Ivette Perfecto, Ph.D.


Ph.D. Natural Resources, 1989, University of Michigan
M.S. Ecology, 1982, University of Michigan
B.S. Biology, 1977, Universidad Sagrado Corazón, Puerto Rico

Ivette Perfecto is the George W. Pack Professor of Ecology, Natural Resources and Environment. Her research focuses on biodiversity and arthropod-mediated ecosystem services in rural and urban agriculture. She also works on spatial ecology of the coffee agroecosystem and is interested more broadly on the links between small-scale sustainable agriculture, biodiversity and food sovereignty. She teaches Our Common Future (a course on globalization) (Environ 270), Food Land and Society (Environ 318) and Field Ecology (SNRE 556). She is co-author of three books, Breakfast of Biodiversity,  Nature’s Matrix: Linking Agriculture, Conservation and Food Sovereignty, and the forthcoming Coffee Agroecology.

More specifically her lab is investigating how local level multi-species interactions generate autonomous pest control in agroecosystems using coffee agroforests as a model system. In collaboration with John Vandermeer (University of Michigan) and Stacy Philpott (University of California-Santa Cruz) they established a 45-hectare plot in a shaded organic coffee plantation in Chiapas, Mexico, and are conducting research on complex ecological interactions among pests, diseases and natural enemies. In collaboration with Luis Garcia,Barrios from ECOSUR-San Cristobal (Mexico) and John Vandermeer (University of Michigan), they are developing table and computer games to help farmers and students better understand the ecological basis of autonomous pest control.  

Another research project examines how local and landscape level factors affect diversity and ecosystem services (pollination and pest control) in urban gardens in Southeast Michigan.  In collaboration with Lesli Hoey (Urban Planning, UM) and John Vandemeer (EEB, UM), this project also examines the spatial distribution of vegetable gardens in Ann Arbor and how public policies may affect the spatial patterns of gardens.

More general interests include the role of the agricultural matrix in the conservation of biodiversity, food sovereignty and political ecology in the Global South, especially Latin America.

Currently Funded Projects:

NSF-OPUS - The ecology of the coffee agroecosystem:
The research of myself and my colleagues for the past 20 years has been concentrated on the intersection between biodiversity and agricultural landscapes, in particular those dominated by coffee production in Mesoamerica. With the support from this grant I and Prof. Vandermeer  are writing a book that provides a synthesis of what we have learned over this period about ecological theory using coffee as a model system.  Methodologically we are using a dialectical/complexity approach to synthesize the wealth of information that has been generated by us, our students and others, focusing on complex ecological interactions at various scales. During the synthesis process we are intentionally examing issues of historicity, interconnections, heterogeneity, and integration of levels to generate a new understanding of ecological complexity within agricultural landscapes.

NSF-DIGG (for Dissertation work of David Gonthier) - Causes and consequences of biodiversity in coffee agriculture:
Although it is well established that multiple species improve the functioning of ecosystems relative to individual species, there are few examples in systems where the actions of biodiversity produce benefits of immediate significance to human kind. Agriculture provides an ideal arena to study biodiversity because it is an eminent driver of biodiversity loss, yet the services of species in forms of pest control, nutrient cycling, and pollination translate into benefits to productivity and sustainability. Biodiversity experiments also often lack realistic levels of food web complexity, which can have important effects on how biodiversity operates. In this project, laboratory experiments will be used to investigate the importance of two forms of food web complexity (ant-herbivore mutualism and herbivore diversity) on the efficiency of multiple predator species at controlling herbivores (pests) of coffee a tropical crop. Predator diversity and food web complexity are being manipulated and herbivore pest impacts on coffee damage and growth is being measured.

M-Cube - Urban Gardens: constrained auto-generation of spatial pattern and consequences for ecosystem services (in collaboration with John Vandermeer and Lesli Hoey):
Urban gardens represent a vibrant and growing element of the global food system, throughout the world.  While they take a variety of specific forms, they generally are small-scale, organic and frequently coordinated by some form of community organization. Despite the fact that there is little coordinated effort to plan these gardens at a macro level, it is evident that they do not occur at random in most urban landscapes, but rather seem to form loose clusters.  It is reasonable to expect that secondary consequences will emerge from this spatial pattern. In this research project we aim to (1) determine the underlying ecological/sociological/economic dynamics that generate spatial patterns of urban farms in general, (2) examine the ecological dynamics that determine the dynamics of pest species in the gardens, and (3) examine the consequences of this pattern and these dynamics for ecosystem function, specifically with respect to autonomous biological control function.

