For this study, she will take advantage of a strong variability of rainfall levels in different nearby areas of Central Panama to investigate how the relative importance of different drivers of seedling growth and survival shift with changes in rainfall and dry season severity. In addition, the project will examine how species characteristics — such as wood density and leaf area — determine seedling responses to their local environment.
Data collected at field sites in Panama will be used to develop new computer models that simulate forest dynamics over multiple generations in order to assess the relative contribution of abiotic and biotic drivers of seedling performance to tree species coexistence.
The findings will also help in the development of three separate academic courses, including: 1.) an interactive, interdisciplinary lecture course on tropical forest ecology and conservation; 2.) a tropical field ecology course that provides students with hands-on research experience in an international context; and 3.) a graduate seminar focused on analysis of data collected through this project.
“In addition to enabling me to expand my research into new directions, this grant will also enable me to integrate this research into my teaching,” Comita said.
She will also contribute taped video lectures for use in the F&ES-based Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative (ELTI) online training program for current environmental decision-makers in the tropics.
Comita, who has been recognized not only for her excellence in research but also for her mentoring of women postdoctoral researchers
, said that through this project she will continue to promote retention of women in science as a faculty mentor through the Women in Science at Yale program.