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Blaire M. Kleiman
Graduate Student
Florida International University
Earth and Environment
Posted 10-27-23

Instagram: @blairekleiman

Blaire Kleiman


I am interested in the South Florida growing region, which is vital to the U.S. vegetable market by providing wintertime crops such as tomatoes, summer squash, and eggplant. These plants are already being grown in the winter of South Florida at their temperature maximums and are vulnerable to climate change and heat stress. My PhD study examines how climate change may impact these crop-pollinator systems, by studying the physiology of crops and pollinators, and their interactions in relation to changing climates. A field experiment will be conducted examining how adding different floral strips affects wild squash pollination. Additionally, an experiment will be conducted using open top chambers (OTC) to simulate warming of crops in the field. These will be placed around plants to cause excess heating and simulate a heat wave, which will be compared to control plants without OTC. Pollinator visitation to plants will be observed, and a pollinator exclusion treatment to enclose the crop flowers in the field will be carried out to see how absence of pollinators affects heated and non-heated plants. Plant production will be compared between treatments. Finally, to examine heat stress, an experiment on tomatoes and their bumblebee pollinators (Bombus terrestris) will be conducted. Plants and bees will be heated using growth chambers at optimal growing temperatures, moderate (1.5°C), and extreme (3°C) predicted higher temperatures in South Florida due to climate change to see how both the plant and pollinator may respond to warming temperatures.

My master’s thesis research solidified my passion to study crop-insect ecology in South Florida. I looked to discover how weeds, or any wild plant, left within a mango farm affect insect abundance and diversity to ultimately benefit mango production. My objective was to examine increasing biodiversity with weeds as refuge resource plants to enhance the abundance and diversity of beneficial insect species, to benefit mango (Mangifera indica) crop production in South Florida. I found that there was a higher abundance and diversity of beneficial insect species and more fruit on mango trees when weeds are present versus when removed. Leaving flowering weedy wild plants to support beneficial insects can be an option when other insectary companion plants won’t grow, which is increasingly likely in the face of climate change. They also can enhance the diversity of both plants and insects, making tropical farms more resilient to climatic events, diseases, and pests.

The field photo is of a Sam S. Accursio & Sons Farms Inc. squash farm in Homestead, Florida


How Blaire got interested in the botanical sciences:

I have always been interested in ecological networks and the relationships linking species and the environment. Uncovering how the natural world functions, and how humans are impacting this balance is at the core of my interest in botany. Growing up learning about the devastating impact humans have had on the environment, the loss of natural habitats, species extinctions, and climate change is what drew me to study ecological botanical sciences as an undergrad, graduating Summa Cum Laude in Environmental Science from the University of Central Florida. Wonderful courses like AP Environmental Science in high school, and ethnobotany and entomology at UCF are what drew me to this career. My involvement in the Barbara Sharanowski lab at UCF is what introduced me to plant-insect ecology, which drew together serendipitously exactly what I wanted to focus my career on. Afterwards, I worked in Everglades National Park as a fire effects monitor looking at plant species in post-burn habitats and monitoring endangered butterflies in the Pine Rocklands. It wasn't until I worked as a research assistant in the Suzanne Koptur plant-ecology lab that I discovered my passion for agricultural plant-insect research. Here is where I can study and manipulate plant-ecology to ask important questions, and develop tools to push for more sustainable agriculture.


Blaire and her dog kayaking

The Kayak photo is of my sister, Madison Kleiman, and my dog, Marty, kayaking at the Deering Estate in Miami, Fl.


Blaire's advice for those just starting their botanical journey:

My advice to those starting their botanical journey is to start with one plant and learn something interesting about it! It can be your favorite food, learning about how it grows, or a houseplant or flower you think is pretty. Start locally with local plant lovers, volunteer, go outside, join a club and have fun learning about plants in the field.

Blaire's other passions:

As a Miami native, I am lucky to have many fun local ways to spend my free time with friends and family. Living near the water and Everglades National Park, I spend many weekends hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling in the Keys. As a dog mom and animal lover, I take my golden retriever hiking and swimming. I love to travel, and am lucky enough to travel to beautiful places for conferences like BSA 2022 in Alaska. As a jewish student I spend a lot of time at Hillel and Chabad events on campus, celebrating holidays with my family and community. I am a lifelong vegetarian and plant lover, and have a vegetable and herb garden and many tropical fruit trees to tend to in my free time, and am active in my local garden club.

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