Marcel Carita Vaz

email:   Marcel Carita Vaz
phone:   (310) 825-4967
office:   LSB 3209

Research Interest

Tropical forests harbor an incredible diversity of trees, and this fact has been appreciated for centuries. Yet, we still have little idea of how this diversity is maintained or where it came from, in the first place. My goal is to advance on those questions hoping it will help us address an even more important question about diversity in the tropics: What will its fate be?

In my research, I am focusing on ecological mechanisms that reduce performance differences between species, thus making it less likely that they will drive each other to extinction. Although these "equalizing" mechanisms per se cannot provide stable coexistence, they become disproportionately important when there is little niche differentiation between species. This is the case for most trees: although some species have specialized into colonizing gaps or occupying the forest canopy, e.g., the vast majority of species are understory trees.

The specific hypothesis I am testing is that, at the sapling stage in the forest understory, there is a trade-off between the ability to harvest light (by growing wider crowns) and the ability to access it first (by growing taller). Furthermore, if this is an important trade-off for species coexistence, any deviation from this trade-off should be reflected on the species abundances (species that are good at both things should be more abundant).

I am also interested in exploring how this trade-off might have evolved through time. More specifically, I want to test whether certain conserved traits such as phyllotaxy and blade division might have constrained the diversity of crown architectures in some clades.


Kandlikar, G.S., Vaz, M.C., Kriebel, R., Vargas, G., Michelangeli, F.A., Cordero, R., Almeda, F., Avalos, G., Fetcher, N., Kraft, N.J.B. (in press) Contrasting patterns of taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional variation along a Costa Rican altitudinal gradient in the plant family Melastomataceae Journal of Tropical Ecology

Bastias, C.C., Fortunel, C. Valladares, F., Baraloto, C., Benavides, R., Cornwell, W., Markesteijn, L., De Oliveira, A.A., Sansevero, J.B.B., VAZ, M.C., Kraft, N.J.B. (2017) Intraspecific leaf trait variability along a boreal-to-tropical community diversity gradient Plos One 12: e0172495

Finegan, B., Peña-Claros, M., Oliveira, A., Ascarrunz, N., Bret-Harte, M.S., Carreño-Rocabado, G., Casanoves, F., Díaz, S., Velepucha, P.E., Fernandez, F., Licona, J.C., Lorenzo, L., Negret, B.S., VAZ, M.C., Poorter, L. (2015) Does functional trait diversity predict aboveground biomass and productivity of tropical forests? Testing three alternative hypotheses Journal of Ecology 103: 191-201

Gomes, A.C.S., Andrade, A., Barreto-Silva, J.S., Brenes-Arguedas, T., López, D.C., de Freitas, C.C., Lang, C., de Oliveira, A.A., Pérez, A.J., Perez, R., Da Silva, J.B., Silveira, A.M.F., VAZ, M.C., Vendrami, J., Vicentini, A. (2013) Local plant species delimitation in a highly diverse Amazonian forest: do we all see the same species? Journal of Vegetation Science 24: 70-79


2008   Universidade de São Paulo   BSc    Biological Sciences

2011   Universidade de São Paulo   MSc    Ecology