• gotsch website
Assistant Professor of Biology




B.A., Biology, Mount Holyoke College, 1993-1997.

Ph.D. , Ecology and Evolution, State University of New York, Stony Brook, 2001- 2006.

Post-doctoral Research, Plant Biology, North Carolina State University, 2007-2009.

Post-doctoral Research, Natural Resources and the Environment, University of New Hampshire, 2009-2012.


My research is focused on understanding how plants and plant communities respond to the environment.  Plants have evolved elegant strategies to cope with stress but in many parts of the world, plant communities are experiencing or are projected to experience significant changes in climatic conditions such as rainfall and temperature. I am particularly interested in understanding how decreases in rainfall and/or increases in temperature will affect plant functioning in seasonal tropical forests.

While there are many ecosystems that are important to consider in the context of climate change, one of particular importance is the tropical montane cloud forest (TMCF). TMCFs comprise only 1.4% of all tropical forests but are important due to their high levels of biodiversity and endemism as well as their importance in local and regional surface hydrology. Unfortunately, these important and beautiful ecosystems are highly vulnerable both to changes in land use and climate. TMCFs are currently undergoing deforestation rates that exceed that of other tropical forests. In addition, increasing land and ocean surface temperatures even far away from these habitats may increase cloud base heights and alter the microclimate of the TMCF.

One of the unique features of the TMCF is the epiphyte community. Epiphytes are plants (such as orchids and ferns) that live on the trunks and branches of trees. In the TMCF, epiphytes form a dense mat of vegetation in the forest canopies which creates microhabitats for other organisms and stores water and nutrients that can provide important inputs to the ecosystem. These epiphytes receive most, if not all, of their water from atmospheric inputs. Therefore, increases in cloud base heights and/or precipitation may be particularly detrimental to canopy communities. In my lab we are working to understand the vulnerability of this community and its importance to the ecosystem. Some of the questions that we are exploring are:

  • How vulnerable are epiphytes in the TMCF to seasonal drought stress and changes in cloud cover or precipitation?
  • How does water storage by epiphytes in the canopy affect the physiology of the host trees?
  • What is the impact of these aerial gardens on the water cycling and water storage in the ecosystem?

In my lab we quantify physiological processes such as transpiration and photosynthesis and determine vulnerability of plants by measuring leaf water stress and stem hydraulic vulnerability.  To relate these physiological parameters to larger environmental issues we conduct field and greenhouse experiments and collaborate with hydrologists, meteorologists and ecological modelers.

Research Opportunities

There are currently openings in my lab for student researchers. If you are interested in joining the lab please contact me.


* indicates Franklin & Marshall student co-author

Gotsch, S.G., Nadkarni, N., Darby, A.*, Dix, M.*, Glunk, A.*, Dawson, T. 2014. Life in the Treetops: Ecophysiological Strategies of Canopy Epiphytes in a Tropical Montane Cloud Forest. In Review.

Gotsch, S.G., Crausbay, S.D., Giambelluca, T.W., Weintraub, A.E., Longman, R., Asbjornsen, A., Hotchkiss, S.C., Dawson, T.E. 2014. Water relations and micro-climate around the upper limit of cloud forest in Maui, Hawai'i. In Press. Tree Physiology.

Gotsch, S.G., Asbjornsen, H., Weintraub, A.E., Holderda, F., Goldsmith, G.R., Dawson, T.E. 2014. Foggy days and dry nights determine crown-level water balance in a seasonal tropical montane cloud forest. Plant, Cell and Environment 37(1): 261-272.

Hoffmann, W.A., Geiger, E. L., Gotsch, S. G., Rossatto, D.R., Silva, L.C.R, Lau, O.L., Haridasan, M., Franco, A.C. 2012. Ecological thresholds at the savanna-forest boundary: How plant traits, resources and fire govern the distribution of tropical biomes. Ecological Letters. DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01789.x

Geiger, E. L., Gotsch, S. G., Vale, G.D., Haridasan, M., and Franco, A.C., Hoffmann, W.A. 2011. Distinct roles of savanna and forest tree species in regeneration following fire suppression in a Brazilian savanna. Journal of Vegetation Science 22: 312–321.

Asbjornsen, H, G.R. Goldsmith, M.S. Alvarado-Barrientos, K. Rebel, F.P. Van Osch, M.G. Rietkerk, J. Chen, S.G. Gotsch, C. Tobón-Marin, D.R. Geissert, A. Gómez-Tagle, K Vache, T.E. Dawson. 2011. Ecohydrological Advances and Applications in Plant Water Relations Research: A Review. Journal of Plant Ecology. 4(3): 192-192.

Hoffmann, W.A., S. Jaconis, K. McKinley, E.L. Geiger, S.G. Gotsch and A.F. Franco. 2011.The relative roles of fuels and microclimate in governing vegetation-fire feedbacks at savanna-forest boundaries in Brazil. Published online, print version to follow doi:10.1111/j.1442-9993.2011.02324.x. Austral Ecology.

Gotsch, S.G., E.L. Geiger, G. Goldstein, F.E. Meinzer, A.C. Franco, W.A. Hoffmann. 2010. Allocation to leaf area and sapwood area affect water relations of co-occurring savanna and forest trees. Oecologia 163:291–301.

Gotsch, S.G., J.S. Powers and M.T. Lerdau. 2010. Variation in leaf traits of 12 evergreen species that grow in Costa Rican wet and dry forests: shifting leaf-trait networks and novel leaf-trait relationships. Plant Ecology 211(1):133-146.

Hoffmann, W.A., R. Adasme, M. Haridasan, M.A.B. Pereira, E.L. Geiger, M.T. Carvalho, S.G. Gotsch and A.F. Franco. 2008. Tree topkill, not mortality, governs the dynamics of alternate stable states at Brazilian savanna-forest boundaries under frequent fire. Ecology. 90:1326-1337.

Gotsch, S.G., and A.M. Ellison. 1998. Seed germination of the northern pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea. Northeastern Naturalist, volume 5 number 2 pp. 175-182.