Research in the Hulshof Lab combines observational, experimental, and theoretical models to understand how environmental factors influence the life, growth, and reproduction of living organisms.

In particular, we study the interactions between plants and Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) and the environmental, ecological, and genetic conditions that lead to specialization.

Plant-insect interactions across edaphic and climatic gradients

Puerto Rico is a tiny but topographically complex island which provides a backdrop for determining how plant-herbivore interactions are shaped by soil and climate at small spatial scales. At larger spatial scales, the Antillean islands provide a natural experiment for understanding the evolution of specialists (and endemic species) on tropical islands.

Our research team of students, scientists, and other collaborators are coupling museum collections with modern-day field sampling to understand the drivers of changing plant and Lepidoptera diversity and distribution across space and time.

Climate change and plants on serpentine soils

Our understanding of the structure and functioning of unusual soil systems is based on small plot research primarily from temperate regions. We are working towards the first regional synthesis of tropical serpentine flora diversity. By combining fine-scale patterns of plant functional diversity with remote sensing approaches, this work will determine whether unusual soil ecosystems are uniquely resilient or vulnerable to climate and land-use change.

Collaborators and students across Latin America and the Caribbean (including Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Guatemala) are an integral component of this macro-systems effort.


Major serpentine formations around the world.

Tropical dry forest ecology

Although climatic variability within and between years is a distinguishing feature shared by all tropical dry forests, these forests are extremely variable in structure, composition, and dynamics. These differences allow novel tests of ideas originally formulated in aseasonal tropical rain forests.

Several research projects in our lab examine how climatic variability influences phenology and phenotypic variability of plants and Lepidoptera.

tdf variability

Tropical dry forests around the world are diverse in structure and species composition.

Our lab is also broadly interested in the biogeography of tropical dry forests throughout the Antilles. The dominant Leguminosae of mainland tropical dry forests are poorly represented on islands.

This has large implications for nutrient cycling and below-ground interactions and one of our research goals is to understand the ways in which insular tropical dry forests differ (and are similar to) mainland tropical dry forest habitats.


Precipitation seasonality of tropical forests.