic effects of epiphytes: Plant and lichen morphology can help create much more favorable microclimates than the general surroundings. These same microclimate modifications can then influence more than just the original organism. Working in epiphyte-rich environments of the South American coast, we showed that epiphytes greatly modify the micro-environment of their host plants, increasing water use efficiency (Stanton, Huallpa et al. 2014). An undergraduate student working with me has now built on this study to set up experimental manipulations with epiphytes in a northern Minnesota black spruce bog. Self-organization of ecosystem properties: Feedbacks between organisms and their environment can lead to dramatic build-up of complex ecosystems. I work with collaborators in Chile to study how directional supply of fog water can generate complex repeating patterns of vegetation and ecosystem processes.
Other research topics: Foliar uptake and fog: Much of my research has involved the influence on fog on ecosystems (PhD research) and plant ecophysiology (Postdoc). I remain interested in studies of the physiological and ecological importance of atmospheric sources of water, and anatomical and physiological characters driving their use, developing experimental and stable isotope approaches. Research in diversity in biological sciences: I am also interested in research approaches to assessing and improving a different form of diversity, that within our profession. I have approached this through collaborative modelling of career transitions according to gender, as well as evaluations of postdoctoral experiences. I am interested in continuing this sort of research into academia, in particular focusing on the retention and recruitment of minorities.