Research in the Feeley lab investigates the ecology and biogeography of tropical forests.  Specifically, our research is focused on how the structure, dynamics, composition, and distributions of tropical forests are affected by large-scale anthropogenic disturbances such as climate change, deforestation, and habitat fragmentation.  This research integrates disparate disciplines of ecology, is conducted across a range of spatial scales, and requires a broad knowledge of both natural history and advanced empirical modeling techniques.  A principle motivation for our research is to understand the implications of human activities for biodiversity and ecosystem services and to use this knowledge to help inform management and conservation strategies.

read a review article summarizing much of Ken Feeley's recent research
read an interview of Ken Feeley desribing some of his research
watch a TV interview of Ken Feeley
watch a webcast of Ken Feeley' speaking about his research
read media coverage of Ken Feeley's work
follow the Feeley Lab's blog

wordle based on abstracts of publications from 2010-2014

Species Distributions: Now and in the Future

Changes in the global environment will alter where species occur as they shift their distributions to track their preferred conditions.  These changes in species distributions will in turn cause changes in the amount of suitable habitat available to species and hence their population sizes and extinction vulnerabilities.  In addition, as the site level, we expect changes in local diversity due to unequal immigration vs. emigration and/or extinction.  Projects are being conducted in the Feeley lab to predict how individual specie ranges and patterns of biodiversity will be affected by global climate change.  This research is conducted primarily at a regional or continental scale utilizing herbarium records to map species current distributions in relation to known environmental factors and projecting distributions into the future on the basis of GCMs and predicted changes.   In addition to looking at the effects of climate change, we also incorporate possible effects of land use change which will impact the amount of habitat area available to species in the future.  Research is also being conducted at a more local scale using data form repeat censuses of forest plots distributed across a 2.5 km elevational gradient in the Andes of southeastern Peru.  These local studies are critical in that they allow us to estimate the potential migration rates of species which can then feed into the larger scale studies.

Forest Dynamics in a Changing World

An area of active research in the Feeley lab is to understand how global change impacts the dynamics, structure and composition of forests worldwide and the subsequent effects on ecosystem services and species persistence.  Past research has utilized large datasets from the 50-ha forest dynamics plots maintained by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Center for Tropical Forest Science to analyze changes in forest biomass, tree growth rates and species composition.  A particular emphasis of these studies was to determine the relative contribution of global climate change vs. successional dynamics in driving the observed changes.  For example, using data from forest plots in Malaysia, Thailand and Panama, Feeley et al. showed that the observed changes in forest biomass (i.e., sequestered carbon) cannot be distributed from the null expectation of changes due to natural gap phase dynamics.  Current research is focused on changes in species composition due to large scale shifts in species distributions but also due to changes in the relative performance and competitive abilities of species under altered environmental conditions. This research continues to utilize the large plot database but also incorporates data from a series of 1-ha plots distributed across a 2.5 km elevational gradient in the Andes of southeastern Peru.

Impacts of Climate Change on Tropical Agriculture and Food Secuity.

The global population is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050 and 11 billion people by 2100.  As a result of these rapid increases in population density combined with increasing affluence, food supply will need to double or triple within the next several decades. Meeting this demand will be complicated by climate change which will change patterns of crop productivity and yield.  Work in the Feeley lab, led by graduate student Brian Machovina, is focused on understanding how tropical agricultural systems are responding to climate change and how this will impact future food security.

The Influence of Invasives Species on Climate Change Responses
Miami and its suburbs are a man-made ecosystem completely dominated by invasive species with provenances from throughout the world. While the large number of invasive species in South Florida are clearly of conservation concern, they create a unique and ideal system for investigating basic ecological processes. Using the invasive anole lizard community (1 native + 8 invasive species) as a model system, Ken Feeley and graduate student James Stroud are investigating how species composition and diversity influence the ecology and morphology of individuals as well as the ability of species to respond to climate change. 

Habiat Fragmentation and Altered Trophic Dynamics

As a result of ongoing deforestation and land conversion, over half of the world’s tropical forests have already been lost with an additional 1 – 4% being destroyed each year, inevitably leaving behind complex patchworks of isolated forest fragments embedded in a matrix of crops, pasture, or otherwise modified lands.  While habitat fragmentation is widely recognized as one of the leading causes of species extinctions, the mechanisms underlying these extinctions remain poorly resolved.  The Feeley lab is investigating the effects of habitat fragmentation on tropical floral and faunal communities using recently isolated land-bridge islands in Lago Guri, Venezuela, and Thousand Island Lake, China, as a model system.  These studies focus on understanding the indirect effects of fragmentation, specifically looking at the impacts of altered herbivore abundances on ecosystem processes and how these effects can ramify through the food web to affect the diversity and persistence of other taxonomic groups.

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