An East Tennessee State University professor and his students will be going to California this April to better understand the consequences of structural change in biological communities by observing plant-pollinator interactions.

Dr. Gerardo Arceo-Gomez, an assistant professor of biology, has been at the university for over a year.

According to Arceo-Gomez, he is still in the process of putting together the final group of students going on the trip, most of which are undergraduate biology majors, but he is hoping to include at least one graduate student as well.

“If there are students that are interested, they can email me,” he said.

On the trip, which is funded by a $10,000 grant from ETSU’s Research Development Committee, Arceo-Gomez plans to conduct his research at the Donald and Sylvia McLaughlin Natural Reserve in Northern California, which is managed by the University of California-Davis. He chose that location because of the prevalence of seed plant communities that are independent of each other and are good for replication purposes.

Some of the plants I will be studying are Mimulus guttatus (mokey flower), delphinium uliginosum, Clarkia coccina and triteleia peduncularis,” said Arceo-Gomez. “All of them are grassland species that grow on serpentine (type of soil) communities in California. These are diverse plant communities of up to 30-40 plant species.”

Arceo-Gomez plans to sample the studied plants both on the field and in a greenhouse to conduct his research.

As stated in a news release from the Office of University Relations, ecologists have long studied the organization and rules of the natural world, observing how species interact with each other in a community. The field was first developed by studying the interaction between species pairs. It has expanded to looking at how multiple species interact at different trophic levels. 

Arceo-Gomez hopes to fill a large gap he believes is remaining in the field of study.

We don’t know what the consequences are of this structure for the success of individual community members – what we call community function…If we’re able to predict how communities are organized and what happens when the structure of the community changes, we’re going to get closer to being able to predict the effects of human disturbances, for example, climate change,” he said in the press release.

Arceo-Gomez’s love of his study goes back to his days in Mexico as an undergraduate.

I got interested in these topic while doing my undergraduate dissertation at the University of Yucatan, Mexico, which is where I am from,” he said. “I was marveled by all the interactions between plants and animals and how these interactions can determine reproductive success of both species and lead to a wide variety of morphological adaptations.”

Arceo-Gomez and his students will head to California in April and remain throughout the flowering season, which usually lasts through June.

What motivates me to do research is the possibility of discovering something new and of advancing our current understanding of how the natural world works,” said Arceo-Gomez.

In additon to hoping for future trips, Arceo-Gomez believes proving his theory will be a big step in the research community.

“I think it will take us a little closer to understanding how plant and pollinator communities will respond in the face of human disturbances that are altering the intensity and frequency of interactions between plants and their pollinators.”