2017-2018 Sustainability Leadership Fellows

Andrea Borkenhagen

Andrea Borkenhagen
Phd Candidate, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University
Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

North America’s largest oil deposit is in Alberta’s oil sands region where mining extraction operations remove vast areas of forest and peatland wetlands. Traditional reclamation ignored peatlands because they require precise hydrologic conditions, specific plant species, and take long time periods to develop. To advance reclamation standards that include these important ecosystems, scientists and operators collaborated on the first entirely reconstructed peatland in 2013. My research focuses on developing methods to establish plants and initiate ecosystem processes comparable to natural analogues. My overall goal is to introduce practical strategies to reclaim peatlands in heavily impacted areas around the world.

Rachel Buxton

Rachel Buxton
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

As a broadly trained conservation biologist, I study the science of sound in a landscape, known as soundscape ecology.  Sounds are a fundamental property of the natural environment – where animal vocalizations regulate ecological processes, for example predator-prey interactions.  In this context, anthropogenic noise can have serious consequences, masking important sounds, and changing wildlife behavior and physiology.  Thus, I use acoustic recordings to monitor biodiversity, ecological health, and the harmful effects of noise pollution on wildlife.  Combining cutting-edge sound modelling and recordings I am helping build a national framework for noise management in protected areas for the National Park Service.

Libby Christensen

Libby Christensen
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

Trained broadly as a geographer, I use quantitative and qualitative data to better understand the challenges and opportunities to building a more sustainable and resilient food system. Currently, I am researching the impacts of food and agriculture on rural wealth creation including the preservation and conservation of natural resources. In particular, I am interested in the ways that food and agriculture can strengthen the linkages between rural and urban communities helping to breakdown the rural urban divide. The results of the research will be used to inform government rural development initiatives and further the theoretical and empirical foundation of rural wealth creation.

Stephen Cohen

Stephen Cohen
PhD Candidate, Department of Bioagricultural and Pest Management, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

I study how climate change affects plant disease in crops. Plant diseases cause a 10% reduction in food production each year, and these diseases are often more severe at high temperatures. The cause for this phenomenon is unknown. Using computational analysis and molecular biology techniques, I am investigating rice and the bacterial blight pathogen during high temperature stress. I predict that the high temperature causes imbalances in plant hormones that render plants unable to defend themselves again pathogens. My work will lead to the development of disease immunity in crops during the high temperatures associated with climate change.

Erika Foster

Erika Foster
PhD Candidate, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Colorado State University
Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

As farmers face increasing drought in the West, we need to determine best practices to maintain yield, including irrigating when crops need water most and improving soil structure through organic amendments. In my research in reduced irrigation corn and wheat fields, we compare traditional manure application versus an innovative charcoal amendment called “biochar”. Similar to charcoal from a fireplace, biochar has tiny pores that can hold water and plant nutrients. When added to soil, this biochar amendments can make water and nutrients more available to the crops, ultimately making food production more efficient and sustainable.

Robert Griffin-Nolan

Robert Griffin-Nolan
PhD Student, Department of Biology, Colorado State University
Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

I study the different strategies that grasses use to deal with drought. As soil dries, some grasses play it safe and close the little pores on their leaves where water is exchanged for carbon dioxide, the building block for plant food. Bolder grasses, however, leave their pores open during drought to continue making food at the risk of losing too much water and causing whole leaves to die – a huge waste of energy for the plant. I use these strategies to explain how drought can limit plant growth in North American grasslands, which provide food for beef cattle.

Carolina Gutierrez

Carolina Gutierrez
Phd Student, Department of Biology, Colorado State University
Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

My research focuses on the changes in the functional structure of aquatic insect communities across altitudinal and latitudinal ranges (Tropics vs temperate zones). Functional structure relates to the number, type, and distribution of functions performed by organisms within an ecosystem. I want to know how different latitudes and elevations affect the functional diversity of aquatic insects, and also how insect’s function in streams respond to changes in canopy cover and water temperature along altitudinal gradients in temperate streams. This knowledge could give stream ecology science some insight in how climate change and loss of riparian vegetation affect the whole stream. 

Ava Hoffman

Ava Hoffman
PhD Candidate, Department of Biology, Colorado State University
Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

One of the most consistent patterns in ecosystems is that species vary in their abundance: a few species are very common while many are rare. These common species are disproportionately responsible for how ecological communities function. In particular, variation within the common species may be important for responding to and protecting communities from climate change. I study the very common drought-tolerant prairie grasses of the American Midwest to answer questions about within-species diversity. By exploring genetic diversity within the common species, I am helping determine if they can buffer ecological communities from dramatic shifts caused by drought.

Kevin Jablonski

Kevin Jablonski
PhD Student, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

My research focuses on larkspur, a group of native perennial plants that are toxic to cattle and present numerous challenges to sustainable grazing management in the western US. Using a complex systems based approach, we are incorporating experimental research, plant surveys, agent-based modeling, and producer knowledge to generate an adaptable new framework for grazing management in larkspur habitat. The aim of this new framework is to allow cattle to graze in larkspur habitat at any time with no deaths, thereby greatly improving producers’ ability to meet economic and ecological objectives while enabling them to move away from destructive herbicides.

