I am a terrestrial ecologist and environmental scientist with a broad range of research interests: botany, plant taxonomy (particularly for tropical trees); community ecology, forest succession, community phylogenetic structure; the role of tropical ecosystems in the global carbon cycle; and robust statistical methods for biodiversity estimation. The theme that links my diverse areas of study is the need to understand human impacts on the biosphere, and particularly on tropical plant communities. At Purchase College, I teach courses in terrestrial ecology, botany, and environmental science. I also serve on the Latin American Studies board of study.

I received my B.A. at Carleton College in 2000, with a double major in biology and music. After college I hiked the Appalachian Trail with my older sister, and we wrote a pair of books about the experience. I earned my Ph.D. in ecology at the University of Connecticut in 2008, with Dr. Robin Chazdon, studying how tropical wet forests in Costa Rica recover from anthropogenic disturbance. I lived in Costa Rica for two and a half years teaching undergraduate study-abroad courses in ecology, research methods, and environmental science with the Organization for Tropical Studies.


Currently, my research centers on tropical forests in Costa Rica and other parts of the world. With an international network of collaborators, I study the structure, function, diversity, and resilience of regenerating tropical forests and the impacts of climate change on mature forests.

When I'm not in the field measuring trees or in the lab analyzing data, I enjoy hiking and vegetarian cooking. I play piano and guitar and dabble in composition.





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in press

Gilman, A.C., S.G. Letcher, R.M. Fincher, A.I. Perez, T.W. Madell, A.L. Finkelstein, and F. Corrales-Araya. in press. Recovery of floristic diversity and basal area in natural forest regeneration and planted plots in a Costa Rican wet forest. Biotropica.


Chazdon, R.L., E.N. Broadbent, D.M. Rozendaal, F. Bongers, A.M. Almeyda Zambrano, T.M. Aide, P. Balvanera, J.M. Becknell, V. Boukili, P.H.S. Brancalion, D. Craven, J.S. Almeida-Cortez, G.A.L. Cabral, B. de Jong, J.S. Denslow, D.H. Dent, S.J. DeWalt, J.M. Dupuy, S.M. Durán, M.M. Espírito-Santo, M.C. Fandino, R.G. César, J.S. Hall, J.L. Hernández-Stefanoni, C.C. Jakovac, A.B. Junqueira, D. Kennard,  S.G. Letcher, M. Lohbeck, M. Martínez-Ramos, P. Massoca, J.A. Meave, R. Mesquita, F. Mora, R. Muñoz, R. Muscarella, Y.R.F. Nunes, S. Ochoa-Gaona, E. Orihuela-Belmonte, M. Peña-Claros, E. Pérez-García, D. Piotto, J.S. Powers, J. Rodríguez-Velazquez, I.E. Romero-Pérez, J. Ruíz, J.G. Saldarriaga, A. Sanchez-Azofeifa, N.B. Schwartz, M.K. Steininger, N.G. Swenson, M. Uriarte, M. van Breugel, H. van der Wal, M.D.M. Veloso, H. Vester, I.C.G. Vieira, T. Vizcarra Bentos, G.B. Williamson, and L. Poorter. 2016. Carbon sequestration potential of second-growth forest regeneration in the Latin American tropics. Science Advances 2: e1501639; DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501639.


Poorter,  L. F. Bongers, T. M. Aide, A.M. Almeyda Zambrano, P. Balvanera, J.M. Becknell, V. Boukili, P.H.S. Brancalion, E.N. Broadbent, R.L. Chazdon, D. Craven, J.S. de Almeida-Cortez, G.A.L Cabral, B.H.J. de Jong, J.S. Denslow, D.H. Dent, S.J. DeWalt, J.M. Dupuy, S.M. Durán, M.M. Espírito-Santo, M.C. Fandino, R.G. César,J.S. Hall, J.L. Hernandez-Stefanoni, C.C. Jakovac, A.B. Junqueira, D. Kennard, S.G. Letcher, J.-C. Licona, M. Lohbeck,E. Marín-Spiotta, M. Martínez-Ramos, Paulo Massoca, J.A. Meave, R. Mesquita, F. Mora, R. Muñoz,  R. Muscarella, Y.R.F. Nunes, S. Ochoa-Gaona, A.A. de Oliveira, E. Orihuela-Belmonte, M. Peña-Claros, E.A. Pérez-García, D. Piotto, J.S., Powers, J. Rodríguez-Velázquez, I.E. Romero-Pérez, J. Ruíz, J.G. Saldarriaga, A. Sanchez-Azofeifa, N.B. Schwartz, M.K. Steininger, N.G. Swenson, M. Toledo, M. Uriarte, M. van Breugel, H. van der Wal, M.D.M. Veloso, H.F.M. Vester, A. Vicentini, I.C.G. Vieira, T. Vizcarra Bentos, G.B. Williamson, and D.M.A. Rozendaal. 2016. Biomass resilience of Neotropical secondary forests. Nature 530: 211–214.


