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Tara Massad

Tara Massad

I can think of nothing better than walking slowly through a forest, peaking under leaves for caterpillars, pondering the diversity around me and the millennia of evolutionary interactions that created it, feeling humbled by the years of silent photosynthesis that resulted in the trees that dwarf me.

I am a tropical chemical ecologist and an educator, fascinated by plant-insect interactions and the chemistry that mediates them and dedicated to promoting conservation through education.  

I found my way to Mozambique for the first time teaching secondary school biology as a Peace Corps volunteer, and I found my way back when I read an article by E.O. Wilson about the incredible restoration work going on in Gorongosa.  Wishful thinking can sometimes pay off, and my letter to the park, asking if they may have a need for a tropical ecologist, led to my present role as the director of the Gorongosa Master’s Program in Conservation Biology.  

I have the great pleasure of working with the most motivated conservation biology students in Mozambique and of helping them develop the skills they will need to protect their country’s natural heritage.  As an professor, there is no greater reward than to mentor students who are fully committed to their education, and I have always been impressed with my Mozambican students’ genuine desire to learn and to grow.  One of my proudest days was seeing our first cohort of master’s students graduate, and I believe Gorongosa’s commitment to science education is one of the most productive paths to lasting conservation in Mozambique.  

In Gorongosa and in the Neotropics, my research is motivated by a curiosity to understand the interactions that generate tropical biodiversity and an understanding of the urgency of protecting it.  I study plant-insect interactions and phytochemical diversity in order to determine how plant chemical diversity affects herbivory and how herbivory, in turn, affects forest diversity.  I have also investigated the role of plant defenses in improving tropical reforestation and the recovery of forests post-fire.  Plant investments in chemical defenses are another interest, and I look forward to continuing this research in order to contribute to our understanding of tropical ecosystem functioning.