Teaching Interests:

In my courses I like to challenge students to think for themselves. Most of my courses have a strong Latin American flavor because I am from Latin America (Puerto Rico) and I conduct research in Latin America (Mexico, Mesoamerica and Brazil). Most of my courses are interdisciplinary and are taught from a social justice perspective. I teach undergraduate courses in sustainable development and globalization, and the agroecology and political ecology of the food system, a graduate course in field ecology and graduate seminars on topics that range from conservation in fragmented habitats to food sovereignty.

Current/Recent Teaching:

In the fall term I teach Our Common Future: The Impacts of Globalization (ENVIRON 270), and Field Ecology (SNRE 556). In the winter I will teach a graduate reading seminar on Food Sovereignty and every other Spring I teach Food, Land and Society (NRE 318) with Catherine Badgley (EEB, UM). This is a field-based course with a 2-3 weeks study abroad program in Chiapas, Mexico or Cuba.

Recent Publications 2013-2014 (* = students):

  1. Kousel*, R., D. J. Gonthier*, M. Cruz*, C. Vaiyda*, and I. Perfecto. In press. Local and landscape constrains on a coffee leaf-chewing beetle. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.

  2. Jackson*, D., D. Allen*, I. Perfecto and J. Vandermeer. In press. Self-organization of background habitat determines the nature of population spatial structure. Oikos.

  3. Jackson, D., J. Vandermeer, I. Perfecto and S. Philpott. 2014. Population responses to environmental change in a tropical ant: the interaction of spatial and temporal dynamics. PLoS ONE 9(5): e97809. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097809.

  4. Vandermeer, J., D. Jackson and I. Perfecto. 2014. Qualitative dynamics of the coffee rust epidemic: educating the intuition with theoretical ecology. BioScience 2014; doi: 10.1093/biosci/bit034.

  5. Briggs*, H. M., I. Perfecto and B. J. Brosi. 2013. The role of the agricultural matrix: coffee management and Euglossine bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Euglossini) communities in southern Mexico. Environmental Entomology 42 (6): 1210-1217.

  6. Chappell, M.J., H. Wittman,  C. Bacon B. Ferguson, L. García Barrios,  R. García Barrios, J. Lima,  V. E. Méndez, H. Morales,  L. Soto Pinto, J. Vandermeer, and I. Perfecto. 2013. Food sovereignty: an alternative paradigm for poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation in Latin America. F1000Research 2013, 2: 235 (doi:10.12688/f1000research.2-235.v1)

  7. Silva, E.N. and I. Perfecto. 2013. Coexistence of aphid predators in cacao plants: Does ant-aphid mutualism play a role? Sociobiology 60:259-265.

  8. Jímenez-Soto*, M. E., J. A. Cruz-Rodríguez, J. Vandermeer and I. Perfecto. 2013. Hypothenemus hampei (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) and its interactions with Azteca instabilis and Pheidole synanthropica (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in a shade coffee agroecosystem. Environmental Entomology 42: 915-924.

  9. Belasen*, A., E. Burkett*, A. Injaian*, K, Li*, D. Allen, and I. Perfecto. 2013. Effect of subcanopy on habitat selection in the blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale-jeffersonianum unisexual complex). Copeia 2013: 254-261.

  10. Gonthier, D. J., K.K. Ennis, S.M. Philpott, J. Vandermeer and I. Perfecto. 2013. Ants defend coffee berry borer colonization. BioControl (on line first: BioControl DOI 10.1007/s10526-013-9541-z

  11. Cunningham, S. A., S.J. Attwood, K.S. Bawa, T.G. Benton, L.M., Broadhurst, R.K. Didham, S. McIntyre, I. Perfecto, M.J. Samsways, T. Tscharntke, J. Vandermeer, M.A. Villard, A.G. Young and D.B. Lindenmayer. 2013. To close the yield-gap while saving biodiversity will require multiple locally relevant strategies. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 173: 20-27.

  12. Marin*, L. and I. Perfecto. 2013. Spider diversity in agroecosystems: the influence of agricultural intensification and aggressive ants. Environmental Entomology 42: 204-213.

  13. Perfecto, I. and J. Vandermeer. 2013. Ant assemblages on a coffee farm: spatial mosaic versus shifting patchwork. Environmental Entomology 42: 38-48.

  14. Vandermeer, J. and I. Perfecto. 2013. Complex traditions: Intersecting theoretic frameworks in agroecological research. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 37: 76-89.


3541 Dana

(734) 764-8601

3531 Dana (laboratory)