2016-2017 Sustainability Leadership Fellows
Elizabeth Bach is the Executive Director of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative based at the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State University. She is a soil microbial ecologist interested in exploring how fungal and bacterial communities influence ecosystem functions, specifically carbon and nitrogen cycling. She also investigates interactions between soil microbes and soil structure. Her research focuses on restored grassland systems in central North America. She received her Ph. D. from Iowa State University and M.Sc. from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Trained broadly as a geographer, I integrate insights from social and physical sciences to better understand the social and ecological outcomes of market-based approaches to environmental conservation. Currently I am researching ways to engage private landowners, such as farmer and ranchers, in conservation efforts. In particular, I am interested in understanding conservation professionals’ knowledge and opinions of a range of strategies for engaging landowners to better understand the different contexts in which these strategies are most viable. The results of this research will be used to target outreach efforts and enhance the technical capacity of conservationists.
I work on planning for future water resources and public outreach. Specifically, I am building a video game to both educate and extract great ideas from game players. The game is called Dipsa, the Greek word for "thirst," and places the gamer in the role of a water manager who must meet demands from water users constrained by budget and law. Our research is to investigate how well gamers can improve sustainability and equitability of water management compared to computer models.
There are seven genetically different types of Rabies Virus in the US, each one surviving best in a certain wildlife species. The raccoon variant infects raccoons and skunks in the eastern US and costs the government and taxpayers a lot of money every year. The most expensive aspects of raccoon rabies are the costs of vaccinating people after they experience an animal bite and the vaccination of raccoons throughout the eastern US. The USDA and other scientists from around the world are cooperating to eliminate this variant from the US. My job is to use computer simulations to determine how this can be best accomplished using different combinations of management tools, such as more intense vaccination.
In today’s world of rapid global change, plants are constantly on the move. When plants are brought to new places, they also often interact with new species, especially insects. However, whether, and if so how, plants can adapt to sudden shifts in insect communities remains unclear. To address this knowledge gap, I use an introduced plant to ask how changes in communities of plant-eating insects and insect pollinators shape a plant's ecology and evolution. This research is important because it informs sustainable management of the food plants we care about, as well as the weeds we want to protect against.
Climate change has contributed to increased emergence of infectious diseases worldwide. Mosquito-born viruses, such as Dengue and recently Zika virus, are particularly concerning with no effective treatments or vaccines. Viruses are parasites that depend on a cell for their energy and change the cell’s metabolism to accommodate their needs. My research focuses on these metabolic changes and how Dengue virus overtakes the cell’s machinery to complete its life cycle. Many of these changes are also characteristic of cancer and we have means to control them. By repurposing these treatments we may be able to better control these devastating infections.
My dissertation research involves analyzing the impacts of managing scarce natural resources with differing policy instruments. In particular, I study the economics of agricultural groundwater use in the Republican River Basin of Colorado. I utilize the modeling tools of microeconomics, agronomy and hydrology to investigate how differing conservation policies determine groundwater use behavior and agricultural profits. This integrated model simulates aquifer response to groundwater extraction to capture how groundwater use this year affects groundwater availability in future years. My dissertation research aims to use model results to inform stakeholders in eastern Colorado of the economic tradeoffs of differing conservation policies.
My PhD research involve understanding the determinants of mosquito-borne diseases in Nepal, and how animal models can relate to disease in humans. It includes mapping the environmental factors, animal husbandry practices, and experimentally infecting ecologically relevant animals. In Nepal, people live in a close interface with livestock and rice fields, and create an environment suitable for mosquitoes to breed, feed and transmit microbes. I am integrating human knowledge, attitude and practice data, mosquito data, environmental temperature, rainfall data to be able to understand and predict disease outbreak. I am also analyzing to see appropriate communication channels to bring public awareness.
My research focuses on the evolution of herbicide resistance in agricultural weeds. Specifically, I am investigating the mechanism of resistance in Indian hedge mustard and Palmer amaranth, both species which cause yield reductions due to crop competition. Using genetic and molecular techniques, my projects aim to find candidate genes that are involved in conferring herbicide resistance. This has the goal to develop diagnostic tools for the field, find novel traits for crop tolerance and inhibitors for resistance to ultimately optimize weed management practices and minimize economic losses for farmers. This will help secure food production for a growing world population.
Understanding the global carbon cycle is important for fully understanding climate change. One aspect of the carbon cycle that isn’t well studied is how much carbon is stored in rivers and floodplains, particularly in the high latitudes where permafrost is melting due to climate change. As rivers transport sediment and organic matter, they deposit those materials in floodplains, storing carbon. There may be more carbon stored in floodplains than we previously thought, and physical differences between river systems influence the storage and fluxes of carbon. I am investigating floodplain carbon dynamics in the central Yukon River basin in interior Alaska.
