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NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship for Heberling

Postdoc J. Mason Heberling (Kalisz Lab) has been awarded a two-year National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship.  The proposal, entitled “Leveraging ventures of herbarium data to track plant invasion processes: trait shifts, local adaptation, and rapid evolution,” was funded by NSF’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology, Interdisciplinary Research Using Biological Collections program.

The host institutions for this fellowship are the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and the sponsoring scientists are Dr. Stephen Tonsor (Carnegie) and Dr. Susan Kalisz (UT).  Heberling will use herbaria worldwide to track trait shifts of invasive plants in the Eastern US through space and time.

For more information, please read his abstract, below.  Congratulations, Mason!


The globalization of human activities has reshuffled plant communities across the world, resulting in substantial environmental damage and economic losses. This research leverages centuries of biological collections alongside recent advances in functional trait ecology to understand fundamental plant invasion processes. The frequency and importance of trait shifts following plant introductions, the direction and rate of these potential trait changes, and the degree to which local adaptation influences invasion success remain largely unknown. This project utilizes the extensive collection of the herbarium of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, supplemented with specimens from other herbaria worldwide. These specimens of introduced and native Eastern US species, collected from early 1800s to today, are being used to measure traits relating to carbon gain, resource-use, reproductive/dispersal ability, and phenology across space and time. This novel approach allows the ability to track species trait shifts through space and time – a task that would otherwise be impossible without collections. Main research objectives include using these data to track phenotypic change through the course of plant invasion and assess the role of local adaption to understand and predict species success. Advancing the use of herbaria to the rising field of trait-based ecology will substantially expand existing global trait databases to facilitate research on fundamental biological questions at a large scale.

The training objectives of this fellowship include the development of skills associated with herbarium methods, recent statistical advancements, geographic information systems (GIS), and software development for efficient specimen georeferencing. Career development activities include building research collaborations, expanding past research to include herbarium data and evolutionary analyses, and encouraging diverse participation to highlight the importance of biological collections as a vital source of knowledge to the broader community. Despite availability and relevance, collections-based science has been reported on the decline. This project addresses this disconnect through interaction with community organizations in Western PA, including local elementary education programs and museum docent training.

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