Plant Systematics, Conservation Biology, and Ethnobotany


Sebastián Tello, Ph.D.

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Assistant Scientist
Ecology Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development

Research Interests
• Biodiversity
• Macroecology
• Metacommunities
• Spatial ecology
• Computer simulation models

Is competition diluted in species rich communities? Dr. Tello’s research interests include the study of macroecological patterns in plant communities and the use of computer models to identify, describe and analyze them. A big open question in modern ecology is to what degree the diversity and structure of natural communities and ecosystems is structured by either (1) stochasticity (i.e. random changes in species abundances) or (2) niche differences among species (particularly species-species interactions). Previous research has suggested that stochasticity might be more important in regions like the super-diverse tropical lowlands. This might be so because species-species interactions are potentially diluted when communities are composed of many species. In this type of community, each individual of a particular species might have to interact with a different set of competitors. In turn, this individual-to-individual inconsistency in biotic interactions can lead the evolution of broad “all-purpose” niches. When most species in a community have this diluted species interactions, the role of niche differences in structuring communities is likely low. In this project, we will test the assumption that diversity dilutes species interactions. We will use data from ~30 forest plots that are part of the Madidi Project in the tropical Andes of Bolivia ( These plots are distributed along a steep elevational gradient and vary dramatically in species richness. This will allow us to study the effects of diversity on species-species interactions. The student working on the project will be trained in tropical forest ecology, functional ecology, programming in the R computer language, as well as in field techniques for forest monitoring (at the Tyson Research Center; Most of the project will be focused on guided data analysis, so the student must be comfortable with statistics and programming, as well as being interested in tropical ecology.
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