Expanding human development increases the ways humans and wildlife interact. Interactions sometimes lead to conflicts, which cause consequences ranging from decreased human tolerance for wildlife to killing conflict-causing animals. Conflicts are caused by wildlife and human behaviors, and require an understanding of both to identify solutions. I have applied an interdisciplinary framework to understand the role of human and animal behavior in human-wildlife conflict, suggesting management actions that limit conflicts, increase tolerance for wildlife, and conserve populations. I study human-wildlife coexistence in the context of human-black bear conflict by exploring social and ecological factors that affect the risk of conflict.
Amphibians worldwide are declining at unprecedented rates. An invasive fungus is one culprit that is doing damage in the Rocky Mountains. Though once common in Colorado, the state-endangered boreal toad has disappeared from many high-elevation wetlands coincident with the arrival of the fungus. My research identifies the factors that make some boreal toad populations more susceptible to disease than others, and also investigates how to detect the fungus where amphibians no longer exist. My work helps managers at Rocky Mountain National Park and beyond make smart decisions as they try to restore imperiled amphibian populations.
Over the last several decades, lakes show a warming trend globally due to changes in temperature and reduced cloud cover. Even the most remote lakes, such as mountain lakes in the Rocky Mountains, are not immune to stressors caused by humans. I am interested in how atmospheric deposition of pollutants (nitrogen and phosphorus) coupled with warming is changing the way that alpine lakes cycle nutrients internally, as well as how these food webs are changing. Since alpine lakes are situated at the very beginnings of catchments, how they react to a changing climate can have downstream implications.
I study the social and ecological dimensions of cropping system intensification in semi-arid regions, which is the practice of reducing periods in a crop rotation when a crop is not being grown. Intensification is a practice that has the potential to prevent soil erosion, build soil health, reduce chemical inputs, grow more food, and boost farmer incomes and rural economies. I am conducting interviews with farmers to examine the socioeconomic and political barriers preventing adoption of intensified crop rotations, and taking soil samples to assess the effects of intensification on soil physical and biological properties related to resilience to drought.
Broadly, my work focuses on societal-environmental interactions. Specifically, I research how environmental harms and benefits influence people’s lives - their health, relationships, and interactions - unevenly in the context of resource development and disasters. For example, low-income, communities of color are often exposed to higher levels of toxins and are more vulnerable to natural and technological disasters than other communities. As an environmental sociologist, it is important for my work to integrate research findings into policy and practice in an effort to encourage efforts addressing environmental inequalities and sustainable practices for all, worldwide.
I use cottonwood trees to understand floodplain land surface processes and river discharge histories. Cottonwood age is a proxy for the age of the underlying land surface, and tree age distributions reveal rates of river migration. Therefore, we can compare recent changes to the centuries of changes that occurred before the modern era of intense human modification of river corridors, watersheds, and the atmosphere. Additionally, I use dendrochronology (tree ring science) to reconstruct river flows to gain a long-term perspective on the status of these ecosystems in the modern world.
Understanding how living organisms respond to a changing climate is a fundamental challenge to biologists. Tolerance to heat is one practical way to measure an organism's response to climate warming. I measure heat tolerance in aquatic insects found in tropical and temperate streams to find which species are most sensitive to increasing temperatures. Theory suggests that tropical organisms may be considerably more vulnerable to warming than temperate organisms. I test this theory to predict subsequent changes in insect communities, and whether such changes will be more severe in tropical or temperate stream insect communities.
International development programs are designed to be “win-win” – improving both environmental and social factors – however many of the social outcomes such as environmental knowledge, civic engagement, and social networks are not evaluated. These social outcomes have feedbacks for resilience to climate change. I examine community-based water monitoring (CBWM), which trains community members to collect and analyze water quality, and payment for watershed services (PSW) which pays landowners for forest conservation to improve water quality. Looking at participation in these two programs, this research gets at how development programs can be designed and implemented to enhance social outcomes and adaptive capacity.
Recent initiatives to foster the engagement of diverse constituencies in climate change action have emphasized the transformative potential of children and youth as agents of sustainable change within their families and communities. However, in the U.S., young people face a number of social, cultural, political, and educational barriers to their active engagement with climate change. As an applied social psychologist, my research aims to simultaneously explore and expand youth agency to carry out personal and collaborative climate change action. In a more general sense, my research explores the intersection of science education, social justice, and civic and political engagement.
Look at any photo of Earth taken from space, and one of the first things you may notice is that clouds cover a large portion of the Earth’s surface. You may also notice that the clouds are not randomly scattered, but instead tend to cluster together. The tendency of clouds to gather near each other affects the weather that we experience, as well as the climate of our planet. My research is focused on understanding why clouds like to cluster together, and how this may impact the Earth’s changing climate.