Ding, Y., R. Zang, S.G. Letcher, W. Liu, and X. Lu. 2016. Aboveground and belowground competition affect seedling performance and allometry in a tropical monsoon forest. New Forests 47: 529–540.

Jiang, Y., R. Zang, S.G. Letcher, Y. Ding, Y. Huang, X. Lu, J. Huang, W. Liu, and Z. Zhang. 2016. Associations between plant composition/diversity and the abiotic environment across six vegetation types in a biodiversity hotspot of Hainan Island, China. Plant and Soil 403: 21–35.














































Letcher, S.G., J.R. Lasky, R.L. Chazdon, N. Norden, S.J. Wright, J.A. Meave, E.A. Pérez‐García, R. Muñoz, E. Romero‐Pérez, A. Andrade, J.L. Andrade, P. Balvanera, J.M. Becknell, T.V. Bentos, R. Bhaskar, F. Bongers, V. Boukili, P.H.S. Brancalion, R.G. César, D.A. Clark, D.B. Clark, D. Craven, A. DeFrancesco, J.M. Dupuy, B. Finegan, E. González‐Jiménez, J.S. Hall, K.E. Harms, J.L. Hernández‐Stefanoni, P. Hietz, D. Kennard, T.J. Killeen, S.G. Laurance, E.E. Lebrija‐Trejos, M. Lohbeck, M. Martínez‐Ramos, P.E.S. Massoca, R.C.G. Mesquita, F. Mora, R. Muscarella, H. Paz, F. Pineda‐García, J.S. Powers, R. Quesada‐Monge, R.R. Rodrigues, M.E. Sandor, L. Sanaphre‐Villanueva, E. Schüller, N.G. Swenson, A.Tauro, M. Uriarte, M. van Breugel, O. Vargas‐Ramírez, R.A.G. Viani, A.L. Wendt, and G.B. Williamson. 2015. Environmental gradients and the evolution of successional habitat specialization: a test case with 14 Neotropical forest sites. Journal of Ecology 103: 1276–1290.


Slik, J.W.F., V. Arroyo-Rodríguez, S.-I.Aiba, P. Alvarez-Loayza, L.F. Alves, P. Ashton, et al. 2015. An estimate of the number of tropical tree species. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112: 7472-7477.


Letcher, S.G. 2015. Patterns of liana succession in tropical forests. Pp. 116-130 in S. A. Schnitzer, F. Bongers, R. Burnham, and F. Putz, eds. Ecology of Lianas. Wiley-Blackwell.


DeWalt, S.J., S.A. Schnitzer, L. Alves, F. Bongers, R.J. Burnham, Z. Cai, W.P. Carson, J. Chave, G. Chuyong, D.B. Clark, F.R.C. Costa, C.E.N. Ewango, R. Gallagher, J.J. Gerwing, E. Gortaire, T. Hart., G. Ibarra-Manríquez, K. Ickes, D. Kenfack, S.G. Letcher, M.J. Macía, J.-R. Makana, A. Malizia, M. Martínez-Ramos, J. Mascaro, S. Moses, H.C. Müller-Landau, S. Muthuramkumar, C. Muthmperumal, A. Nogueira, A. Padaki, M.P.E. Parren, N. Parthasarathy, D. Pérez-Salipcrup, F.E. Putz, H. Romero-Saltos, M.S. Reddy, and D. Thomas. 2015. Biogeographic patterns in liana abundance and diversity in tropical forests. Pp. 131-146 in S. A. Schnitzer, F. Bongers, R. Burnham, and F. Putz, eds. Ecology of Lianas. Wiley-Blackwell.


