Liza S. Comita

Liza S. Comita
Yale University | YU · School of the Environment

PhD

About

113
Publications
40,035
Reads
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8,496
Citations
Introduction
Liza S. Comita currently works at the School of the Environment at Yale University. Her research focuses on plant community ecology, particularly in tropical forests. Please visit www.comitalab.com for more information.
Additional affiliations
July 2019 - present
Yale
Position
  • Professor (Associate)
July 2014 - June 2019
Yale University
Position
  • Professor (Assistant)
August 2011 - June 2014
The Ohio State University
Position
  • Research Assistant
Education
September 2000 - May 2006
University of Georgia
Field of study
  • Plant Biology
September 1997 - May 1999
University of Pennsylvania
Field of study
  • Conservation Biology
September 1995 - May 1999
University of Pennsylvania
Field of study
  • Biology

Publications

Publications (113)
Article
Full-text available
Disturbance plays a key role in shaping forest composition and diversity. We used a community phylogeny and long-term forest dynamics data to investigate biotic and abiotic factors shaping tropical forest regeneration following both human and natural disturbance. Specifically, we examined shifts in seedling phylogenetic and functional (i.e., seed m...
Article
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In fragmented forests, tree diversity declines near edges but the ecological processes underlying this loss of diversity remain poorly understood. Theory predicts that top-down regulation of seedling recruitment by insect herbivores and fungal pathogens contributes to maintaining tree diversity in forests, but it is unknown whether proximity to for...
Article
Tropical forests are under threat of increasing pressure from income-generating land uses. Selective logging is a compromise that allows use of the land while leaving much of the forest canopy intact across a landscape. However, the ecological impacts of selective logging are unclear, with evidence of positive, negative, and negligible effects on f...
Article
Full-text available
Identifying key traits that can serve as proxies for species drought resistance is crucial for predicting and mitigating effects of climate change in diverse plant communities. Turgor loss point (πtlp) is a recently emerged trait that has been linked to species distributions across gradients of water availability. However, a direct relationship bet...
Article
Full-text available
Studies conducted in forests have resulted in much of the ecological theory we build upon today. However, our basic understanding of forest ecology comes almost exclusively from the study of trees, even though they represent only a small fraction of the plant diversity present in forests. In recent decades there has been an increasing number of stu...
Article
In tropical forests, drought and herbivory represent two potent stresses on seedlings. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of severe droughts in many tropical forests, which may influence seedling vulnerability to herbivores if drought stress affects seedling palatability. Furthermore, contrasting selective pressures in wetter vs d...
Article
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As extreme climate events are predicted to become more frequent due to global climate change, understanding their impacts on natural systems is crucial. Tropical forests are vulnerable to droughts associated with extreme El Niño events. However, little is known about how tropical seedling communities respond to El Niño-related droughts, even though...
Article
Premise: The Ocotea complex contains the greatest diversity of Lauraceae in the Neotropics. However, the traditional taxonomy of the group has relied on only three main floral characters, and previous molecular analyses have used only a few markers and provided limited support for relationships among the major clades. This lack of useful data has...
Article
Full-text available
ForestGEO is a network of scientists and long-term forest dynamics plots (FDPs) spanning the Earth's major forest types. ForestGEO's mission is to advance understanding of the diversity and dynamics of forests and to strengthen global capacity for forest science research. ForestGEO is unique among forest plot networks in its large-scale plot dimens...
Article
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Seed dispersal is a critical mechanism for escaping specialist natural enemies. Despite this, mean dispersal distances can vary by an order of magnitude among plant species in the same community. Here, we develop a theoretical model to explore how interspecific differences in seed dispersal alter the impact of specialist natural enemies, both on th...
Article
The Janzen‐Connell Hypothesis (JCH) predicts that density‐responsive and host‐specific natural enemies limit the population sizes of abundant species. Importantly, these interactions help to maintain local community diversity through time. While ample evidence exists for the demographic predictions of the JCH, it remains unclear which natural enemi...
