Dianne Pater has Secured a Grant from the National Science Foundation
Dianne Pater, Assistant Professor of Biology, has secured a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support her project “BRC-BIO: Investigating ecophysiological strategies and drought tolerance of temperate lianas.” Woody vines, known as lianas, are structural parasites which use the structure of nearby trees to gain access to the sunlit canopy (the uppermost layer of a forest). Ecosystems worldwide are undergoing tremendous pressure from many factors including climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation, and biological invasion. As non-native plant species, such as lianas, compete with native species for resources, understanding their physiology can help improve predictions of competition and environmental responses to inform conservation decisions.
This project will characterize the functional traits of invasive lianas in order to understand which traits contribute to their success by 1) comparing photosynthetic and morphological characteristics of competing native and non-native lianas under experimentally controlled light conditions (full light, shade, flecked irradiance) as well as in the understory and edges of the forest under naturally occurring variable irradiance; 2) quantify the growth traits, biomass allocation, anatomy, and hydraulics of the study species; and 3) investigate light acquisition and hydraulic strategies of these plants under water deficit to simulate climate change scenarios. The Ecological Preserve will serve as the long-term research site for this project, which will include undergraduate students in hands-on research experiences. In addition, this project will involve collaboration with local schools, allowing Vassar students to improve their scientific communication skills while improving access to applied science at the K-12 level.