Dr. Taylor S. Feild
I am interested in understanding how water availability influences the form and function of tropical fruit trees and palms that are important to urban and agricultural landscapes of South Florida. Plants represent the thirstiest organisms on Earth. The vast majority of plants lose many times their body weight in water daily to gain relatively small amounts of carbon from the air during photosynthesis. Because of climate change, how palms and tropical fruit crops manage water in South Florida is now taking on enormous significance to homeowners, city planners, farmers, and nursery producers. In the atmospheric system, rainfall patterns are shifting towards increased rainfall variability - too little rain when it's disparately needed and too much rain when it's not. Belowground, an emerging major hydraulic challenge to plants involves rising salinity in the soil and flooding as the South Florida subsides. These challenges entwine to invariably bottleneck tropical fruit tree and palm production owing to drought's effects on plant survival and susceptibility to diseases.
The major goal of my research and extension activities is to improve the sustainability of palm and tropical fruit tree production in South Florida as viewed through a lens of water management. I am developing new tools to assess plant hydraulic performance to identify and understand the performance of drought-resistant species and cultivars of palms and tropical fruit trees. My approaches involve field-based measurements of plant hydraulic flow as well as gas exchange on plant leaves to understand how specific leaf anatomical traits link to plant performance. Such information illuminates how to select the right plant for a specific site as well as enable mechanistically informed predictions of how plants will perform in relation to climatic variability.