Home

Our lab is broadly interested in understanding the mechanisms that shape the structure and function of ecological systems. Specifically, we focus on energy and matter as key currencies in ecological interactions. 

Biology Department & Center for Computational & Integrative Biology
Joint Health and Sciences Center
201 S Broadway
Rutgers University
Camden, NJ. 08103
Phone: 856-225-6445

E-mail: angelica [dot] gonzalez [at] rutgers [dot] edu
Twitter: @agonzalezLAB

Ecological communities over time: Ancient versus modern patterns of arthropod diversity

Box6.DSC_0860b_2Understanding the impacts of global environmental change in complex natural systems is a key challenge in ecology. Paleoecological records have recently yielded evidence of the dynamic nature of community structure in response to climate change. Important pioneering work comes from studies in ancient communities, such as Cambrian fauna, but the degree to which generalities can be made about changes in community structure in response to climatic changes, remains to be resolved. Several thousand fossil rodent middens have been dated and analyzed from the deserts of North and South America spanning the last 50 kyr. They are commonly reported as local, discontinuous series of 10-50 middens, and potentially lend themselves to novel analyses of discrete and changing plant and invertebrate assemblages (soil food webs) through thousands to tens of thousands of years, depending on the site.  Each midden contains discrete invertebrate deposits (soil food webs) that allow invertebrate species richness, composition, abundance, body sizes, and trophic level be estimated along environmental conditions, such as precipitation, primary productivity, and plant species richness. In collaboration with paleoecologists Claudio Latorre (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) and Julio Betancourt (National Research Program, Water Mission Area, U.S. Geological Survey & Adjunct Professor, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona) we are starting to study ancient and modern food webs to improve our understanding of the influence of environmental change on food web structure.

Nutrient deposition and ecosystem function over spatial gradients

Brazil picHuman activities have increased the atmospheric deposition of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) into the biosphere 1- to 4-fold over ambient levels. Future inputs are forecast to increase and will probably shift primary producers from N-limitation to P-limitation, particularly in aquatic ecosystems. Tank-bromeliads and pitcher plants are model systems for studying the impacts of nutrient deposition on an entire ecosystem, because we can easily manipulate nutrient inputs in realistic field experiments, and measure nutrient pools and fluxes on time scales of days, weeks and months. We will systematically combine large-scale survey data with field manipulations to determine the consequences of increased N and P deposition into whole ecosystems.

 

MacroStoichiometry: Global-scale latitudinal patterns in the stoichiometry of life

Macro-stoichiometry of invertebratesChemical elements, and the complexes they form, are the building blocks of living organisms. Although all living organisms are composed by the same main chemical elements, they differ quite widely in the proportion of these chemical substances in their biomass. Large-scale patterns in plant nutrient content have revealed a strong influence of climate and geology on plant ecology. To date; however, we know relatively little about geographic patterns of variation in the stoichiometry of animals. We are using two approaches to study geographic patterns in organismal stoichiometry: (1) Using invertebrate nutrient content data from five widely spread tank bromeliad locations across South-Central America (The Bromeliad Working Group), we tested whether insect body size, phylogeny, and functional group drive organism stoichiometry or whether organisms reflect local availability of nutrients (read paper here); (2) Using a global dataset, consisting of more than 15,000 observations to date of organism C,  N and P content. We seek to explore: (i) what are the broad latitudinal patterns of metazoan stoichiometry; and Given the main role of N and P in the metabolism, growth, and development of organisms, we also looked for (ii) a relationship between organismal elemental content within and across taxonomical groups and habitats; and (iii) Stoichiometric niche spaces.