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José A. Medina Vega begins as ForestGEO-NGEE Tropics postdoc with focus on soil-nutrient interactions

José Anibal Medina Vega is a postdoctoral fellow with ForestGEO and NGEE–Tropics working to develop a pantropical analysis of nutrient controls and their impact on tropical tree recruitment, growth, and mortality.  

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José pictured in Mole National Park in Ghana.  Photo credit: José A. Medina Vega

Education Overview

2009 | Bachelor of Science in Socioeconomic Development and the Environment | Pan-American School of Agriculture, Zamorano | Honduras | "Partial economic valuation of forest fires and protection activities in the Pan-American School of Agriculture, Honduras"

2014 | Master of Science in Forest and Nature Conservation | Wageningen University | the Netherlands | "Fire ecology of the forest-savanna boundary"

2019 | Ph.D. | Wageningen University | the Netherlands | "The ecology of lianas and trees in tropical forest canopies"

2020 | Postdoc in Schnitzer Lab | Marquette University | USA | "The ecology of lianas"

What is your role within NGEE-Tropics?

I’m a member of ForestGEO, one of several institutions involved in the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments-Tropics (NGEE-Tropics). NGEE-Tropics aims to deliver a state-of-the-art, process-rich tropical forest ecosystem model that will accurately represent forest structure and function, and provide robust projections of responses to global change. My role will be to develop a pantropical analysis of nutrient controls on lowland tropical forest structure and functional composition. This analysis will be synthesized into a suite of model testbed sites used to evaluate and benchmark model nutrient cycle representations. I’ll use long-term ForestGEO data coupled with recent detailed soil surveys.

You’ve previously studied tropical forest ecology with special attention to lianas.  How did you get interested in soil science?

Several studies indicate that liana abundance and diversity are increasing, both in absolute terms and relative to trees, in moist tropical forests. Therefore, I studied the traits and processes that drive the differences in growth in response to light, water, and CO2 between trees and lianas using an integration of field observations, experiments, and a mechanistic plant growth model. I focused mostly on above-ground processes. This experience allowed me to recognize that the role of soil nutrient status in regulating the structure, composition, and dynamics of tropical forests is poorly understood.

For my future research, I want to advance the current knowledge of the mechanisms that regulate the dynamics of natural ecosystems, particularly in the tropical forest biome, by incorporating the study of largely ignored life forms, such as lianas and/or palms, to the already more advanced tree research. I aim to investigate their associations and interactions within each other and with the biome. I hope that my future work can provide a more complete understanding of the dynamics of tropical forest systems.

Prior to obtaining this fellowship, did you have any experience with ForestGEO or the Smithsonian Institution?   

I collected the data for my Ph.D. dissertation using both canopy cranes of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in the Republic of Panama from 2015 to 2017. I returned to STRI in 2020 for a year to establish a liana experiment. I learned about ForestGEO and their scientists’ important work during these periods, which was very inspiring. 

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José conducting research in a canopy crane at STRI during his pre-doctoral fellowship.  Photo credit: Edwin Andrades, STRI crane operator.

Recent Publications

Ametsitsi, G.K.D., Van Langevelde, F., Logah, V., Janssen, T., Medina-Vega, J.A., Issifu, H., Ollivier, L., den Hartogh, K., Adjei-Gyapong, T., Adu-Bredu, S., Lloyd, J., & Veenendaal, E.  (2020).  Fixed or mixed?  Variation in tree functional types and vegetation structure in a forest-savanna ecotone in West Africa.  Journal of Tropical Ecology, 36(4): 133-149.

Liu, Q., Sterck, F.J., Medina-Vega, J.A., Sha, L.-Q., Cao, M., Bongers, F., Zhang, J.-L., & Poorter, L.  (2020).  Soil nutrients, canopy gaps and topography affect liana distribution in a tropical seasonal rain forest in southwestern China.  Journal of Vegetation Science, 32(1): e12951.

Medina-Vega, J.A., Bongers, F., Schnitzer, S.A., & Sterck, F.J. (2021).  Lianas explore the forest canopy more effectively than trees under drier conditions.  Functional Ecology, 35(2), 318-329.

Medina-Vega, J.A., Bongers, F., Poorter, L., Schitzer, S.A., & Sterck, F.J. (2021).  Lianas have more acquisitive traits than trees in a dry but not a wet forest.  Journal of Ecology, 109(6): 2367-2384.