Rod Lammers

Rod Lammers
PhD Candidate, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

Urbanization is accelerating around the world. As we build cities and pave over the natural landscape, we keep water from soaking into the ground, concentrating more of it in stream channels. This causes excessive erosion in urban streams, which degrades this important habitat, threatens bridges and other infrastructure, and impairs water quality. I’m developing a computer model to predict how quickly and how much stream channels will erode in response to urbanization and other disturbances. This will allow us to better plan for and respond to the damaging effects of extreme stream channel erosion.

Laura Martin

Laura Martin
PhD Candidate, Department of Clinical Sciences, Colorado State University
Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

Tuberculosis (TB) is a deadly infectious disease that affects millions of humans, livestock, and wildlife around the world, and costs millions of dollars to control.  My research focuses on management of TB in wildlife using approaches from ecology and veterinary epidemiology.  I study European badgers in Ireland, African and Asian elephants in the United States, and African elephants in Zimbabwe.  The goal of my dissertation research is to improve our understanding of how to prevent, diagnose, and manage TB in both captive and wild animal populations.  This work provides wildlife managers with information to benefit wildlife health and conservation.

Alexandra Naegele

Alexandra Naegele
PhD Student, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

My research focuses on the relationship between the atmospheric energy budget and the hydrologic cycle. Precipitation is one of the most important aspects of the climate system affecting life on earth, however, it’s among the most poorly represented variables in global climate models. I use models on smaller scales to investigate the processes affecting the intensity and distribution of precipitation. A large part of my research focuses on the role of clouds in this relationship and how precipitation might be expected to change in a warming climate.

Kerry Rippy

Kerry Rippy
PhD Candidate, Department of Chemistry, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

I work to develop new materials for organic photovoltaics. Unlike the heavy, rigid, dark-colored inorganic panels you probably think of when you hear ‘photovoltaics,’ organic photovoltaics are made from small, carbon-based molecules. Therefore, they are lightweight, flexible, and have tunable color and transparency. In other words, through organic photovoltaic technology, everything from fabric to windows can produce energy! In fact, solar windows and roll-up sheets of solar plastic are already commercially available. However, improved materials could catapult this technology from an emerging field to a staple of energy production, so I work to improve material lifetime and charge transport properties. 

Faizal Rohmat

Faizal Rohmat
PhD Candidate, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

I am working on a geographical information system (GIS) software development for a USDA-funded project taking place in the Lower Arkansas River Basin. I use machine learning techniques to leverage detailed regional-scale groundwater models into a basin-scale model. This model will be used for planning and analysis of management practices in the basin to ensure water quality and agriculture productivity enhancement.

Jacob Salcone

Jacob Salcone
PhD Student, Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

My research investigates ways to measure and protect the benefits that humans receive from natural ecosystems, referred to as “ecosystem services”.  I combine economic and ecological impact evaluation methods to measure the capacity of resource management and conservation programs to protect or augment the provision of ecosystem services.  As member of an interdisciplinary NSF project, I am evaluating the effectiveness of a Payment for Ecosystem Services program in Mexico to incentivize changes to land-use within watersheds critical to provision of clean drinking water. This research enables calculation of the return-on-investment of resource management and conservation initiatives.

Jessica Tryner

Jessica Tryner
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

I am interested in research topics related to energy, combustion, and air pollution. The goal of my research is to reduce emissions of pollutants such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter, which are harmful to human health, from combustion systems. To that end, I study how changes in design, fuels, and operational parameters affect emissions from devices such as household biomass cookstoves and diesel engines.

Tony Vorster

Tony Vorster
PhD Student, Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Colorado State University
Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

My research informs the sustainable management of forests. Specifically, I study how bark beetle outbreaks, fires, and timber harvesting impact forest health and the amount of carbon forests store. Satellite imagery allows me to study forests across large areas and to look back in time at historical forest structure and management. I incorporate climate change scenarios in my research to understand the potential responses of forests to a changing climate.

Dhaval Vyas

Dhaval Vyas
PhD Candidate, Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, Colorado State University
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

When animals enter new habitats, they often compete with native species for limited resources.  Stronger competitors can drive away weaker competitors, but we are often unsure of how species out-compete one another.  To fill this gap, I study parasitic wasps that are introduced to farms for controlling pest insects.  The introductions set up a natural experiment to study competition between new and existing species.  My research increases our knowledge of how environments respond to new species.  This information is important for understanding the threat from plants and animals that invade existing habitats.

Rekha Warrier

Rekha Warrier
PhD Student, Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University
Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

My research explores the myriad ecological and social dimensions associated with the conservation of large mammals, particularly tigers in human dominated landscapes in India. In the past my research has focused on estimating the spatial distribution and abundance patterns of tigers and their prey to inform the management of these populations in small and fragmented protected areas in northern India. My ongoing doctoral research addresses the more complex challenge of ensuring the conservation of these species when they occur outside protected area boundaries amidst dense human populations using a combination of ecological and social research techniques.

Kate Wilkins

Kate Wilkins
PhD Candidate, Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University
Graduate Degree Program in Ecology
Fellowship Details: 
Fellowship Year: 
2017-2018
Research Focus: 

The recent push to reintroduce bison across the United States has the potential to restore grassland habitat for birds and other animals, while also engaging the public in grassland conservation. My research measures differences in grassland bird, mammal, and vegetation communities before and after bison reintroduction, as well as between bison and cattle grazed sites in northern Colorado. In addition, I am comparing how connected human visitors feel toward the reintroduction site before versus after the bison reintroduction. This study could serve as a model for the ecological and social assessment of future bison reintroduction efforts in western grasslands.