Sarah Amundrud

Research Topic

The role of predators in mediating the ecological effects of climate change in Costa Rican bromeliad food webs

Research Group


Research Description

Ecologists are increasingly becoming aware that climate change will affect ecological communities and ecosystems in complex ways by altering species interactions. Nevertheless, most modeling techniques attempting to predict the ecological effects of climate change focus on the impact of altered climate on individual species, ignoring the effects of altered species interactions. I combine modeling techniques, field surveys along an elevation (and thus climate) gradient, and manipulative experiments to understand the role of predation in mediating the ecological effects of climate change. I focus on predators, as they are particularly likely to mediate the effects of climate change, because they often respond strongly to environmental change, as well as having large effects on ecosystems.

I use the aquatic communities inside bromeliads in Costa Rica as model systems to develop and test models that explore whole ecosystem responses to climate change. So far, my observational surveys show that the top predator (a damselfly larva) is absent from high elevation cloud forest. Moreover, both my models and my manipulative experiments suggest that this species is sensitive to cold temperatures. As temperatures rise, this predator will likely track climate change, invading high elevation forests, with subsequent effects on the community and ecosystem.

Next, I will explore new ecosystem modeling approaches to predict the effects of altered climate and predator invasion, and test these predictions experimentally by transplanting bromeliad communities to lower elevations, where the climate is warmer. With this research, I hope to improve our ability to predict the ecological effects of climate change.

What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I actually enjoy all aspects of my program. I feel incredibly fortunate that, by doing field work deep in the rain forest, I get to explore a pristine environment that many people can only dream of. I also love that I get to travel so much, not only for field work, but also for international conferences and project collaborations. I also really enjoy the creative part in coming up with new research questions and designing experiments to test them. And I do like the challenges of learning new statistical methods.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

One thing I love about Vancouver, apart from being an incredibly beautiful city, is that many outdoor activities are so easily accessible, whether it is on the ocean, in the mountains, or in the forest.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

UBC offers a fantastic program at an amazing campus and is also in a wonderful city surrounded by nature.


Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I decided to pursue a graduate degree because it allows me to turn my passion about the natural environment into a career. Not only do I get to travel to incredible places, meet great people, and see amazing wildlife, but I feel that, by becoming a biologist, I can work towards making a difference in something that matters very much to me.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

I think the biggest challenge for me is that I will have to move around a lot if I decide to pursue an academic career, which usually involves several post docs before getting a permanent position. I would not mind this if I was single, but I feel that this type of career can be difficult if you have a partner, because it is a lot to ask of them to either move with you or to be in a long distance relationship.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I love to do all kinds of outdoor activities like mountain biking, backcountry skiing, hiking, jogging, and playing with my dog. I also enjoy good craft beer, of which there is plenty in Vancouver.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

I think it is very important to not get overworked and burnt out, which so often happens with graduate students. We often think that, in order to be successful, we have to work evenings and weekends, but I quickly learned that, for me, the key to being productive is to not feel guilty about taking time off.