Andean macroecology

Seventy years after Dobzansky suggested that biotic interactions are more important in the tropics, ecologists are still assembling evidence and elucidating potential mechanisms behind such macroecological patterns. My research contributes to this field using a combination of experimental and observational studies in the Andes of Ecuador.

Andes predation

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Ants were responsible for 80% of predation in the lowlands. The decline in predation with elevation was mainly driven by a decline in the abundance of ants, whose importance relative to other predators also declined [4].

A decline in the abundance of both partners mediates a decrease in the frequency of their associations. The associations, however, were limited by a shortage of treehoppers below 1500 and by a shortage of ant-workers above this elevation [9].

Ant-Hemipteran mutualism

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Treehopper

ecology and diversity

Treehopper's (Hemiptera, Membracidae) incredible morphological and behavioral diversity offer great potential to test a variety of ecological hypotheses. Using a combination of manipulative experiments, field observations, and museum collections, I have studied the morphological and behavioral adaptations of treehopper communities.

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Behavioral adaptations against predation

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Treehopper anti-predator investment decreases with elevation. The drop of ants as the main predators at higher elevations, however, where associated with a shift from ant-mutualism to maternal care as the predominant anti-predator strategy [10].

When presented with a choice between a hemipteran partner and an alternative prey type, mutualist ants refrained from attacking and remained probing their hemipteran partners. This occurred even in the absence of an immediate sugary reward, suggesting either an evolved or learned partner recognition response [7, 8].

Mechanisms mediating mutualism with ants

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Insect conservation

Light pollution is a near inseparable feature of human-altered landscapes and is a potential contributing factor to insect declines. However, despite the wide recognition of the lethal effects of lights on insects, studies addressing its effects on populations are scarce. I rely on a combination of ecological niche modeling, geographical information systems, and interviews on local ecological knowledge to assess the synergistic effects of landscape light pollution and habitat loss and fragmentation on insect populations.

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Landscapes effects of light pullition

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Sightings of C. argenteola by locals revealed rely on inter-patch dispersal to cope with habitat fragmentation, where they were constantly attracted to urban lights. Increasingly lit landscapes saw more individuals attracted to lights, but the opposite was true in areas with scarce forest cover. This pattern may arise as landscape light pollution intercepts dispersing individuals potentially disrupting meta-population dynamics [6].