Faculty Spotlight

Philip Rundel

Philip Rundel I am interested in the physiological ecology of plants, and in particular how plants respond to their complex microclimatic environments. In tropical forests, where I do much of my research, these microclimates are especially complex, and the microclimates for individual trees change radically as they grow from seedling, through sapling stages, and eventually reach full sun in the canopy as an adult tree. Howe do tropical trees cope with the large changes in microclimate they experience as they pass though these very different developmental stages? To find out, my engineering colleagues at the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing at UCLA and I have been instrumenting a tropical forest at La Selva Biological Station in the lowland tropical rainforest of northeastern Costa Rica. We have constructed a system of three walk-up canopy towers, two radio towers, and a 25-m canopy walkway and are instrumenting them with multiple nodes of microclimate sensors above and within the canopy, along with a series of digital cameras with pan-tilt-zoom capacity to monitor plant phenology and animal movements. The data gathered and camera imaging will be available over the Internet anywhere in the world. It is a very exciting time to be in ecology because ecological research is undergoing a major technological revolution as interfaces develop between the environmental sciences and engineering and information technology. As a result, many problems that once were seemingly impossible to address are becoming tractable. These advances have been spurred by decreasing cost, size and weight, and improved reliability, of both environmental sensing hardware and new, more efficient software.

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