February 25, 2020
12:00pm The Hershey Hall Grand Salon, Room 158, Hershey Hall
Department of Biological Sciences, Rice University
How so many species, utilizing the same resources, are able to coexist in a given community remain a key challenge of ecology. Studies have traditionally focused on one type of species interaction when trying to elucidate this question. Yet, several species interactions are happening simultaneously to shape communities. How do different species interactions together promote species coexistence? How do disturbances influence these interactions? To address these questions, I expand upon a well- known theory of negative density dependence by incorporating the effects of mutualism in diverse tropical rainforests. Combining both theory and empirical data, I investigate the roles played by plant natural enemies (agents of negative density dependence) and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (ubiquitous mutualist fungi) in promoting tropical tree coexistence. My recent and future work embrace the fact that the world is changing and investigate how climate and disturbances affect species interactions in ways that could promote or disrupt plant species coexistence. Overall my work illustrates the importance of embracing the complexity of communities, rather than focusing on a singular species interaction, and demonstrates the value of combining theory and empirical data.