Functional Traits

Functional Traits in Living Collections

I am currently working on an NSF-funded project to assess the utility of living collections housed at the world’s botanical gardens to quickly assemble functional trait data on species that are rare or hard to access in nature. My work focuses on epiphyte leaf traits and physiological measurements.

Collaborators: Kate McCulloh, Catherine Cardelús

Research Sites: Marie Selby Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden

Epiphyte Functional Traits

Epiphytes live under many different abiotic conditions depending on what part of the tree they colonize and whether their trees are in forest or in open fields. To adapt to these different conditions, epiphytes display a wide range of leaf traits that make them more or less suited to live in places where they are exposed to high desiccation and solar radiation. Traits like thicker leaves, higher leaf mass per area, lower leaf nitrogen, and more enriched carbon isotopes characterize epiphytes in more exposed parts of the tree and more open locations.

Collaborator: Ellen Damschen

Mistletoes and Eucalyptus

In most plants, leaf traits change in predictable ways along environmental gradients in nutrients, water, and light availability. However, some life forms respond differently to those gradients than others. Mistletoes are hemiparasites that steal water and nutrients from their host trees, so their leaf traits may follow different patterns of variation than other plants because they operate under different constraints. We used a gradient of moisture availability in Victoria, Australia, to compare mistletoe leaf traits to those of their host Eucalyptus trees and found that mistletoes respond less strongly to moisture availability than the eucalypts.

Collaborators: Jon Henn, Quinn Sorenson, Mark Adams, Duncan Smith, Kate McCulloh, Tom Givnish