Kenneth Trang Rose Hills
Ecological niche modeling of Loranthaceae aerial haustorial morphology across Australia
While most famously a holiday symbol of love and affection, mistletoe plants also play an indispensable role in the balance of global woodland ecosystems, providing birds with shelter and nutrition, while also replenishing soil nutrients and carbon via high leaf shedding rates. In fact, experiments have demonstrated that the removal of mistletoe populations can lead to a dramatic loss in species diversity. Therefore, though often criminalized for its parasitic nature, in reality mistletoe plants serve as an ecological Robin Hood effectively stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Excited by this unique lifestyle, my research focuses on exploring the underappreciated relationship between parasitic tissue structure and the types of environments each structural type can inhabit. To do this, Im employing statistical concepts like maximum entropy and non-metric multidimensional scaling to create ecological niche models. Ultimately, I hope to demonstrate that mistletoe with more recently evolved parasitic structures can tolerate more extreme and inhospitable climates across a wider habitat range.