“Tropical forests are the lungs of the planet,” says 3rd-year biology doctoral student Aaron Hogan, explaining that tropical forests exchange the majority of atmospheric carbon dioxide and oxygen annually. It’s one of the many fascinating facts that drew Aaron to study tropical forests.
Aaron, a native of Breckenridge, Colorado, first became interested in biology, especially forests, as a teenager. “I saw the devastation that the mountain pine beetle caused in Colorado,” he says. “The lack of severe freezes allowed the pathogenic beetle to spread epidemically and cause massive die offs of Lodgepole pines.” Around the same time, Aaron took his first trip to Costa Rica and fell in love with the high levels of biodiversity in the tropics.
Aaron completed his undergraduate work at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, earning a B.Sc in Ecology and Biodiversity. He completed his master’s work at the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras in San Juan, Puerto Rico, earning a M.Sc of Ciencias Ambientales (environmental sciences).
A graduate fellow with the US Department of Energy, Aaron is currently conducting research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee. His research interests center on tropical forests, their ecology, and how they will function as biological systems in the future. One area that he is particularly interested in is the morphology and functioning of tropical tree roots. This requires connecting root organ form to biological function and determining how that might be affected by climate change. At ORNL, Aaron, in conjunction with staff scientists at the lab, is examining how root respiration rates are affected by temperature and will aim to relate those physiological results to root form.
“That becomes labor intensive if you focus on the thousands of tree species present in tropical forests,” Aaron says. He has chosen to focus on one tree as a model, the Teak tree from tropical India and Southeast Asia.
Aaron chose FIU for his graduate studies because of the facilities and the many collaborating institutions that are doing cutting-edge research in the tropics. “In our department, we have great scientists working throughout the tropics on a wide variety of organisms, from sharks to seagrasses, from mangrove trees to tropical reptiles, and almost everything in between,” Aaron says. Collaborating organizations with a deep interest in tropical plant ecology and conservation include The Fairchild Garden, the Kampong, Montgomery Botanical Center, Miami-Dade County, the Everglades National Park and the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program.
Once Aaron completes his doctoral work, he hopes to find employment that will allow him to pursue his scientific interests. He also wants to continue to provide understanding regarding the current and future ecology of tropical forests as the world continues to change.