cover article in American Journal of Botany


I have just published a new essay in the American Journal of Botany entitled “Moving Forward with Species Distributions”.  This essay is highlighted as the cover piece (image above and below) and is the premiere of the AJB’s new section “On the Nature of Things”.  The article is open-access and can be found HERE.  A brief summary is included below.

Anthropogenic climate change poses an unprecedented threat to biodiversity. Many studies employ species distribution models to predict the fate of plant species under climate change. In these models, the observed occurrences of species are used to identify the conditions under which the species can occur and to map locations with these conditions under current and future climates. As Feeley discusses in his essay “Moving Forward with Species Distributions” (pp. 173–175), this approach hinges on two untested assumptions: that the observed occurrences of a species accurately reflect its climatic tolerances (i.e., that the realized niche approximates the fundamental niche) and that there is no local adaption of climatic tolerances. Feeley argues critical examination of these assumptions and urges the scientific community to work towards the common goal of understanding the fundamental climatic niches of both species and populations.

Cover image expansion

Cover Caption: To predict, and with the hope to mitigate, the effects of climate change on biodiversity, we need a better understanding of the complex abiotic and biotic factors that determine species’ geographic ranges. In other words, we need to know species’ fundamental and realized niches so that we can map where species occur and predict their abilities to tolerate or respond to future climates. This is no easy task — especially in the tropics where most species occur but information on species’ distributions and ecologies is scarce. In Andean montane cloudforests, which are one of the most diverse but understudied ecosystems on Earth, many plant species such as the emblematic Andean Royal Palm (Dictyocaryum lamarckianum) in the foreground and the tree ferns (Cyathea spp.) in the background of the cover image have tightly restricted elevational ranges. K. J. Feeley and the Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group (ABERG; are working to map the ranges of cloudforest plant species, determine the factors that limit species’ ranges, and predict the impacts of climate change in these highly diverse systems. In this issue’s “On the Nature of Things” feature, “Moving forward with species distributions” on pages 173–175, J. K. Feeley discusses the challenges involved. Photograph by K. J. Feeley.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are very pleased to invite you to attend the 4th Tropical Biology Symposium on the afternoon of Sunday, February 22nd 2015 at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami (hosted by the Fairchild’s Kushlan Tropical Science Institute).

Tropical biologists from UM and FIU will present lectures throughout the afternoon along with two keynote addresses by Drs. Helene Muller-Landau of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Fabian Michelangeli of the NY Botanical Garden.

The symposium is free and open to the public!  Tell all your friends!

The schedule of events will be:

12:00-13:00: Registration and lunch (provided) at Fairchild’s Garden House auditorium.

13:00-13:10: Introductory remarks.

13:10-14:10: Keynote Speaker: Helene Muller-Landau (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute): “Tropical forest carbon cycles and global change

14:10-14:30: Coffee Break

14:30-14:50: Steve Oberbauer (FIU; Biology) “In the heat of the night and other tales on the controls of tropical tree growth

14:50-15:10: Margie Oleksiak (UM; RSMAS) “Genomic approaches: insights into adapting to a changing environment

15:10-15:30: Eric J Bishop-von Wettberg (FIU; Biology) “Back to the wilds: increasing the climatic resilience of chickpea with expanded germplasm resources

15:30-16:00: Coffee Break

16:00-16:20: Barbara Whitlock (UM; Biology) “Re-visiting the latitudinal gradient of diversity in Malvaceae”

16:20-16:40: Brian Machovina (FIU; Biology) “Conservation – the key is reducing human carnivory

16:40-17:00: Kathleen Sullivan-Sealey (UM; Biology) “Islands, nitrogen and sustainability in changing climates: case study on great Exuma, Bahamas

17:00-17:20: Coffee Break

17:20-18:20Keynote speaker: Fabian A. Michelangeli (NY Botanical Garden) The assemblage of Neotropical forests: a phylogenetic perspective

18:20-19:30: Drinks & Refreshments (provided)

Please RSVP by February 18th through our Doodle poll:

FUN!ctional Traits: Stomata Density

Cananga odorata abaxial leaf surface @ 100x with stomata circled in red.

Cananga odorata abaxial leaf surface @ 100x with guard cells and stomata circled in red.

Stomata are the microscopic pores that facilitate the movement of gasses into and out of leaves. Carbon dioxide goes into the leaf, while oxygen and water vapor go out. The opening and closing of stomata (stoma=singular) are mediated by the guard cells, which can expand and contract depending on their turgor pressure. Turgid guard cells open the pores, flaccid cells close them. Stomata are key to evapotranspiration and water and solute transport from roots, to shoots, to leaves. Coupled with other plant functional traits, stomata can indicate how a plant is interacting and coping with its environment. In an upcoming project I will being quantifying stomatal density with other traits, among different species along an environmental gradient.

From reading the literature, it is apparent that changing one variable in a leaf, such as stomatal density, can have a cascade of effects on other traits and photosynthetic rates. However, I cannot think about stomata density without first considering Woodward’s 1987 paper, ‘Stomatal numbers are sensitive to increases in CO2 from pre-industrial levels.’ I really like this study because it used herbarium records dating back 200 years to show stomata densities have decreased over time. After growing plants in varying concentrations of carbon dioxide, Woodward was able to show that the decreases in stomata density of herbarium specimens likely resulted from increases in global CO2 concentration.

