Benjamin Blonder

University of Arizona

Student research projects for summer 2014

Non-steady state dynamics are important in nature. Ecosystems are rarely in equilibrium with climate change or human disturbance. Tree species distributions can reflect the last Ice Age, and birds and butterflies cannot track current climate change. Conversion of land from wild to human usage is increasing rapidly, disturbing ecosystems and producing never-before-seen assemblages of species. The 21st century will see increasingly large disturbances to natural systems, but ecology is still underprepared to predict or manage the consequences.

My research focuses on developing and testing new theories to understand ecological disequilibrium. At RMBL I study alpine plant communities that have been disturbed by climate change and anthropogenic nutrient inputs. I study these communities’ species composition and distribution of function in order to better understand how, and why, they are changing. My work involves botanical surveys and field trait measurements, as well as mathematical modeling and computational image processing.

Students working with me will have an opportunity to focus on one or more of these areas. This summer I have opportunities to work on a range of unanswered questions at the frontier of functional ecology. Some projects that are suitable for a summer field season include (but are not limited to):

-measurement of phonological integration with other ecological strategy axes

– measurement of rates of alpine plant acclimation to microclimate variation

– test of theories for seasonal dynamics of functional integration within a growing season

– measurement of community-wide functional variation to determine if niches do or do not have holes, what historical causes caused them, and what this might mean for climate change response

– understanding of drivers of root branching network geometry

My research group is currently comprised of just me – so students will receive extensive mentoring attention, and will have a chance to work closely with a young investigator. I do collaborate with Dr. Brian Enquist and Dr. John Harte, and students will be invited to attend lab meetings with these research groups. I look forward to working with creative and independent students who enjoy being on mountaintops as much as I do.