Laura Morales, Ph.D.


Lecturer in Tropical Ecology, Lead Faculty




Ph.D. in Ecology
University of California, Davis (CA, USA)

A.B. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Princeton University (NJ, USA)


SFS 3830 Tropical Ecology of the Amazon
(The School for Field Studies)

SFS 4910 Directed Research
(The School for Field Studies)

Back to All Staff

Faculty Profile

Dr. Morales is a broadly trained ecologist passionate about science, nature and culture who has channeled these interests into a career addressing socio-environmental issues through ecological research and conservation work, with a particular interest in tropical environments, forest restoration and conservation. She is also committed to providing learning and training opportunities for the next generation and has frequently involved students from the US and Latin America in her research. Originally from Colombia, she has 6+ years of experience working in different areas of Peru and over 10 years of experience in environmental research.

Prior to joining SFS, Dr. Morales pursued graduate research in restoration ecology at UC Davis, working in Huascaran National Park, Peru, to understand the regeneration dynamics of high-elevation, Andean Polylepis forests and provide practical recommendations for their management to authorities and local communities. Her work focused on understanding the influences of biology, climate and cattle on the potential for natural forest expansion into current grassland. From 2009 to 2010, she was a Princeton in Latin America Fellow at Wayquecha Biological Station (ACCA) in the cloud forest of southern Peru. She also acquired experience living, working and studying in a variety of tropical areas and ecosystems in Costa Rica, Panama, Bermuda, and Peru during her undergraduate and graduate career. However, her research interests have spanned areas outside of the tropics as well; she has researched polar marine biogeochemistry as an undergraduate student with the Sigman Lab at Princeton University and volunteered for fellow researchers studying grasslands and forests in the US and Canada.

At SFS she is looking forward to continuing to teach the next generation of environmental leaders, while working with local communities in the Peru program’s new home near Iquitos to develop research that will also address issues they care about.

Academics & Research

Areas of Expertise

  • Tropical ecology and conservation
  • Restoration ecology
  • Montane and forest ecosystems
  • Nutrient cycling (biogeochemistry)
  • Environmental science and research
  • Basic and multivariate statistics

Professional Activities

  • Ecological Society of America (2016-present)
  • Natural Areas Association (2016-present)
  • UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences Graduate Research Fellow (2011-2016)
  • U.S. NSF Graduate Research Fellow (2011-2015)
  • Princeton in Latin America Fellow (2009-2010)


Morales, L.V., C.S. Sevillano, S. Fick and T.P. Young. (2018). Differential seedling regeneration patterns across forest–grassland ecotones in two tropical treeline species (Polylepis spp.). Austral Ecology, 43(5). (pp 514-526).
Morales, L.V., B. Fuentealba, C.S. Sevillano, I. Gomez, M.C. Segovia-Salcedo, D. Green, C. Aucca, D. Renison, I. Hensen. In press. Oportunidades para acercar la ciencia a la práctica de la restauración de bosques y arbustales de Polylepis. Ecología Austral X: xx-xx.
Renison, D., L.V. Morales, G.A.E. Cuyckens, C.S. Sevillano, D.M. Cabrera Amaya. In press. Ecología y conservación de los bosques y arbustales de Polylepis: ¿qué hay y qué falta en la literatura? Ecología Austral X: xx-xx.
Sevillano, C.S., A.D. Rodewald, L.V. Morales. In press. Ecología y conservación de las aves asociadas a Polylepis: ¿qué sabemos de ésta comunidad cada vez más vulnerable? Ecología Austral X: xx-xx.
Peng, Y., L.V. Morales, I. Hensen, D. Reniso.(2017) No effect of elevation and fragmentation on genetic diversity and structure in Polylepis australis trees from central Argentina. Austral Ecology. Austral Ecology 42: 288-296.DOI:10.1111/aec.12432
Zefferman, R., J.T. Stevens, G.K. Charles, M. Dunbar-Irwin, T. Emam, S. Fick, L.V. Morales, K.M. Wolf, D.J.N. Young, T.P. Young. (2015) Plant communities in harsh sites are less invaded: a summary of observations and proposed explanations. 7: plv056, AoB PLANTS. DOI: 10.1093/aobpla/plv056
Morales, L.V., J. Granger, B.X. Chang, M.G. Prokopenko, B. Plessen, R. Gradinger, and D.M. Sigman (2014). Elevated 15N/14N in particulate organic matter, zooplankton, and diatom frustule-bound nitrogen in the ice covered water column of the Bering Sea eastern shelf. Deep-Sea Research II. 109: 100-111. DOI: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2014.05.008
Morales, L.V., D.M. Sigman, M.G. Horn, R.S. Robinson. (2013). Cleaning methods for the isotopic determination of diatom-bound nitrogen in non-fossil diatom frustules. Limnology and Oceanography Methods 11:101-112. DOI: 10.4319/lom.2013.11.101
Dehling, M.D., C.S. Sevillano, L.V. Morales (2013) Upper and lower elevational extremes of birds from the Andes of south-east Peru. Boletín Informativo de la Unión de Ornitólogos del Perú UNOP. 8(1):32-38.
Granger. J., M.G. Prokopenko, D.M. Sigman, C.W. Mordy, Z.M. Morse, L.V. Morales, R.N. Sambrotto, B. Plessen. (2011) Nitrification-coupled denitrification in sediment of the eastern Bering Sea shelf leads to 15N-enrichment of fixed N in shelf waters. Journal of Geophysical Research 116: C11006. DOI: 10.1029/2010JC006751


