link to webpage welcome video                               link to National Geographic video interview

Dr. Sunshine Van Bael’s laboratory studies community ecology with emphases on symbioses and plant-animal interactions. Broadly, we are interested in how plants, animals and fungi become involved in symbioses with other organisms to feed themselves and defend themselves from enemies. We are involved in projects in Panama and Louisiana that include microbial ecology, chemical ecology, biodiversity conservation, coastal restoration and agroecology (the ecology of human agriculture). Our study organisms include plants, insects, fungi, bacteria and humans.  Please visit our research page and our links page to learn more.

If you are an educator or a student, be sure to visit our “links” page to find materials about our research in tropical forests and agricultural systems.

Please visit our photos page and also see us on Instagram #vanbaellab

The Van Bael Lab


  photo by Christian Ziegler

Laboratory News

July 2015

Two new papers published from the Van Bael lab:

“Bird and bat predation services in tropical forests and agroforestry landscapes.” Biological Reviews (Maas et al. 2015.pdf)

“The role of endophyte diversity in protecting plants from defoliation by leaf cutting ants.” Current Science (Estrada et al. Current Science 2015.pdf)

May 2015

Peter, Kim and Jennifer are off to Panama for the summer. Liz is heading up the baldcypress team in New Orleans, with collecting trips to Georgia and South Carolina.

We have a new publication in PLOSone on symbiont communities and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill! Check it out here (pdf)

Congratulations to our lab’s graduates, Joshua Lerner, Elaine Broussard, Casey Gu and George Washburn! Best wishes everyone!

April 2015

Our lab’s work with Spartina alterniflora and bacteria was featured in a National Geographic Video produced for the 5 year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. You can see the video here.

Check out our new publication; “An endophyte-rich diet increases ant predation on a specialist

herbivorous insect. Ecological Entomology, (pdf).”

March 2015

Congrats to Liz Kimbrough, winner of the prestigious NSF GRFP award! We are so excited for you Liz and honored to have such a nationally-recognized scholar in our laboratory!

February 2015

Sunshine became one of Tulane’s representatives for the Assembly of Delegates of the Organization of Tropical Studies, based in Costa Rica. 

We were awarded a COR fellowship from the provost’s office to begin work on baldcypress along salinity gradients in the Southeastern US!

Our laboratory hosted Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (GiST) workshop! See new photos on the photo page and also on instagram at #vanbaellab

Our lab is hosting a Visiting Scholar for this semester, Dr. Danilo Lopez Hernandez, from the Universidad Central de Venezuela

January 2015

Congrats to Lina Tran who was awarded a BOR SURE grant and an LA Sea grant undergraduate award to do research in our lab on baldcypress endophytes! 

November 2014

Our laboratory hosted a Girls in Science and Technology (GiST) workshop on Saturday Nov. 8; the girls isolated and took home some pet endophytes to watch them grow. We are also developing a symbiosis game for our high school presentations - we’re loving Kim’s name for the game - “I Can’t Live Without You!”

October 2014

More baldcypress endophyte collections! We have started our greenhouse experiments with live and sterile soil. Congrats to Josh Lerner and Lina Tran who have won a CELT award to fund their work in the spring semester.

September 2014

In September we have been sampling the leaves and roots of baldcypress trees! Lots of mud! We also took a lab camping trip at Tickfaw State Park (link). We had lots of fun times at the camp and on the Tickfaw River.

August 2014

We are pleased to welcome Liz Kimbrough to our lab as a new Ph.D. student! She has received a Louisiana Board of Regents Fellowship.  She comes to us after receiving her B.A. from Humboldt University and working at  You can read more about Liz here: (Liz bio)

We are also pleased that Casey Gu, who has formerly been a volunteer, is now in the lab as a 4+1 masters degree intern.

July 2014

Congratulations to Peter Tellez for completing his OTS course in Costa Rica and also for winning first place in this science communication video!!   Besides working on the film’s production, Peter is featured as the ant excavator and “The Sugar Daddy.”

June 2014

In Panama, Peter was up in the canopy beginning his leaf traits study, while Kim was digging up dirt to begin her Jatropha curcas study in the Azuero peninsula. link

Back in Louisiana, we had a lot of fun cruising on airboats, trudging through the mud and sampling bald cypress trees! link

May 2014

A huge and enthusiastic CONGRATULATIONS to Kim Mighell, who was offered an EPA STAR Fellowship this month!  We’re very happy for you Kim!

Congratulations to Jennifer Janowsky, who has won the Louisiana BOR SURE fellowship to conduct research in our laboratory this summer, on the endophytes of bald cypress trees.

