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Highlighted Young PPE Member of the Month

Dr. Gerardo Arceo Gomez

Publishing papers is not the only goal, learning skills is also the goal

— Interview of Dr. Gerardo Arceo-Gomez


By Nana Zhang, ESA Plant Population Ecology (PPE) section 11/25/14

While most people are amazed by the beauty and variation of nature in plant communities, Gerardo pushed to understand the evolutionary processes and consequences underlying plant diversity.

In their newly published paper in American Naturalist (183(2): E50-E63), Gerardo and his PhD advisor, Dr. Tia-Lynn Ashman, at the University of Pittsburgh, showed that the diversity of co-flowering plant communities could affect female fitness and further influences the flower longevity in Mimulus guttatus, also known as monkey-flower,a very popular wildflower seen along the banks of creeks and rivers in North America. Thus this paper demonstrated the importance of community complexity in shaping the evolutionary processes.

Gerardo received his PhD in March 2014, from the University of Pittsburgh, finished his postdoc training at Cornell University and has just returned to his home University in Mexico, the University of Yucatan, for further postdoc training. It is my honor to interview him as the highlighted member of the month and get to know him more as a colleague.

Gerardo has a natural interest on nature, outdoor and plants since he was a kid, but his pathway to become a plant ecologist was not direct. He first studied biology in college, and became interested in plant-animal interactions while in Dr. Victor Parra-Tabla’s lab. “He is the person who showed me how cool science could be”, Gerardo said. After college, Gerardo worked on environmental impact studies in industry for about one year. He noted that “working on that particular area let me realize that my main interest is still in science”. With this motivation, he pursued a Master’s degree in Mexico and then got his PhD degree at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States.

When asked why he chose Dr. Tia-Lynn Ashman’s lab for his PhD work, he said Dr. Ashman was the main reason he came to Pittsburgh. “I was just looking for the right person to work with. She is productive, successful and above all a great scientist. I learned much more beyond my expectations”. He was certainly right! Gerardo already has ten publications, with seven first-authored and three co-authored papers in highly ranked ecological journals.

However, in Gerardo’s mind, “publishing papers is not the only goal for me, acquiring good scientific skills is also the goal”. In graduate school, asking interesting questions and learning different tools to answer those questions were the most important things for Gerardo. As he stated, I“…learn as much as I can. Do it well.That is the key for me — to ask questions and have the tools to answer themin the future”. “But publications come along…”, and that is so true.

The most valuable aspect about research for Gerardo is that “small research questions can always reveal unknown patterns”. And it is the excitement to unravel novelty from elaborate design that motivates him to push the barrier of knowledge all the time. Right now Gerardo is mainly focusing on two projects derived from his thesis. One project is investigating hetero-specific pollen transfer, and its evolutionary consequences. The second project looks at the functional diversity of the plant communities and its importance to reproductive successes. Both projects will contribute significantly to our understanding of plant-insect interactions.

Besides research, Gerardo has broad interests in life. He likes reading non-scientific books, going to concerts, photography and watching movies.

Gerardo has come a long way from his childhood interest to become a productive researcher. He will continue to ask interesting questions and use the tools he learned from graduate school to solve them. In the future, Gerardo sees himself as an independent researcher with his own research lab, contributing to the growing ecology research in Mexico. As he kept saying during the interview “I am happy with the work”. Indeed, his sincere enthusiasm is evident just by talking with him.

More on Gerardo’s research can be found here.

Nana Zhang is a PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, and she thanks for the help of Lynn Adler, Alison Hale and Janette Steets for polishing this interview.