Ray Dybzinski, PhD
Title/s: Assistant Professor
Specialty Area: Applied Plant Biology
Office #: BVM Hall 312
I am an applied plant biologist with expertise both in the mathematical representation of complex natural and anthropogenically-forced systems (such as forests, farm fields, and grasslands) and in the connections between ecological theory, observations, and experiments. I’m striving to understand why plants have the traits that they do and how those traits will affect the pace of climate change. I’m using my understanding of the evolutionary and ecological forces that structure plant communities to devise agricultural practices that are more sustainable and supportive of ecosystem services.
My work is defined by the unique combination of three features. First, I possess a synthetic view of complex biological systems that incorporates the importance of individual plant performance from a physiological perspective, between-individual interactions from a community perspective, biogeochemical feedbacks from an ecosystem perspective, and fitness impacts from an evolutionary perspective (using, notably, game theory). Second, I use a modeling framework that includes all of these facets in a mechanistic and quantitative way, yet remains simple enough to afford clear mathematical insight. Third, I inform and rigorously test my theoretical work with quantitative empirical data from the greenhouse, from the field, and from large-scale datasets.
I received my PhD from the University of Minnesota, where David Tilman advised my work on the mechanisms that sustain biodiversity and the effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning. Dave taught me to focus on the big picture (without stumbling over the important details!) and to couple theory and empiricism for the betterment of both. I paid for my dissertation in blood donated via mosquitoes to the well-studied ecosystem of Cedar Creek LTER site in Minnesota. (Indeed, molecules of nitrogen that were once mine are cycling there as you read this!)
After graduating, I spent time at Princeton University, where I worked with Steve Pacala and his group to understand how forests will change under elevated atmospheric CO2 and how, in turn, those changes will feed back to further increase or reduce atmospheric CO2. Steve has an extraordinary ability to step back from a problem, ask broadly, “what’s actually going on here?”, assemble the knowledge necessary to construct a solid conceptual or mathematical model, and then use that model to come up with novel solutions to the original problem. I’m hopeful that some of that ability has rubbed off on me.
CV Link: Ray Dybzinski, PhD, Curriculum Vitae
- PhD, Ecology, University of Minnesota, 2007
- BS, Physics, BA, Philosophy, Northern Illinois University, 1998