Lu, X., R. Zang, Y. Ding, S.G. Letcher, W. Long, and Y. Huang. 2015. Variations and trade-offs in functional traits of tree seedlings during secondary succession in a tropical lowland rain forest. Biotropica. 46: 404-414.


Hudson, L.N., T. Newbold, S. Contu, S.L.L. Hill, I. Lysenko, A. De Palma, H.R.P. Phillips, et al. 2014. The PREDICTS database: a global database of how local terrestrial biodiversity responds to human impacts. Ecology and Evolution 4: 4701-4735.


Chazdon, R.L., B.Vilchez-Alvarado, S.G. Letcher, A. Wendt, and U.U. Sezen. 2014. Effects of human activities on successional pathways: case studies from lowland wet forests of northeastern Costa Rica. Pp. 129-139 in K.D. Morrison, S. Hecht, and C. Padoch, eds. The Social Lives of Forests: Past, Present, and Future of Woodland Resurgence. University of Chicago Press.


Yorke, S. R., S. A. Schnitzer, J. Mascaro, S. G. Letcher, and W. P. Carson. 2013. Increasing liana abundance and basal area in a tropical forest: the contribution of long-distance clonal colonization. Biotropica.45: 317-324.

Letcher, S.G., and R.L. Chazdon. 2012. Life history traits of lianas during tropical forest succession. Biotropica 44: 720-727.

Cayuela, L., L. Gálvez-Bravo, R. Pérez Pérez, F.S. de Albuquerque, D.J. Golicher, R.A. Zahawi, N. Ramírez-Marcial, C. Garibaldi, R. Field, J.M. Rey Benayas, M. González-Espinosa, P. Balvanera, M. Ángel Castillo, B.L. Figueroa-Rangel, D.M. Griffith, G.A. Islebe, D.L. Kelly, M. Olvera-Vargas, S.A. Schnitzer, E. Velázquez, G. Williams-Linera,

S.W. Brewer, A. Camacho-Cruz, I. Coronado, B. de Jong, R. del Castillo, Í. de la Cerda, J. Fernández, W. Fonseca, L. Galindo-Jaimes, T.W. Gillespie, B. González-Rivas, J.E. Gordon, J. Hurtado, J. Linares, S.G. Letcher, S. Mangan, J.A. Meave, E.V. Méndez, V. Meza, S. Ochoa-Gaona, C.J. Peterson, V. Ruiz-Gutierrez, K.A. Snarr, F. Tun Dzul, M. Valdez-Hernández, K.M. Viergever, D.A. White, J.N. Williams, F.J. Bonet, and R. Zamora. 2012. The Tree Biodiversity Network (BIOTREE-NET): prospects for biodiversity research and conservation in the tropics. Biodiversity and Ecology 4: 211-224.


Cayuela, L., L. Gálvez-Bravo, F. S. de Albequerque, D. J. Golicher, M. González-Espinosa, N. Ramírez-Marcial, J. M. Rey Benayas, R. A. Zahawi, J. A. Meave, B. M. Benito, C. Garibaldi, I. Chan, R. Pérez-Pérez, R. Field, P. Balvanera, M. A. Castillo, B. L. Figueroa-Rangel, D. M. Griffith, G. A. Islebe, D. L. Kelly, M. Olvera-Vargas, S. A. Schnitzer, E. Velasquez, G. Williams-Linera, S. W. Brewer, A. Camacho-Cruz, I. Coronado, B. de Jong, R. del Castillo, I. Granzow-de la Cerda, J. Fernández, W. Fonseca, L. Galindo-Jaimes, T. W. Gillespie, B. Gonzáles-Rivas, J. E. Gordon, J. Hurtado, J. Linares, S. G. Letcher, S. A. Mangan, V. E. Méndez, V. Meza, S. Ochoa-Gaona, C. J. Peterson, V. Ruiz-Gutierrez, K. A. Snarr, F. Tun Dzul, M. Valdez-Hernández, K. M. Viergever, D. A. White, J. N. Williams, F. J. Bonet, and R. Zamora. 2012. La Red Internacional de Inventarios Forestales (BIOTREE-NET) en Mesoamérica: avances, retos y perspectivas futuras. Ecosistemas 21: 126-135. [Spanish version of Cayuela et al., above.]


