Jesse Bellemare

Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Smith College

2010, Ph.D., Cornell University
2002, M.F.S., Harvard University-Harvard Forest

Research Interests

My research focuses on questions in plant ecology, biogeography and evolution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. In particular, I am interested in how historical processes or effects may influence the contemporary distribution of plant species and the present-day structure of plant communities.

In plant ecology and biogeography, I am investigating the relative importance of ecological interactions and environmental conditions versus seed dispersal limitation in determining plant species geographic distributions in eastern North America. As almost all plant species found in the Northeast today have migrated into the region following the Ice Age, we are investigating the possibility that some slow-moving plant species may still be shifting their ranges northward or may even be stuck in the Southeast, having failed to migrate north from glacial-era refuges. This work involves surveys of plant population performance along latitudinal gradients, as well as experimental seed sowing within and beyond current range edges to evaluate whether range limits are determined by contemporary abiotic or biotic factors, such as climate or herbivores, or whether suitable but unoccupied habitat exists in the north due to a lack of seeds reaching these sites. While this research is focused on range dynamics linked to past climate change, the work also has implications for developing conservation strategies for slow-moving plant species in the face of modern climate change.

In plant evolution, I am investigating patterns of plant community composition along key environmental gradients to ask whether trends in the niche evolution of major plant lineages may partially explain present-day diversity patterns. This research is focused on Temperate Deciduous Forest, a community comprising many plant lineages with histories tracing back millions of years in the Northern Hemisphere.

On a local scale, I am also involved in ongoing research efforts at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station in Whately. Research at this site includes vegetation mapping, a floristic inventory, and investigation of past land use effects on forest vegetation.