It is interesting to note that atmospheric CO2 concentrations were 340 µmol/mol at the time of Woodward’s study. We have just recently passed the grim 400 µmol/mol milestone, which is disconcerting in light of another observation Woodward made: Some plants did not change their stomatal density above ambient CO2 (340 µmol/mol) conditions. What does that mean for plant physiology?  Rico et al. 2013 suggest plants may shift towards lower water requirements and greater xylem fortification – in other words – plants become more drought tolerant…if they can.

While I’m reading up on that, I will leave you with a 400x close up of the more stomata (below). In both top and bottom pictures, I have circled some of the stomata. The guard cells look like two touching crescents. The guard cells are mostly closed, because the leaves are dead (ultra-flaccid), plus the cells have probably contracted some. The black cone shapes are hairs. These images are nail polish molds of the the abaxial (bottom side) of Cananga odorata. The green color is an after-effect.

Cananga odorata abaxial leaf surface @ 400x with two stomata circled in red.

Cananga odorata abaxial leaf surface @ 400x with two stomata circled in red.

Works Cited:

Rico, C., Pittermann, J., Polley, H. W., Aspinwall, M. J. and Fay, P. A. 2013. The effect of subambient to elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration on vascular function in Helianthus annuus: implications for plant response to climate change. New Phytologist 199: 956–965.

Woodward, F. I. 1987. Stomatal numbers are sensitive to increases in CO2 from pre-industrial levels. Nature 327:617–618.

my new biggest pet peeve

The last couple of times that I’ve gone to get coffee with my own mug, the barista has measured out the coffee into a disposable cup, poured it into my mug, and then thrown the cup away! I understand that the barista is under pressure to not give away anything, but this totally defeats any attempt to reduce waste.  It is also costing for the coffee shop money since they pay for the cup but still give me a discount for bringing my own cup – and there is no way that the extra bit of coffee that they might accidently give me costs anywhere near as much as that wasted cup.

Along those same lines, there are several times that I have stopped a shop attendant from putting something in a plastic bag only to watch them throw away the bag that they had started to use.  Had my item somehow spoiled the bag and made it unfit for the next customer’s foot powder?!

How do people still not get it? I am dumfounded.


presentations at FIU graduate symposium

The upwithclimate team was well represented at the 2015 FIU graduate student symposium.


We had talks by:

Belén Fadrique on Effects of altitude and topography on liana biomass in southern Ecuadorian tropical montane forests
Lianas are structural parasites that rely on tree support for reaching the canopy. Lianas strongly affect forest dynamics, causing increased mortality and decreased growth of host trees. Their density and biomass have recently increased in neotropical lowland forests, however, their status in tropical montane forests remains unknown. The aim of the project was to define liana distribution patterns along elevation and topographical gradients of tropical montane forests. I studied the liana-host tree interaction and I compared liana biomass contribution among elevations and with lowland forest. My final goal was to identify other potential factors affecting liana biomass, such as soil composition or forest structure. This project was carried out in the tropical montane forests located in and around Podocarpus National Park in South Ecuador. All lianas (dbh ≥ 1cm) and trees (dbh>10cm) were recorded in 54 permanent plots (400 m2) at three study sites (1000, 2000 and 3000masl) with three topographic positions (low, mid, upslope). As results I found that liana biomass decreases with elevation and its contribution to total biomass is lower than in lowland forests. Elevation, stand structural parameters and soil conditions, pH and nitrogen, were identified as the factors determining liana biomass patterns on the studied montane forests.

Brian L. Machovina on An evaluation of UAV systems for remote sensing of banana production and yield
UAVs remain largely untested in tropical agricultural systems. In this study we compared the ease of use and efficiency of rotary-wing and fixed-wing UAV systems equipped with two different sensor systems for mapping spatial patterns of photosynthetic activity in banana plantations in Costa Rica. Spatial patterns of a photosynthetic indices based on reflected red/red edge and visible light (ENDVI) and reflected near infrared and red light (NDVI) were then compared to spatial patterns of physical soil quality, irrigation activity, and banana fruit production data. We found that the rotary UAV system was easier and safer to operate but that the fixed-wing UAV system was more efficient in areal coverage and extent of imagery acquired per unit time. Spatial patterns of ENDVI and NDVI were significantly positively correlated with several metrics of fruit yield and quality. Irrigating bananas during early stage growth significantly increased both ENDVI and canopy cover. Spatial patterns of NDVI were not correlated to spatial patterns of physical soil quality. These results indicate that UAV systems can be used in banana plantations to help map patterns of fruit production as well as some of the underlying drivers of production, thereby helping to maximize agricultural efficiency.

and posters by:

Oliver Ljustina and James T. Stroud on Mapping the competition landscape in evolutionary novel communities
Biotic interactions are often assumed to be an important factor in structuring ecological communities, and a driving force behind subsequent phenotypic evolution of constituent species. In multiple independent adaptive radiations of Anolis lizards on islands in the Greater Antilles, biotic interactions are assumed to have been integral in influencing the patterns of diversification. In south Florida, a suite of evolutionary novel communities of Anolis lizards from the Greater Antilles have been formed through multiple introductions of non-native, formerly allopatric species. We assessed the competition landscape of sympatric Anolis or one focal species, the Cuban brown anole (A. sagrei), using staged experimental trials of paired species interactions. Three sympatric Anolis species were chosen which represent a gradient of ecological similarity. We hypothesised that agonistic interactions would be highest against species of highest ecological similarity.

