Dr. Rebecca Ostertag

leituga and OstertagLeituga and Ostertag Professor, Department of Biology, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo


  • Ph.D. in Botany, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
  • B.A. in Biology, Carleton College, Northfield, MN.

Selected Publications

Current Research

As tropical forest ecologist, my research interests revolve around understanding how tropical forests are structured and how tropical ecosystems function. I have been fortunate to work in both Latin America and Hawaiʻi.

Current research projects include:

Our lab group works on a variety of ecological studies.

ohia trees with ekahaʻŌhiʻa trees with ʻēkaha

bird over cliffsBird over cliffs


  • Department of Defense, SERDP Program, “ Developing Novel Ecosystems that Enhance Carbon Storage, Native Biodiversity, and Human Mobility in Lowland Forests ”, 2011-2016, PI.
  • NSF Ecosystem Studies, “CAREER: Significance of Foliar Nitrogen and Phosphorus Accumulation in Tropical Forests”, August 2006-Sep 2012, PI. 
  • NSF Ecosystem Studies, “Effects of Multiple Species Invasions: Albizia Tree and Coqui Frog Colonization of Hawaiʻi”, July 2005-August 2008, co-PI. 
  • NSF Ecosystem Studies, "Controls on the Storage and Loss of Soil Organic Carbon with Reforestation of Abandoned Pastures", March 2002-Feb 2005, Senior Personnel,
  • NSF TCUP Program, “Hawaiian Values, Science, and Technology: Advancing a New Paradigm for STEM Education”, Sept. 2002-2007.  Senior Personnel.
  • NASA/Earth System Science Education, “Teaching Global Environmental Change from Mountain to Ocean: The ʻAhupuaʻa Way”, 2003-2005, Co-PI.
  • UH Hilo Seed Grant, “Nitrogen and Phosphorus Limitation of Hawaiian Forest Communities”, May 2002-June 2003, PI. 
  • UH Hilo EPSCoR REAP Grant, “Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Aluminum Relationships in Hawaiian Forest Communities”, 2003-2004, PI.
  • UH Hilo REAP EPSCoR grant entitled “The Impact of Non-Native Species on Resource Availability and Community Structure in a Hawaiian Lowland Wet Forest”, 2002, PI


  • Natural History & Conservation of Hawaiian Islands (BIOL 156-156L Nat Hist & Conservatn Hawn Isl (3), Nat History Field Trips (1) )
  • Biostatistics (BIOL 280 Biostatistics (3) )
  • General Ecology w. Lab (BIOL 281-281L General Ecology (3), General Ecology Lab (2) )
  • Conservation Biology (BIOL 381 Conservation Biology (3) )
  • Advanced Ecology and Evolution (BIOL 481 Trop Island Ecology & Evol (3) )
  • Ecology and Evolution Research Methods (BIOL 481L Trop Island Ecology & Evol Lab (2) )
  • Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science (CBES 600 Conservatn Biol & Environ Sci (3) , CBES 601 CBES Field & Laboratory Method (4) , CBES 602 Research Seminar in TCBES (1) )

I currently teach ecology courses at both lower and upper levels. In lower level courses, the emphasis is on developing a solid foundation based on ecological theory and to understand how that theory can be applied to present environmental issues, particularly related to global change. In upper level courses, the focus is on learning about the “art” of science, including reading primary literature, discussion of new analytical tools, and development of independent hypotheses and research proposals. All laboratory courses that I teach are field based, and take advantage of the extraordinary landscape diversity of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.

Career Resources for UH Hilo Students

I am involved in an NSF grant (DEB, Ecosystem Studies, # 0546868) in which I am developing career resources for students interested in the environmental sciences.

Environmental Career Resources

Workshop 1 - How to Find a Summer Opportunity in the Environmental Sciences

Workshop 2 - For Science Students: How to Write a Personal Statement