Elizabeth Tokarz, BA

2015 TRI Fellow in Ecuador

Niche differentiation among tropical herbaceous species

Tree censuses in a remote CTFS forest dynamics plot in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park have revealed record levels of species diversity and habitat associations between certain species and the three major topography types: elevated ridge, steep slope and swampy valley. This raises the question of whether other plant growth forms match the trees in diversity levels and niche specialization, as well as how other plant growth forms may facilitate or shed light on the forest’s potential for diversity.

Heliconias are breathtaking, rather large distinctive herbs that are spread along the forest understory in Yasuni and other neotropical forests. The TRI fellowship made it possible for me to journey out to the Yasuni field station maintained by Quito’s Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador during the summer to investigate their habitat associations. Over the course of six weeks, I tracked the number of individuals representing six different Heliconia species and where they were located in the Yasuni plot through a randomized survey like the regular tree census. Since returning to New Haven, I have been organizing and analyzing the data collected to determine how strongly the Heliconia species associate with particular plot topographies.