Radika Bhaskar, ECI-Voss Interdisciplinary Postdoctoral Scholar
PhD Stanford 2006
As an ECI interdisciplinary postdoc, Radika investigated the relationship between land use history, plant diversity, and soil fertility working with Assistant Professor Stephen Porder, who specializes in soil nutrient cycling, and Assistant Professor Erika Edwards, who studies the evolutionary patterns of plant traits. Bhaskar’s project looked at diversity from two distinct, but related, perspectives. Human development encroaching on natural systems often results in the loss of species diversity, reducing the number of species present in a region. Functional diversity, in contrast, is the range of characteristics that a plant community expresses, regardless of the number of species present. Functional diversity is especially important for understanding the ability of natural systems to respond to changes and continue providing the ecosystem services that people have come to expect (such as clean water, fertile soil, food, and the ability to draw carbon out of the atmosphere). She is examining whether leaf characteristics, such as size, thickness, and chemical composition influence soil fertility more than species diversity does – and is also studying how past land use affects such characteristics. The work focused on forests in, and adjacent to, the Chamela-Cuixmala Biosphere Reserve, in western Mexico. The Reserve contains one of the largest areas of diverse, well-preserved tropical dry forest stands in the world and adjacent agricultural sites provide an exceptional opportunity to compare plants and soils in intact forest, regenerating forest, and active agricultural systems. Radika is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Center for Environmental Studies at Brown.