Research Projects


Linking ecosystem and geomorphic processes to understand the large-scale organization of tropical mountains mediated by landsliding

Landsliding is likely to play a pivotal role in mountainscapes, our knowledge about ecosystem responses to the formation of landslides and in turn, about the influence of ecosystem on this process is very limited. Building upon our previous work in the Sierra de Las Minas of Guatemala where we examined the role of landsliding on the carbon cycle this new project is aimed at understanding the role of soil fertility on the formation of landslides.

Luis Kidany Selles (Ph. D.) and Emily Diaz (B. Sc.) are actively partcipating in this project.


This is a collaborative project with Edwin Castellanos (Universidad del Valle de Guatemala), Markus Stoffel, and Juan Ballesteros (University of Geneva) and Jane Willenbring (Scripps Institution of Oceanograph). Funded through the National Science Foundation, DEB.


Landsliding and the rhizobiota link the short- and long-term carbon cycles: A metagenomic approach

The main goal of this proof-of-concept study is to characterize the rhizobiomas of plants developing in contrasting weathering enviroments, namely landslides and forest underlain by (Ca, Mg)-bearing silicate rocks.

Yakshi Ortiz (Ph.D.) and Edwin Navarro (B.Sc.) are actively participating in this project.


This is a collaborative project with Dr. Filipa Godoy at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico Metropolitan campus. Funded through NIH-INBRE 2015-2016 cycle

Vine expansion in post-agricultural landscapes

Climbing plants are increasing in abundance and through their effect on community structure and ecosystem-level processes may be becoming important drivers of change. Nearly all studies on climbing plants have focused on woody climbings plants or lianas completly overlooking their non-woody counterparts - herbaceous and shrubby climbing plants or vines - which are reaching epidemic proportions in numerous regenerating post-agricultural landscapes worldwide.

We are investigating the large-scale dynamics of vines across a complex environmental gradient in the island of Puerto Rico. Using remotely sensed data and ground thruthing we are mapping vine patches and characterizing species composition and abudance. The combination of two sets of high-resolution imagery collected 9 years apart will allow us to build vine patch networks and begin to understand its large-scale dynamics.

Diana Delgado (Ph. D.), Josimar Figueroa (B. Sc.), and Diana Pabon actively partcipated in this project



Landscapes, Water, and the Sustainable Management of Tropical Watersheds

Water is not only one of our basic needs, but also a resource that is critical for the sustainable development of our society. This research is aimed at developing a framework that incorporates ideas of sustainability and resilience for watershed management. Specifically we want to understand how interactions between spatially explicit natural and social networks may contribute to the resilience, and ultimately the sustainability of tropical watersheds.

We are using the Rio Grande de Arecibo watershed of Puert Rico watershed as a model system for the island, and more broadly speaking for other tropical regions. This watershed became a key player for the provision of potable water in the island when a complex system of pipes was built to transfer water across the island to serve the Metropolitan area of San Juan.



This was an interdisciplinary collaboration with faculty at UPR-RP and was initially funded through an institutional award


Phenotypic consequences of habitat loss on tropical organisms

We are interested in the mechanisms underlying phenotypic change in fragmented habitats, including the extent to which organisms are reslient to change. We focus on body size, a universal currency not only reflecting a fascinating dimension of diversity but also one related to a variety of physiological, morphological, behavioral, life-history, and ecological attributes of organisms.

We have been interested in: 1) characterizing the multimodal distribution of body sizes, 2) understanding the functional role of organisms sharing similar sizes, and 3) examining linkages between developmental processes operating at the level of individuals with ecological process operating at the level of communities to understand the emergence of multimodal distributions in body size. In particular, we have explored the degree to which habitat loss may have altered developmental stability, and whether certain body sizes are more likely to exhibit higher levels of fluctuating asymmetry or morphological variation that may make them less likely to persist in altered environments.

These questions have been addressed at a variety of scales and using different approaches including field and laboratory work, the compilation of large databases, photographing or x-raying preserved specimens, and using GIS. We have focused on birds, amphibians, and butterflies to accommodate students' interests.

Students Zuania Colon (M.Sc.), Patricia Torres and Ivana Resto (B.Sc.) are currently working on the project "Subtle skeletal abnormalities in two species of frogs (Eleutherodactylus) with direct development increase with forest fragmentation."


Body Size
there may be more than one solution for one given ecological
problem, we need not
expect all individuals within a population to overcome such problems in he




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