Article
Full-text available
Over the past five decades, many studies have examined the Janzen-Connell hypothesis, which posits that host-specific natural enemies, such as insect herbivores and fungal pathogens, promote plant species coexistence by providing a recruitment advantage to rare plant species. Recently, researchers have been exploring new and exciting angles on plan...
Article
In gynodioecious plant species, both female and hermaphrodite individuals produce fruit, but only hermaphrodites produce pollen. Such sex-specific differences in reproductive investment may contribute to dimorphism, but the magnitude and ecological effects are still unclear, especially for gynodioecious tropical trees where collecting flowers and d...
Article
Aim The timing of reproduction is a major determinant of the geographical distribution of plant species and resulting patterns of community assembly, yet few studies have assessed how the reproductive phenology of plant assemblages varies across large geographical and environmental gradients. In addition, it remains poorly known to what extent phen...
Article
Background and aims: In fragmented forests, proximity to forest edges can favor the establishment of resource-acquisitive species over more resource-conservative species. During seedling recruitment, resource-acquisitive species may benefit from either higher light availability or weaker top-down effects of natural enemies. The relative importance...
Article
In tropical forests, insect herbivores exert significant pressure on plant populations. Adaptation to such pressure is hypothesized to be a driver of high tropical diversity, but direct evidence for local adaptation to herbivory in tropical forests is sparse. At the same time, herbivore pressure has been hypothesized to increase with rainfall in th...
Article
Specialized pathogens are thought to maintain plant community diversity; however, most ecological studies treat pathogens as a black box. Here we develop a theoretical model to test how the impact of specialized pathogens changes when plant resistance genes (R-genes) mediate susceptibility. This work synthesizes two major hypotheses: the gene-for-g...
Article
1. Environmental gradients act as potent filters on species distributions driving compositional shifts across communities. Compositional shifts may reflect differences in physiological tolerances to a limiting resource that result in broad distributions for tolerant species and restricted distributions for intolerant species (i.e. a nested pattern)...
Article
Full-text available
Patterns of seed dispersal and seed mortality inuence the spatial structure of plant communities and the local coexistence of competing species. Most seeds are dispersed in proximity to the parent tree, where mortality is also expected to be the highest, due to competition with siblings or the attraction of natural enemies. Whereas distance‐depende...
Article
Full-text available
Growing awareness of the role of enemies in plant community dynamics has led to ecologists exploring how plant-enemy interactions change in human-modified systems. Proximity to forest edges was found to weaken the role of two groups of plant enemies—insect herbivores and fungal pathogens—in increasing plant diversity during the seed-to-seedling tra...
Article
Full-text available
Edge effects can alter the spatial organization of diversity in fragmented habitats. For tropical forests, however, there has been large variation in the strength and direction of such effects reported by different studies. For long‐lived organisms like trees, one reason for inconsistent patterns might be due to most studies having examined pattern...
Article
Full-text available
Over the past decades, tropical forests have experienced both compositional and structural changes. In the Neotropics, researchers at multiple sites have observed significant increases in the abundance and biomass of lianas (i.e. woody vines) relative to trees. However, the role of dynamics at early life stages in contributing to increasing liana a...
Article
Full-text available
Plant‐soil feedback (PSF) theory provides a powerful framework for understanding plant dynamics by integrating growth assays into predictions of whether soil communities stabilise plant–plant interactions. However, we lack a comprehensive view of the likelihood of feedback‐driven coexistence, partly because of a failure to analyse pairwise PSF, the...
Article
Full-text available
Microbes are thought to maintain diversity in plant communities by specializing on particular species, but it is not known whether microbes that specialize within species (i.e., on genotypes) affect diversity or dynamics in plant communities. Here we show that soil microbes can specialize at the within-population level in a wild plant species, and...
Article
Full-text available
Environment and human land‐use both shape forest composition. Abiotic conditions sift tree species from a regional pool via functional traits that influence species’ suitability to the local environment. In addition, human land‐use can modify species distributions and change functional diversity of forests. However, it is unclear how environment an...
