17th June 2019 – Heather Slinn, University of Guelph

Heather SlinnI’m a PhD candidate in Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. My PhD research is interdisciplinary and spans microbiology, bioinformatics (analyzing biological data, for e.g. DNA sequences, using computer science), ecology and chemistry – where I often work collaboratively with chemists. My specialty lies in how plants, fungi and insects interact with one another in tropical ecosystems. I ask questions like; how does plant chemistry affect other organisms in the community? And, what variables are important for determining which fungi colonize the interior of leaves (termed fungal endophytes)? More recently, I’m working on a project that looks at whether digestion of seeds by bats influence fungi the colonize seeds and improve seed germination. This fall, I’ll be going to Brazil to work with a chemist on how these fungal endophytes contribute to the chemistry in plants. You might be wondering, why are these questions important? My work aims to contribute to our understanding of how species interact with one another in a highly diverse and complex ecosystem. This is especially important because of the decline in species diversity in the tropics, due to factors such as deforestation and climate change. There are also potential applications for agriculture, through how plants may defend themselves against enemies and pharmacy by discovering new compounds which may have properties to combat human diseases.

Part of the fun of being a tropical ecologist, is getting to travel to different sites and comparing the answers to our research questions. During my PhD, I’ve conducted research in the lowland rainforests of Costa Rica and the cloud forests of the Andes in Ecuador. These research trips can last anywhere between 1 week to 4 months. I enjoy exploring new places, learning new languages, eating tasty food and drinking the local beers and wines. So, this type of work agrees with me. However, when in Guelph, you can find me tending to my balcony garden, meeting with the Guelph chapter of a women in STEM organization and running in the trails. I hope you enjoy my week on @biotweeps.

Find out more about me and my work here:

Scholar: https://scholar.google.ca/citations?user=slaTV_UAAAAJ&hl=en
Website: http://www.heatherslinn.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/h_slinn


15th October 2018 – Cassie Freund, Wake Forest University

Cassie FreundI am a PhD student at Wake Forest University. I study community ecology in tropical forests and my current research focuses on the role of a large natural disturbance, landslides, in shaping Andean montane forests. My research site is in and around Manu National Park, Peru, and I am part of the Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group (www.andesconservation.org). I am particularly interested in how these forests regenerate after landslides, what this means for carbon storage of montane forests, and how landslides and climate change may interact in the future. My work integrates fieldwork, drone technology, and LiDAR (in collaboration with Dr. Greg Asner) to understand the role of landslides in Andean landscapes.

Prior to starting my PhD I worked in Indonesian Borneo for about five years, first doing research on tropical peat swamp forests and later as the program director of the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program. I’ve written or contributed to articles about topics ranging from microtopographic variation in peat swamp forests, to the orangutan trade, to ecosystem services! I will touch on many of these things during my week hosting Biotweeps. Finally, I also write popular science articles for Massive Science, and my articles can be found here: https://massivesci.com/people/cassie-freund/. My personal website is: https://cathrynfreund.wordpress.com/ and I usually tweet over at @CassieFreund.