The Department of Biology's newest faculty member, Dr. Kenneth Feeley, is the new Smathers' Chair in Tropical Trees and an ecologist who is exploring the effects of climate change on tropical ecosystems
Climate change is a truly global phenomenon that threatens all species in all ecosystems. That said, the threats posed by climate change are perhaps most poignant in tropical rainforest which house thousands of plant and animal species, many of which are predicted to be at elevated risk of extinction due to their specialization on stable climate conditions. Unfortunately, the tropics are often overlooked in studies of climate change. As UM's new Smathers Chair of Tropical Tree Biology, Ken Feeley and his students are leading a diverse portfolio of studies to look at how tropical species, and especially tropical trees, are responding to changes in temperature and precipitation caused by climate change.
The majority of Ken Feeley’s research is conducted in South America, from the cloud forests of high Andes mountains down into the rainforests of the lowland Amazon basin. Through rigorous field studies in remote locations of Peru and Colombia, Ken Feeley and his collaborators have shown that tropical tree species are extremely sensitive to climate change. As temperatures rise, many tree species are dying out from the lowlands. In some cases the species are “migrating” into the cooler high elevation areas but typically these migrations are too slow to compensate for the die offs at lower elevations. Combined these findings all indicate that much of the tropic's amazing biodiversity is at high risk of extinction. Ken Feeley’s lab is now working to understand the consequences of these extinctions for the millions of people that depend on tropical forests for their livelihoods.
Ken Feeley joined the UM Biology faculty in January 2017. Before joining UM he worked as a professor for 7 years at Florida International University and before that he completed postdocs at Wake Forest University and Harvard University. In addition to working at UM, Ken Feeley is a Conservation Biologist at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.