Article
Full-text available
One of the hypothesized benefits of seed dispersal is to escape density‐ and distance‐responsive host‐specific natural enemies near maternal plants where conspecific seed and seedling densities are high. Such high conspecific neighbor densities typically result in lower offspring growth and survival (i.e. negative density‐dependent effects), yet ma...
Article
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Conspecific negative density dependence (CNDD) is thought to promote plant species diversity. Theoretical studies showing the importance of CNDD often assumed that all species are equally susceptible to CNDD; however, recent empirical studies have shown species can differ greatly in their susceptibility to CNDD. Using a theoretical model, we show t...
Article
Full-text available
Species coexistence in diverse communities likely results from multiple interacting factors. Mechanisms such as conspecific negative density dependence (CNDD) and varying life-history strategies related to resource partitioning are known to influence plant fitness, and thereby community composition and diversity. However, we have little understandi...
Article
Full-text available
Soil fungi are key mediators of negative density-dependent mortality in seeds and seedlings, and the ability to withstand pathogens in the shaded understory of closed-canopy forests could reinforce light gradient partitioning by tree species. For four species of tropical rainforest trees—two shade-tolerant and two shade-intolerant—we conducted a fi...
Article
Full-text available
In tropical tree communities, processes occurring during early life stages play a critical role in shaping forest composition and diversity through differences in species' performance. Predicting the future of tropical forests depends on a solid understanding of the drivers of seedling survival. At the same time, factors determining spatial and tem...
Article
Full-text available
One explanation for the extraordinarily high tree diversity of tropical lowland forests is that it is maintained by specialized natural enemies such as insect herbivores, which cause distance and density dependent mortality. Insect herbivory could also explain the positive correlation between tree species richness and rainfall if herbivory increase...
Article
Full-text available
Negative distance dependence (NDisD), or reduced recruitment near adult conspecifics, is thought to explain the astounding diversity of tropical forests. While many studies show greater mortality at near vs. far distances from adults, these studies do not seek to track changes in the peak seedling curve over time, thus limiting our ability to link...
Article
Full-text available
Life‐history theory posits that trade‐offs between demographic rates constrain the range of viable life‐history strategies. For coexisting tropical tree species, the best established demographic trade‐off is the growth‐survival trade‐off. However, we know surprisingly little about co‐variation of growth and survival with measures of reproduction. W...
Article
Full-text available
Interactions among neighbors influence the structure of communities of sessile organisms. Closely related species tend to share habitat and resource requirements and to interact with the same mutualists and natural enemies so that the strength of interspecific interactions tends to decrease with evolutionary divergence time. Nevertheless, the degre...
Article
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Recent evidence suggests that plant performance can be influenced by the phylogenetic diversity of neighboring plants. However, no study to date has examined the effect of such phylogenetic density dependence on the transition from seed to seedling. Using 6 years of data on seedling recruitment and seed rain of 13 species from 130 stations (one 0.5...
Article
There is increasing recognition that community assembly theory can offer valuable insights for ecological restoration. We studied community assembly processes following tropical forest restoration efforts, using dung beetles (Scarabaeidae) as a focal taxon to investigate taxonomic and functional patterns of biodiversity recovery. We evaluated the r...
Article
Full-text available
Dioecy has a demographic disadvantage compared with hermaphroditism: only about half of reproductive adults produce seeds. Dioecious species must therefore have fitness advantages to compensate for this cost through increased survival, growth, and/or reproduction. We used a full life cycle approach to quantify the demo- graphic costs and benefits a...
Article
Full-text available
In tropical forests, rarer species show increased sensitivity to species-specific soil pathogens and more negative effects of conspecific density on seedling survival (NDD). These patterns suggest a connection between ecology and immunity, perhaps because small population size disproportionately reduces genetic diversity of hyperdiverse loci such a...
Article
Full-text available
Quantifying the duration and drivers of seedling persistence is critical for understanding seedling dynamics and species co-existence in plant communities. In this study, we incorporated data from multiple seedling censuses to characterize patterns of seedling persistence in a tropical karst forest. Specifically, we evaluated the effects of density...