Demetra, Mae & Sunshine joined our collaborator Gary Shaffer from Southeastern Louisiana University to locate cypress trees at his field site (photos).

This month Sunshine, Peter, Kim and Emma are off to Panama; while Mae, Demetra and Jennifer keep the Louisiana research going!

Congratulations to our graduates on May 17 (photo); Taryn Farber, Stephen Suchy and Jordan Hoffmann!  Thank you for your contributions and best wishes in the future!

April 2014

Tulane undergraduate, Jennifer Janowsky was awarded funds from the Honor’s college to work in our lab this summer. She will help with our first collections of endophytes from bald cypress trees. Congrats!

Emma Tower and Taryn Farber are presenting a poster summarizing our lab’s research at the CELT Research Day on April 22.

Sunshine went to Costa Rica to teach a Tulane course; Tropical Agroecology, at CIAPA; see photos page.

Our endophyte research was mentioned in an article about the oil spill recovery in;

March 2014

A big welcome to Mae Berlow, our new laboratory manager!

Adrianne Kartachak joined the lab as a volunteer; welcome!

February 2014

New paper published from our work in Panama: Estrada, C., Rojas, E., Wcislo, W., and S. A. Van Bael. 2014. Fungal endophyte effects on leaf chemistry alter the in vitro growth rates of leaf-cutting ants’ fungal mutualist, Leucocoprinus gongylophorusFungal Ecology 8, 37-45.  See our publications page for the pdf!

Two new undergraduate volunteers joined the lab: Welcome to Casey Gu and Ryan Wolfe.

December 2013

Our lab sampled plants, fungi and bacteria from sites that were heavily oiled and not oiled during the BP oil spill. Demetra has lots of work to do in characterizing these diverse microorganisms. Sunshine travelled to Panama to catch up on some projects there and Kim explored northern Louisiana looking for Atta texana colonies.

We were awarded a Newcomb Institute grant for Emma Tower to join Kim’s project in Panama this upcoming summer!

November 2013

Our lab hosted “Girls in STEM at Tulane” and our visitors cultivated their own pet endophytes from Tulane’s native Louisiana plant garden. See the photo album on the Photos page.

October 2013

We were awarded a CELT grant from Tulane for Emma Tower and Taryn Farber to continue their work with us in Spring semester 2014!

New paper published: Van Bael, S. A., R. Zambrano and J. E. Hall. 2013. Bird communities in forested and human modified landscapes of Central Panama: a baseline survey for a native species reforestation treatment. International Journal of Biodiversity Science, Ecosystem Services & Management, DOI: 10.1080/21513732.2013.842187

August 2013

We are welcoming three new graduate students; Peter Tellez, Jordan Hoffmann and Stephen Suchy to the laboratory! Also Emma Tower and Taryn Farber are joining as a new undergraduate volunteers.

May 2013

Sunshine, Kim and Nathan are off to Panama for June and July, while Demetra and Stephen begin to explore fungal endophytes in Louisiana wetlands.

New paper published in Ecosphere: Coblentz, K. E., and S. A. Van Bael. 2013. Field colonies of leaf-cutting ants select plant materials containing low abundances of endophytic fungi.

April 2013

Our new laboratory is complete in 443 Boggs! Now it’s time to get some research going!

March 2013

Demetra Kandalepas joins the laboratory as our first Tulane post-doctoral researcher, and we collect our first Spartina for analyses of endophytic fungi!

Gabriel Patterson from Colorado College is awarded a STRI competitive internship to join the lab in Panama for summer 2013.

Renovations on the Tulane laboratory in the Lindy Boggs Building are coming to a close!

February 2013

New paper published in New Phytologist: Estrada, C., Wcislo, W., S. A. Van Bael. 2013. Symbiotic fungi alter plant chemistry that discourages leaf-cutting ants.

December 2012

Van Bael joins a group of researchers and administrators from Tulane on a visit to the University of Havana in Cuba.

November 2012

New paper published in BMC Ecology: Leaf endophyte load influences fungal garden development in leaf-cutting ants.

August 2012

Kimberly Mighell officially joins the lab!

Van Bael, with collaborators from STRI, publishes in Ecological Entomology  on the leaf-cutting ant and endophytic fungi work from Panama.

May 2012

Tulane undergraduate, Kyle Coblentz, joins the lab in Panama for a summer NSF REU project.


Check out our new materials for teachers and kids, including bilingual, downloadable coloring pages and videos about leaf-cutting ants.

Damond Kyllo