Norden, N., S.G. Letcher, V. Boukili, N.G. Swenson, and R.L. Chazdon. 2012. Demographic drivers of successional changes in phylogenetic structure across life-history stages in tropical plant communities. Ecology 93:S70-S82.


Ding, Y., R. Zang, S.G. Letcher, S. Liu, and F. He. 2012. Disturbance regime changes the trait distribution, phylogenetic structure, and community assembly of tropical rain forests. Oikos 121: 1263-1270.


Ding, Y., R. Zang, F. He, and S.G. Letcher. 2012. Recovery of woody plant diversity in tropical rain forests in southern China after logging and shifting cultivation. Biological Conservation 145: 225-233.


Letcher, S.G., R.L. Chazdon, A.C.S. Andrade, F. Bongers, M. van Breugel, B. Finegan, S.G. Laurance, R.C.G. Mesquita, M. Martínez-Ramos, and G.B. Williamson. 2012. Phylogenetic community structure during succession: evidence from three Neotropical forest sites. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 14: 79-87.

Chazdon, R.L., A. Chao, R.K. Colwell, S.-Y. Lin, N. Norden, S.G. Letcher, D.B. Clark, B. Finegan, and J.P. Arroyo. 2011. A novel statistical method for classifying habitat generalists and specialists. Ecology 92: 1332-1343.


Shumway, S.W., Letcher, S.G., Friberg, A., and DeMelo, D. 2010. RainforestPlants: a web-based teaching tool for students of tropical biology. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 91: 257-261.


Letcher, S.G. 2010. Phylogenetic overdispersion of angiosperm communities during tropical forest succession. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277: 97-104.


Letcher, S.G., and R.L. Chazdon. 2009. Rapid recovery of biomass, species richness, and species composition in a forest chronosequence in northeastern Costa Rica. Biotropica 41: 608-617.


Letcher, S.G., and R.L. Chazdon. 2009. Lianas and self-supporting plants during tropical forest succession. Forest Ecology and Management 257: 2150-2156.


Chazdon, R.L., S.G. Letcher, M. van Breugel, M. Martínez-Ramos, F. Bongers, and B. Finegan. 2007. Rates of change in tree communities of secondary Neotropical forests following major disturbances. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B 362:273-289.


Palomaki, M.B., R.L. Chazdon, J.P. Arroyo, and S.G. Letcher. 2006. Juvenile tree growth in relation to light availability in second-growth tropical rain forests. Journal of Tropical Ecology. 22:223-226.


Letcher, S.G. 2005. Common Plant Families of La Selva Biological Station. Lulu Press, Morristown, N.C.


Miller, D.S., S. Letcher, and D.M. Barnes. 1996. Fluorescence imaging study of organic anion transport from renal proximal tubule cell to lumen. American Journal of Physiology-Renal Fluid and Electrolyte Physiology 40: F508-F520.


Visiting scholar from Mexico

The Letcher lab welcomes visiting scholar Altagracia Guerrero Marmolejo, an MSc student at the Universidad Michoacana San Nicolás de Hidalgo in Mexico. She will be in residence at Purchase from September - October 2016, working with Dr. Letcher on the community phylogenetic structure of successional forests. 

Summer research

Undergraduate students and I worked on two major research projects in Costa Rica this summer. Cori Podstupka and Griff Keating (both from Purchase College) studied how the diversity of planted saplings affects the success of forest regeneration in an ongoing reforestation experiment in San Ramón de La Virgen. Griff, Zacky Ezedin (Cornell University), and Gabriela Morales-Nieves (Universidad de Puerto Rico) participated in a forest inventory study in the mature forest at nearby La Selva Biological Station. Zacky's project focused on liana impacts on tree growth; Gabriela studied the effects of neighborhood-scale relatedness on tree survival.


I believe in the power of science communication: an educated public is more able to make effective decisions. In the modern era, when science and technology determine so much about our lives, it is vital to ensure that scientific knowledge gets communicated beyond the narrow sphere of our profession. See examples of my recent outreach work here and here.


Contact ME

The best way to reach me is by email:

susan dot letcher at purchase dot edu.

You can also try phone: 914-251-6646.

Or, if you're really desperate, fax: 914-251-6635.

Or, if you're adverse to all these methods of communication, you can write me a message here.


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