rocks and water in forest
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2019 Grant Recipients and their Projects

Since 2002, ForestGEO has annually awarded grant funding to a small number of students and researchers to conduct research at forest dynamics sites in the network. During the 2019 grant year ForestGEO awarded a total of $60,000 to seven individuals who will carry out research in 10 ForestGEO plots. Read about their projects below, and remember that the deadline for our 2021 call is June 18.


Suzanne Oh, a PhD candidate at Stanford University, is interested in how belowground processes influence the coexistence of plants aboveground.  Specifically, she studies the role mycorrhizae have in affecting decomposition and nutrient cycles in the soil.  Her project,  “Traits-based approach to determining ectomycorrhizal fungal community assembly in a Dipterocarp rainforest,” will use field samples, greenhouse experiments, and molecular techniques to understand the soil microbial community. She hopes the findings will contribute to a more holistic understanding of tropical forests. Suzanne will conduct field work in the lowland, mixed dipterocarp forest in ForestGEO’s Lambir plot for this project.  

Vanessa Rubio, a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, seeks to identify the plant community assembly mechanisms that maintain high species diversity in the Colombian Amazon.  Specifically, her project will explore the relationships between soil nutrients, light availability, and seedling agglomeration with seedling characteristics.  As the majority of mortality occurs in seedlings, understanding seedling characteristics is especially important for unraveling the processes giving rise to the species distribution of adult trees. Vanessa hopes her research in Amacayacu will provide a deeper understanding of seedling function that will increase our ability to predict species distributions and performance in tropical forests.

Evan Gora, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Louisville, wants to improve understandings of carbon cycling by better representing the decomposition of trees. Using data on both the location and time of death for each dead tree in  ForestGEO’s Amacayacu, San Lorenzo, and Barro Colorado Island plots, Evan will reconstruct patterns of decomposition over the past 35 years using approximately 15,000 trees. He will combine the information about decomposition with existing data about tree traits and environmental characteristics to develop a reliable model of decomposition, which, ultimately, will help in forest management decisions as we address the challenges of climate change.

Katie Beidler, a PhD candidate at Indiana University, is exploring how the “hidden half” of trees (i.e. roots and mycorrhizae) contribute to carbon storage in soil. Katie plans to examine the linkages between fine root traits, nutrient cycling, and soil organic matter dynamics. Given that temperate forests are biodiverse and contain considerable root trait variation, she will carry out this work along fertility gradients in three temperate forests sites within the ForestGEO network - Lilly Dickey Woods, Tyson Research Center, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.  By collecting root trait data for plots differing in their soil fertility, she hopes to understand how root traits related to litter quality vary along soil fertility gradients. To isolate the effects of root traits on decay and soil C storage, she will conduct a lab incubation study to track the movement of root-derived C and N into microbial biomass, particulate organic matter and mineral-associated soil organic matter fractions.  

Young leaves of Inga umbellifera

Phyllis Coley, a Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, is examining the ways that plant-herbivore interactions influence the origin and maintenance of tropical tree diversity. Writ large, it is understood that ecological specialization and tradeoffs are at the root of biodiversity and that they result in the co-existence of many species rather than a few winners.  Phyllis will study this principle specifically in the case of Inga, one of the Amazon’s most abundant and speciose genera (>300 species). At ForestGEO’s Yasuní plot, she and her collaborators will test the extent of Inga’s divergence regarding defensive mechanisms, resource acquisition traits, and tolerance to abiotic stress.   

Melina de Souza Leite, a PhD candidate at the University of São Paulo, is interested in the diversity of vital rates of trees – the variability of recruitment, growth, and mortality of rates by species – and how they relate to community assembly.  In her project, “Seeing the forest for the trees: Disentangling the contribution of species, space, and time to the variability in tree vital rates,” Melina will examine vital rates to better identify the structuring processes in different ecosystems. Doing so will help to focus research efforts by indicating where the greatest increase in predictive power can be gained.  Melina will conduct fieldwork in both of ForestGEO’s Brazil plots, Ilha do Cardoso and Manaus


For further information about the ForestGEO Research Grants Program, please read the full call for proposals here. The closing date for proposals for 2021 research grants is June 18. Email with any questions.