Article
Full-text available
Environmental filtering and niche differences influence assembly of tree communities at multiple spatial scales. At regional scales, determining the environmental variables that primarily influence compositional variation in species assemblages reveals ecologically relevant habitat types for conservation. Strength of species’ association with these...
Data
Figure S1. Boxplots showing the proportion of leaf tissue area removed or damaged from 290 sampled tree seedlings.
Data
Table S1. Rank abundance tables for adult trees, seedlings ≥7 cm in height, and the 290 seedlings sampled for herbivore damage.
Data
Table S2. Linear mixed‐effects models relating adult neighbor basal area, composition and rarefied species richness with proportion of leaf area lost due to herbivore damage.
Data
Appendix S1. Additional species‐level information for trees and seedlings.
Data
Appendix S2. Model output from adult tree neighborhoods using all nine circular subplots.
Article
Full-text available
Insect herbivores can serve as important regulators of plant dynamics, but their impacts in temperate forest understories have received minimal attention at local scales. Here, we test several related hypotheses about the influence of plant neighborhood composition on insect leaf damage in southwestern Pennsylvania, USA. Using data on seedlings and...
Article
Full-text available
Herbaceous plants are a key component of tropical forests. Previous work indicates that herbs contribute substantially to the species richness of tropical plant communities. However, the processes structuring tropical herb diversity, and how they contrast with woody communities, have been underexplored. Within the understory of a 50-ha forest dynam...
Article
Full-text available
The ‘functional traits’ of species have been heralded as promising predictors for species’ demographic rates and life history. Multiple studies have linked plant species’ demographic rates to commonly measured traits. However, predictive power is usually low – raising questions about the practical usefulness of traits – and analyses have been limit...
Article
Full-text available
Anthropogenic disturbances often change ecological communities and provide opportunities for non-native species invasion. Understanding the impacts of disturbances on species invasion is therefore crucial for invasive species management. We used generalized linear mixed effects models to explore the influence of land-use history and distance to roa...
Article
Full-text available
1. Ecologists have long recognized that plant performance is affected by the density and composition of neighboring individuals. With the advent of highly resolved species-level phylogenies, it has become possible to test whether such density-dependent neighborhood interactions are also phylogenetically-dependent. Most studies of density dependence...
Article
Full-text available
Patterns of diversity and community composition in forests are controlled by a combination of environmental factors, historical events, and stochastic or neutral mechanisms. Each of these processes has been linked to forest community assembly, but their combined contributions to alpha and beta-diversity in forests has not been well explored. Here w...
Conference Paper
Background/Question/Methods Determining the mechanisms underlying the assembly of diverse communities continues to be a central goal of ecology. While taxonomic diversity constitute the basis of most research in plant community ecology and are key to understanding biodiversity assembly mechanisms, the growing interest in using functional and phyl...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Background/Question/Methods Patterns of diversity and composition in forests are controlled by a combination of environmental factors, historical events, and stochastic/neutral mechanisms. Each of these processes has been linked to forest community assembly, but their combined contribution to alpha and beta-diversity in forests has not been fully...
Conference Paper
Background/Question/Methods Lianas are a common feature of tropical forests, where they are diverse and abundant. There has been a recent burst in the number of articles about liana biology, due to concerns that they are increasing in abundance as a result of climate change. However, so far little is known about the seedling stage of lianas. We s...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Background/Question/Methods Future forest composition is dependent on the dynamics and identity of tree seedlings during recruitment into the understory. The realized regeneration niche of tree species can be influenced by both biotic factors and abiotic factors that may change over time. The relative importance of those factors has not been well...
Article
Full-text available
The Janzen–Connell hypothesis proposes that specialist natural enemies, such as herbivores and pathogens, maintain diversity in plant communities by reducing survival rates of conspecific seeds and seedlings located close to reproductive adults or in areas of high conspecific density. Variation in the strength of distance- and density-dependent eff...
Data
Reference list for articles used in the meta-analysis.