Emily Shuldiner, 2016, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

This summer I worked in the Medvigy Geosciences Group, editing the Ecosystem Demography (ED2) atmospheric model to incorporate the effects of selective insect herbivory in Panamanian rainforests, observed by Suchana Costa in her 2014 senior thesis. This thesis noted that insects consume nitrogen-fixing plants at a rate approximately three times that with which they consume non-fixers. Specifically, I used the model to examine how expected rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels coupled with the observed herbivory pattern would impact forest composition and nutrient cycling. I compared data from versions of the model with varied herbivory rates and plant types to attempt to infer the mechanisms underlying the forest’s response to elevated CO2 levels, but my internship ended before I could reach a conclusion. During the internship I learned a tremendous amount about forest ecology and gained a new appreciation for the complexity and fragility of all terrestrial ecosystems. I also gained programming experience working in Terminal, R, Fortran, and Emacs, and gained experience handling the logistics of working with large quantities of data and Princeton’s remote computing center, TIGRESS. I left my internship excited to continue to study ecology and to explore the applications of computer modeling to all areas of biology.