When Predators Vanish, so Does the Ecosystem: New York Times Article about the Bertness Lab’s work!

Here’s the paper we published:

Press release at Brown:

My drawing in the sidebar:


For the Sake of Science

Article published in the Brown Daily Herald:
Good pic for poster

A new paper from the Bertness Lab!

The paper, “Herbivory drives the spread of salt marsh die-off” was published in PLoS One and documents the findings of work in our lab that I helped out with last summer.

The day I learned to forgive

It was summer, I was three, and I was in a raging fury.  Rays of gold streamed in through the screened-in porch windows and cast alternating dark and light patterns on the child-sized blue and white table, covered in crumpled paper, scattered crayons, and sticky spots of glue residue left behind by small fingers.  A dark-eyed brunette girl sat in the smaller of the chairs that matched the table, while a blue-eyed blonde sat in a miniature, banged-up orange porch chair.  The very loved porch chair was in such poor condition because the precocious three-year-old me (I’m the blondie) often bent various parts while utilizing the chair in every way possible except the way in which the designer envisioned it to be used.  I used that porch chair as a stepping stool, a hat, a tutu, a projectile, a pillow, and in place of various other objects that exist in real life but that I considered far too ordinary to use for their intended purpose.

My creativity often exhibited itself in curious ways such as this—I had a habit of doing the opposite of what was expected, at times to the chagrin of my mother.  If there was a path provided for us to walk on in the park, I made sure not to take it because it provided very little challenge and interest to my day.  I had walked on paths in parks before, and by that time (by the time I was three, that is) I found it highly overrated.  On the particular occasion in which I was sitting on a porch chair and my best friend in the whole world, Jamie (the brunette—I was two weeks older than her, just to be clear) who also happened to be my next-door-neighbor, was over for a playdate.  It was arts and crafts time, hence the room appearing as if a tornado full of glue, paper, and crayons blew through.  I had just created one of the most masterful pieces of art a three-year-old had ever wrought with her own hands.  One of my favorite arts and crafts activities involved tearing colorful pages out of National Geographic magazines and making collages.  These were special collages because I would tear the magazine pictures into a hundred tiny pieces, glue them back together again, then tear them into a thousand tinier pieces, glue them back together again, and so on.  As you could imagine, my artistic process was long and involved and very detailed.  The reason for my temper tantrum was that Jamie had committed the ultimate best-friend-for-life betrayal and scribbled in crayon all over my newly created masterpiece.  I ran, sobbing, to my mother and exclaimed “Why would Jamie do this to me?,” to which she responded, “Maybe Jamie didn’t know that your collage was important to you and that you wanted it to be your own.  Perhaps she just wanted to help you, or didn’t understand that what she was doing would hurt your feelings.  You should forgive her.”

This left me dumbfounded.  I had never even thought that Jamie was doing something without intentionally making me feel bad.  It hadn’t crossed my mind. Not an inkling.  Not even considered.  I simply knew she was trying to hurt me, and hadn’t had a doubt about that assumption until my mom suggested it.

I must’ve sat on that ugly orange carpet in the room adjacent to the porch and stared at the flamboyant 90’s wallpaper for at least 15 minutes (quite a long time for a three-year-old) just thinking about my newest epiphany.  I remember even now, quite clearly, that this was the first time I ever recognized that people think in different ways and can have different perspectives.  It was such an alien idea that I could hardly wrap my mind around it.  I started thinking about everything people had done that had made me angry or sad, and trying to figure out why they had done it and considering the possibility that maybe they weren’t trying to hurt my feelings.  For the first time in my life, I put myself in someone else’s shoes and exhibited empathy and forgiveness while understanding what they were and why they were important.

I don’t know what ended up happening to that collage.  I hope it is somewhere in Jamie’s house, or squirreled away by mother in my basement (she hates throwing away my art, even if it’s scribbles from second grade).  Jamie moved to California only two years after our playdate on the sunny porch, but I’ll always have that moment to remember her by, and to remind me each time someone hurts me that there is always another reason for someone else’s actions than malign intent, and that I must always give others the benefit of the doubt, my empathy, and my forgiveness.

Letters About Literature, 2007

This is my submission for the 2007 Letters About Literature competition.  This was actually an english assignment, but I ended up winning the level 2 (for middle schoolers) national competition! My parents and I went to Washington, D.C. where I read my submission at the National Book Festival and got to tour the museums, memorials, and even the White House (I met Nancy Pelosi, which was pretty cool)!  Now, I’m planning on writing a book about my experiences as an adopted child.

Dear Author Unknown,

When young children first begin to understand the concepts of life, they start asking questions.  One of the typical questions of a child whose mother is pregnant would be: “Did I come from your stomach mom?”  Usually, the answer would be “yes”, but for my mom, it was always simply “no.”  Being such a young girl, however, I never understood that this didn’t make sense until it dawned on me: all children have to be born.  So this time I asked my mom why I wasn’t born from her.  What my mom did in response to that was to read me your poem, Legacy of an Adopted Child.  At that time in my life, your poem didn’t have too much meaning to me, and I went on asking my mom to elaborate on adoption and its meaning.  But as I grew older, I began to connect more and more to the person your poem addresses.

At about the time the harsh realities of life were becoming clear to me, I started to mourn for what I was missing out on: not truly being a blood relative of my adoptive family.  Unfortunately, my parents weren’t able to conceive children of their own, and decided not to adopt any more kids.  Therefore, I was alone in this situation, not really having any strong friendships with other adopted children in my community.  I began to feel gaps between my friends when they talked about their nationalities and family traditions.  Being blonde and light-skinned, I felt a little sad that I didn’t look like my mostly Italian family. When a teen’s raging hormones kicked in, my emotions doubled in size.  Because my birth mother became pregnant with me when she was still in high school and not married, I had feelings of anger for her mistakes, and I was worried that I could make the same mistake as she did.  It was hard to be myself when that person was labeled ‘adopted’, so I tried to be ‘normal’ instead.

It was just another average day of my life when I walked through the hallway in my house, and my eye caught the word “adopted” on a piece of paper, framed and hanging on the wall. I had always remembered it being there, but never looked at it in detail.  As I stepped closer, I saw that the title was Legacy of an Adopted Child.  The faint memory of my mother showing me and reading it to me as a young girl flooded back to me.  To refresh my memory, I read through the verses.  Reading your poem that day made something inside me feel different.  It was like turning on a light after a long time-everything was brighter and easier to see.  My eyes were opened to a very different point of view that I had never seen before.  What I saw was that maybe the way you conveyed an image of the birth mother was really how she felt, too.  Possibly, instead of throwing me away like an empty cardboard box, it was actually difficult for my own birth mother to choose a family for me and let me go.  Upon finishing the poem, I was crying tears reflecting strong feelings of connection, sadness, and even joy.

Before reading Legacy of an Adopted Child, I was insecure and uncomfortable with my position of being adopted. I felt like I was being labeled and wasn’t able to really be myself.  I used to believe my birth mother was someone who didn’t care about me and cast me away.  Now, I know that I was wrong. In reality, she displayed a great deal of love and courage when she made that decision.  She knew that it was best for me to grow up with a couple who had the capability to provide me more opportunities than she could have under the circumstances.  Also, it may be true that I am labeled as ‘adopted’, but that doesn’t mean anything. Everyone is different, and being ‘normal’ means being you.

In the last stanza of your poem, you write: “And now you ask me through your tears, the age-old question through the years… Heredity or environment, which am I the product of? Neither, my darling-neither…Just two different kinds of love.”  This question is the same one I had asked myself so many times.  Answering it for me has inspired me to accept and be proud of being adopted.  Now, I look at the world through the eyes of someone much wiser, stronger, and more self-confident than ever before, and I thank you for allowing me these virtues.


Elena Suglia, Grade 8

Legacy of an Adopted Child

As an adopted child, this poem has had an impact on me.  I wanted to share it with you, because it is lovely but also because it will give you some context for some of my writing:

“Once there were two women, neither knew the other

One you do not remember, the other you call mother.


One gave you a nationality, the other gave you a name

One gave you the seed of talent, the other gave you an aim.


Two very different lives shaped yours into one

One became your guiding star, the other was your sun.


One gave you emotions, and one calmed your fears

One saw your first sweet smile, the other dried your tears.


The first gave you life, the second taught you to live it.

The first gave you a need for love, the second was there to give it.


One gave you up—it was all that she could do,

The other prayed for a child—God led her straight to you.


And now you ask me through your tears,

The age-old question of all the years,


Heredity or Environment, which are you a product of?

Neither darling, neither … just two different kinds of Love.”



The best advice

I haven’t revealed much about myself other than through my poetry and art, which can be a bit esoteric at times.  So, here goes.  I sincerely hope you don’t find me boring.

The best advice I’ve ever been given.

“with great power comes great responsibility”

-Uncle Ben (from Spider Man, folks)

I take this very seriously.  This advice can apply to nearly everything you do in life.  When you are given things ranging from money, education, and knowledge to love, children, and leadership positions, you are given the power to do with them what you may.  I feel as if I have been given so much in life, and therefore I carry a burden of responsibility to impart my knowledge, to return to the community what it gave to me, to uphold the name of everything that I stand for, and to use my education and abilities to the best that I can.  If I don’t, that makes me feel selfish, ungrateful, and ashamed.  I have the power to do something, so I should.  If Superman actually existed but decided he didn’t want to use  his powers, that would really suck.  Now I’m not comparing anyone to Superman, especially not myself, but if you have something that others don’t have, you should really try to use it as best you can.

“pick your battles”

Many people have said this, but I grew up hearing it come from my dad’s lips time and time again.  As I grew older I realized he wasn’t so much explicitly referring to choosing which arguments are worth having, but rather urging me to decide what to stand for and  dedicate myself to.  Life’s endeavors are limited by the time you have available.  Lots of things clamor for your attention, so you have to choose carefully what you truly care about and believe in.

For example, I was thinking about how I justify not being a vegetarian.  Yeah, there are some horrible things that happen to animals in the food world, and we won’t even go there when it comes to the nutritional value of some of the meats available on the market.  But. Let’s say you are a vegetarian for ethical reasons.  For me, that’s a commitment that I cannot possibly make with the time that I have available.  It would take far too much effort to hunt down the specific details of the ethical practices of everything that I buy.

I would get way too into it.  Never mind meat, what if the plants I’m eating are picked by workers being paid ghastly low wages?  What if the company invests in something I don’t agree with?  What if the milk that I’m drinking was homogenized by a laboratory that dumps chemicals into the local river?  The long list of processes that are carried out before a piece of bread ends up on your dinner table – growing, harvesting, preparing, sending, packaging, preserving, selling, etc. – is simply too astronomical for me to begin to worry about ethical soundness.  There is certainly some good that can come out of vegetarianism and kudos to anyone who takes on that tricky task, but it’s not a battle I personally am willing to pick, and my honest opinion is that there are many other things that you can do to increase the morality of the world that would be more effective than eating no meat.


Instead, I choose to perform  community service that hits close to home and has a direct, immediate impact on those I am attempting to help.  For example, teaching kids about democracy and civics in an elementary school and helping them design and carry out their own community service project in their neighborhood (Generation Citizen; I did this last semester and had a fantastic experience).  The kids I worked with on the south side of Providence, Rhode Island worked to reduce gang violence and children’s entrance into gangs in their neighborhoods.  These students were so clearly positively impacted by the program – one of the few opportunities for them to have agency in affecting their community – that I couldn’t help but feel like I had actually made a difference.  Would I feel that way if I ate no meat, and could not observe my impact or be personally connected to those I aided?  Perhaps, but I reckon not as much so.

That’s a little bit about me and the way I think.  Thanks for reading!