Liza Comita's picture

Liza Comita

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Liza earned a BA in Biology and MA in Conservation Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1999 and a PhD in Plant Biology from the University of Georgia in 2006. She joined the faculty of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in July 2014. Prior to that she was an assistant professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at The Ohio State University (2011-2014) and held postdoctoral positions at the University of Minnesota (2006-2007), the Earth Institute at Columbia University (2007-2009), and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (2009-2011). She is broadly interested in the mechanisms driving patterns of diversity, dynamics, and species distributions in both pristine and human-altered systems. Her current research focuses on the ecology of tropical tree species and how spatial and temporal variation in regeneration dynamics act to maintain diversity and determine species abundance and composition within and across plant communities. Her research combines extensive field studies of forest dynamics with cutting-edge statistical techniques, such as maximum likelihood methods, spatially-explicit neighborhood analysis, and hierarchical Bayesian models, to produce novel insights into the processes driving regeneration and structuring diverse ecological communities.

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Graduate Students

Meghna Krishnadas's picture

Meghna Krishnadas

Meghna has an MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation from the National Center for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and a MBBS (medical degree) from Bangalore Medical College, Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences. Her main interests lie in understanding forest ecology, especially the changing dynamics of ecological processes due to anthropogenic disturbances. For her dissertation research, she is studying how forest fragmentation, specifically edge effects, alters seedling recruitment. Specifically, she is examining how species functional traits, such as seed size, govern species’ responses to light availability, pathogen attack, and their interaction. Her study site is located in a fragmented forest landscape in the Western Ghats region of southern India, a biodiversity hotspot.

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Andrew Muehleisen's picture

Andrew Muehleisen

Andrew received a B.S. in Evolution and Ecology from the Ohio State University in 2013 and started hist PhD at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in 2014. He is generally interested in the ecology and physiology of trees as they experience environmental stress, especially in the tropics. Drought impacts and adaptation are key components of his graduate research, and his current work is focused on tree drought resistance across environmental gradients in the Amazonian Basin. He is also exploring the relationship between drought resistance and plant defense/herbivory along a rainfall gradient in Panama. Andrew is also developing conceptual and mathematical models exploring the ecological significance of plant traits under changing environmental conditions. More broadly, he wants to understand the determinants of species’ ranges, mechanisms of coexistence, and the capacity for adaptation and resilience among plants given a changing climate.

Stephen Murphy's picture

Stephen Murphy

Stephen graduated from Denison University with a B.S. in Biology and from Ohio University with an M.S. in Plant Biology. In between, he worked as a forest monitoring technician at Highstead, Inc. and then for the National Park Service. He started his PhD in 2012. Stephen’s research interests are primarily concerned with the dynamics and stability of temperate forest communities. In particular, he is interested in understanding what factors influence the number of tree species that can be maintained at local scales. For his dissertation research, he is focusing on biotic and abiotic variables that influence the establishment and survival of trees at Powdermill Nature Reserve in southwestern Pennsylvania, with a focus on the ‘regeneration niche’. Ultimately, he hopes further understanding of how processes acting on the seedling life-stage influence larger-scale distribution and abundance patterns.

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Juan Penagos Zuluaga's picture

Juan Penagos Zuluaga

Juan Carlos completed his MS degree at the Missouri Botanical Garden and is interested in systematics, evolution and conservation of tropical trees, using Neotropical genera in the family Lauraceae as a model group, as well as related ecological and conservation questions in temperate and tropical regions. For his dissertation research, he is focusing on the evolution and ecological consequences of plant breeding systems in tropical trees. Check out his website here.

Megan Sullivan's picture

Megan Sullivan

Megan earned a B.S. in Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology from the Ohio State University in 2014. She has worked at field sites in Panama (2013), Flagstaff (2014), Gabon (2015), and China (2016), and has worked with a variety of datasets from Neotropical areas. While living and working for a year in Gabon, she learned a great deal about the relationship between local communities and forests, which impacted her view of scientific research, conservation, and outreach work immensely. She is eager to continue her research in Central Africa, encourage more integration between science and policy, and work with local communities. Her dissertation research focuses on the mechanisms of tree coexistence in tropical forests. In particular, she is interested in studying the interactions of plant traits with the environment and understanding how this relationship affects competitive processes. Ultimately, she hopes this understanding will allow us to better understand the processes in tropical ecosystems in general, thus allowing ecologists to make better predictive models for how forests will respond to changes - such as climate change and human disturbance through logging, hunting, and poaching - in our ever-changing world.

Harikrishnan Venugopalan Nair Radhamoni's picture

Harikrishnan Venugopalan Nair Radhamoni

Hari completed a B.Sc. in Agriculture from the Kerala Agricultural University (India) and a Masters in Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. He has worked with wildlife conservation organizations (NGOs) in the US and India, where he mostly worked with field teams in managing wildlife projects that focused on forest corridors, big mammals (tiger, elephant, apes, etc), and wildlife rescue/rehabilitation. Hari’s research interests are related to understanding the resilience of tropical forests to human disturbances. He is interesting in studying dynamics of plant communities, succession and biodiversity in regenerating forests, including processes such as seed dispersal, germination, seedling establishment and survival. He is keenly interested in exploring how such information might lead to devising better restoration methodologies and practices in tropical forests. He comes from the Western Ghats region, a biodiversity hotspot with its remaining forests facing numerous pressures from a huge and ambitious human population, and his motivation is to develop better understanding of disturbed and degraded forests in order to improve recovery and regeneration in this region.

Postdocs and Fellows

Simon Stump's picture

Simon Stump

Simon is a theoretical ecologist who research focuses on species coexistence and predator-prey interactions. He received his PhD from University of Arizona and spent time as a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University before moving to Yale. In the Comita lab, Simon is continuing his theoretical work on the role of natural enemies in promoting species coexistence by using models to examine how host specific soil pathogens can promote diversity in species rich tropical tree communities via the Janzen-Connell hypothesis.

Anna Sugiyama's picture

Anna Sugiyama

Anna received a BA in Forestry from the University of Tokyo where her senior thesis project was on cryopreservation of recalcitrant seeds that cannot be stored for a long time. She received a PhD in Plant Biology from the University of Georgia where her dissertation research focused on effects of forest fragmentation on regeneration of animal-dispersed tree species in Costa Rica. After graduating, she held postdoctoral positions at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute in Japan, funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Her postdoctoral research has been based in Panama where she has been studying spatiotemporal dynamics of tree species in the 50 ha plot on Barro Colorado Island. In 2016, she started her position as a NatureNet Science Fellow at Yale University and the Nature Conservancy, where she will be assessing a system to effectively manage secondary forest succession to increase long-term carbon storage in tropical forests.

Maria Umana Medina's picture

Maria Umana Medina

Natalia is a tropical ecologist interested in understanding how plant communities are assembled. To this end, she utilizes field-based and statistical modeling approaches that provide further insights into the processes that govern community structure. Her current research focuses on providing a deeper understanding of one of the classical and still not answered questions in ecology: what are the mechanisms responsible for the incredible number of co-occurring species in tropical forests? Her approach considers information from organismal traits at the individual and species level as well as spatially explicit long-term demographic data, evaluated with statistical models and validated via field-work with a special focus on natural history. As a Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies (YIBS) postdoctoral fellow, Natalia is linking plant functional trait data with demographic data collected along a rainfall gradient in Panama to better understand how climate shapes tropical plant communities.