Rafael D'Andrea

I am a community ecologist. My research investigates how species interactions create order in complex ecosystems.

I am currently a postdoc at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I completed my PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan in 2016.

My research investigates how species interactions create order in complex ecosystems. I try to answer questions such as What are the relative roles of deterministic and stochastic forces in shaping communities and influencing which species get to coexist? Conversely, what can specific combinations of species and their traits reveal about the underlying forces moderating ecological dynamics? What are the key mechanisms behind species coexistence in highly biodiverse communities such as tropical forests?

I consider myself a theoretician bent on grounding theory in biological realism. To do so, I draw on mathematical tools, computational methods, and collaborations with colleagues with natural history expertise ranging from tropical forests to microbial communities.

In my research, I use modeling approaches to ask how elements of biological complexity impact community diversity and trait structure. For example, I showed that some commonly made assumptions about resource use can vastly overestimate coexistence. Focusing on competitive dynamics, I have examined how outcomes are affected by immigration, regional diversity, genetic mutations, multidimensional niche space, intraspecific variation, demographic structure, and environmental spatial structure.

One area of focus has been to demonstrate the generality of a phenotypic pattern of coexistence, whereby competing species cluster by traits. Having shown that the phenomenon is robust to stochastic forces common in nature, I found that tropical trees in Panama are clustered my maximum height and wood density, a result that corroborates previous classifications of Neotropical forests into vertical layers associated with competition for light.

Going forward, I plan to focus my research on advancing ecological theory linking community assembly processes to macroecological patterns, and confronting this theoretical framework with data. This research program is especially aimed at high-diversity systems such as tropical forests, where we need to better understand how stochastic and deterministic forces interact to shape communities and maintain biodiversity.

Read more details on my research here. All my publications are listed here, and you can get them from Google Scholar, Mendeley, Academia, or by personal request. General audience reports of my recent research were published in Science Trends and Nature Index.