Accepted Talk. Limitations to Polylepis Forest Expansion in Huascaran National Park. International Congress for Conservation Biology 2017. 23-27 July 2017. Cartagena, Colombia.
Accepted Talk. Climatic and Biotic Limitations to Polylepis Forest Migration. Natural Areas Association Conference. 17-21 October 2016. Davis, CA, USA.
Invited Talk. Senderos Doctorales a Través de Polylepis. IV Congreso Internacional de Ecología y Conservación de Bosques de Polylepis. 5-9 September 2016. Jujuy, Argentina.
Accepted Talk. Ecología de Colonización de Polylepis spp. IV Congreso Internacional de Ecología y Conservación de Bosques de Polylepis. 5-9 September 2016. Jujuy, Argentina
Poster. Regeneración y Expansión de Bosques de Queñual (Polylepis spp.) en el Parque Nacional Huascarán: Influencias del Clima y el Ganado. Foro Internacional de Glaciares y Ecosistemas de Montaña, INAIGEM. 10-13 August 2016. Huaraz, Peru
Guest Lecture. Life at the Edge: Recruitment ecology of Polylepis trees in high-Andean ecotones. Graduate Group in Ecology Student Seminar. February 2, 2016. Davis, CA, USA.
Invited Talk. Efecto de la Ganadería Sobre la Regeneración de Bosques de Queñual (Polylepis spp.). Charlas Publicas de Investigación en el Parque Nacional Huascarán, 40 Aniversario del PNH. July 9, 2015. Huaraz, Peru.
Invited Talk. La Vida al Límite: Ecología de Regeneración de Polylepis en Bordes de Bosque, Climate Change Adaptation and Ecosystem Services Monitoring in Andean Mountain Communities Workshop. American Climber Science Program/USAID, UNASAM-Huaraz August 2, 2014. Huaraz, Peru.
Guest Lecture. El Futuro de los Bosques de Polylepis: Ecología para su Conservación y Restauración. Laboratorio de Estudios en Biodiversidad, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredía. October 15, 2013. Lima, Peru.
Public Talk. Issues in Restoration of Polylepis Forests: Understanding Causes to Seek Solutions. Tinker Summer Field Research Symposium, Hemispheric Institute on the Americas, UC Davis. November 16, 2012. Davis, CA, USA.
Poster. Elevated 15N/14N in particulate organic matter, zooplankton, and diatom frustule-bound nitrogen in the ice covered water column of the Bering Sea eastern shelf. TOS/ASLO/AGU Ocean Sciences Meeting. February 22, 2012. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.