SWS :Dr. Sunshine A. Van Bael, Community Ecologist (STRI)

Dr. Van Bael earned B.A. with Honors in Biology from the University of Chicago in 1996. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2003.

Her Ph.D. research on bird-insect-plant interactions took her to Panama, where she has since continued to live and do tropical research at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. During her time as a researcher, she has travelled widely throughout Central and South America, as well as in Asia and Australia.

Dr. Van Bael is a community ecologist who is interested in how plants, animals and fungi interact and how symbioses with other organisms contribute to nutrition and defense. Her laboratory and fieldwork involves microbial ecology, and in particular plant-insect-fungal interactions. She is also interested in avian ecology, and is involved in studies on how to improve human agricultural and pastoral systems to conserve greater levels of bird diversity in tropical areas.

In addition to serving on the scientific staff at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, she is also an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University, in New Orleans. This is an excellent place to teach tropical ecology, as New Orleans is very close to the tropics, and the department at Tulane focuses on wetland ecology and tropical ecology.

Another interest of Dr. Van Bael's is the communication of science and development of resources for K-12 audiences. She has actively used new technologies, such as video-conferencing, to bring the excitement of tropical rainforests into temperate classrooms. Please see some videos and examples of her research and educational materials at: SYMBIOSIS  

When she is not working, she enjoys reading, reading to her kids, and making music. She also loves to camp and kayak, and she runs for pleasure.

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