Current Research

Intraspecific trait variation across continental scales

Numerous studies illustrate the importance of intraspecific variation in evolutionary processes and in promoting biodiversity, yet most theoretical research in community ecology focuses on species’ mean trait values. Recently there have been calls for revitalizing ecological theory with an emphasis on intraspecific variation. Research in the lab addresses this knowledge gap by uncovering the relative importance of intraspecific trait variation in structuring continental-scale biodiversity patterns using organismal data from the National Ecological Observatory Network with funding from the NSF. We are also collecting range wide data on the intraspecific genetic variation of the purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) and its inquiline foodweb with funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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Process based range modeling 

Correlative species distribution models (SDMs) are a primary tool used by ecologists to evaluate how species ranges might shift with climate change. One challenge to such correlative SDMs is that they ignore a great deal of biological realism (e.g., biotic interactions, demographic processes, genetic variation). Current research in the lab focuses on infusing greater biological realism into SDMs.

Remote sensing of biodiversity 

With funding from NASA we are working to identify the next set of data products most useful to biodiversity scientists.

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Evolutionary stable strategies of hemiparasitic plants

This project explores the optimal conditions for the establishment, growth, survival and reproduction of mistletoes. We currently have a field site established at the Imperial College of London’s Silwood Park. Sydne is searching for good sites to study in the Philadelphia area. The field work is really fun and involves climbing in tree canopies!

Long term studies at Harvard Forest, Massachusetts and La Selva, Costa Rica

Sydne has several ongoing collaborations with researchers at Harvard Forest on long term data sets. Research topics include: pitcher plant population dynamics, impacts of the hemlock woolly adelgid on eastern forests, and ants. La Selva data consist of an unprecedented long term record of wet tropical forest seedling dynamics in which tagged individuals have been censused every 6 weeks for over a decade! For this project, we ask how Janzen-Connell effects, soil nutrients, climate, and irradiance influence species coexistence in the hyperdiverse forests of La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica.