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I am interested in how woody perennial species withstand freezing temperatures, specifically during their dormant period. Buds of woody species ​​are comprise​d of meristematic tissues, commonly containing the primordia of flowers and leaves, having a vital role in the following growing season. To ensure survival of winter temperatures, ​these buds have developed sophisticated strategies to​ either tolerate or avoid the potentially damaging ​​forces of ice formation. I am particularly curious about improving our understanding regarding the anatomical adaptations and mechanisms ​that are a part of these strategies.

During my Ph.D. I worked under the guidance of Dr. Amaya Atucha at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research focused on determining how terminal buds of Vaccinium macrocarpon Ait. survived freezing temperatures ​and on identifying the structural modifications involved in the development of cold hardiness. I also identified relative cold hardiness levels among bud structures and the correlation to later growth. I developed a low-cost prototype to control ​​the freez​ing of plant specimens during the acqui​sition of magnetic resonance images.

My work as a Putnam fellow focus on studying the tradeoffs in woody species between the different bud survival strategies to freezing temperatures and reproductive success in the spring. The comparison among congener species across several woody angiosperm families will give us a survey of the biological costs implied ​in winter survival. This new knowledge will help to improve​ the assessment of climate change impact on temperate woody species.


PhD, Horticulture
University of Wisconsin-Madison
BS, Agronomic Engineer
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile

Recent Publications

  • Villouta C, Workmaster BA, Bolivar-Medina J, Sinclair S, Atucha A. 2020. Freezing stress survival mechanisms in Vaccinium macrocarpon Ait. terminal buds. Tree physiology 40 (7), 841-855.

  • Villouta C, Cox BL, Rauch B, Workmaster BAA, Eliceiri KW, Atucha A. 2021. A device for the controlled cooling and freezing of excised plant specimens during magnetic resonance imaging. Plant Methods 17 (1), 1-11.

  • Villouta C, Workmaster BA, Atucha A. 2021. Freezing stress damage and growth viability in Vaccinium macrocarpon Ait. bud structures. Physiologia Plantarum 172 (4), 2238–2250.

  • Bolivar-Medina JL, Villouta C, Workmaster BA, Atucha A. 2019. Floral meristem development in cranberry apical buds during winter rest and its implication on yield prediction. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science 144 (5), 314-320.