Marie Colom and James Stroud on Cuban brown anole (Anolis sagrei) is affected by urbanization; a case study of an invasive species in Florida
The effect of urbanization on many species’ ecology and behavior remains poorly understood. Additionally, assessing invasive species’ behavior across a range of habitat types is an integral component of invasion biology but one which is often overlooked. We investigated territorial behavior in adult male Cuban brown anoles (Anolis sagrei) in natural and urban areas in Miami FL. Behavioral traits were categorized into territorial (head bobs, dewlap extensions, push-ups), movement (run, jump, perch change) and individual (copulating, eating) groups. There was a significant difference in behavior between natural and urban habitat (MANOVA, df=8, p=0.01). Specifically, anoles performed more dewlap displays (df=1, p=0.04), changed perches less (df=1, p=0.008) and jumped less (df=1, p=0.006) when in urban habitats. There was no significant difference in behavior between morning and afternoon sampling observations (MANOVA, df=8, p=0.3168). Dewlap displays are typically a territory-maintenance behavior, therefore an increase in urban areas could represent heightened intrapspecific competition. Decreases in perch changes and jumping could be due to a decrease in structural habitat complexity with an increase in urbanization. This research highlights the need for further research on the ecological consequences of urbanization on Cuban brown anoles.

Way to represent team!

“No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

orig state of the union sotu obama promises tapper_00010527

Doesn’t Boehner look happy?

Excerpt from President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address:

“And no challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement — the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”

He talks the talk, now can he walk the walk?

Overexploitation or just good food?


Every time I go into the tropics something always amazes me. It could be the incredible size of the trees in the rainforest, the warm & blue waters at the beach, or the roads built into the sides of cliff faces. In the case of Vietnam what amazes me the most is the diversity of food.

A woman selling a variety of seafood products at the fish market

A woman selling a variety of seafood products at the fish market

The Vietnamese seem to utilize just about every plant and animal they can find and every town has a local or regional dish. While I have definitely enjoyed the amount and variety of cheap food, I can’t help but wonder where it all comes from and what it means in terms of the environment.

One of the main research topics in our group is the relationship between food and environmental health. Brian Machovina and Ken Feeley have written a series of articles describing how economic growth in countries like China can put a real strain on the agricultural system and lead to further habitat destruction through the need to expand food production.

Vietnam is no China, but with 90 million people (13th most populous country in the world) there are a lot of mouths to feed. In order to feed all those people you need to use everything you can. When you walk through the local markets you can be really astounded by the variety of animal products available. For example, in a relatively small market in Ho Chi Minh City there are the usual chicken, pork and beef vendors but there are also people selling baskets of fried insects, the infamous roasted dog, mounds of octopus, fresh turtles, bowls of frog legs, coffee made from weasel excrement, even plates with plucked sparrows and pigeons caught just outside of the market.

A roasted dog and unidentified species of reptile for sale in a local market in Ho Chi Minh City

A roasted dog and unidentified species of reptile for sale in a local market in Ho Chi Minh City.

In many of the more rural markets you really begin to see how the environment is utilized for food or personal enjoyment. Honey is always available in a variety of flavors. Local snakes are skinned and grilled for shoppers to enjoy. Forest mammals are often for sale either for food or just to have tied up as a pet and oddity in your house. Native birds are sold as ornaments to keep in a cage outside the front door. The list of native animal products goes on and on.

While I don’t intend to be overly critical of the Vietnamese customs and practices, I can’t help but notice that, like in many developing tropical countries, all the signs point to unplanned and non-sustainable use of the environment. In rural regions there is very little native forest left and forests are cleared to plant crops or graze animals almost everywhere that isn’t too steep. In the fish markets, overharvesting is painfully apparent due to the abundance of juvenile individuals for sale. Even the lack of proper garbage disposal poses a significant threat to the environment because trash clogs most major waterways.

Unidentified mammal skin for sale in rural market

Unidentified mammal skin for sale in rural market

Many people do not have the economic luxury to choose where their food comes from or how it is made. As a person living in a developed country with a reasonably good education, I have no right to judge the Vietnamese people on their daily living practices. Quite the opposite, I should use that education to make informed decisions about my lifestyle choices to ensure that I am living in the most sustainable way possible. So the next time I am at the store and see ‘Product of Vietnam’ on the label, I may do a little investigating first to find out if that product is made in a way that doesn’t overexploit the environment.

Buckets of juvenile and undersized crabs for sale

Buckets of juvenile and undersized crabs for sale