2011-2012 Sustainability Leadership Fellows
Humans need and love rivers, streams and lakes. Unfortunately, the combination of ineptitude, social inertia and ignorance have led to their ongoing degradation. If my children and yours are to know the joy of seeing a native fish flash away or discovering strange bugs while playing in a creek that doesn‘t poison them, then our culture needs to have a meaningful conversation about how it uses water. The current conception has failed, but opportunities exist to sustain local economies while stewarding fluvial biodiversity. We must find and capitalize on them rapidly.
Predicting future climate is tricky. There are many pieces to the climate puzzle, and computer models used to forecast the climate decades or centuries into the future must get most of these details right. The models must accurately capture the atmosphere‘s general flow as well as smaller features like El Niño. My research aims to improve the model‘s ability to simulate a regional atmospheric pattern called the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which affects the tropical Indian and Pacific Ocean areas. By improving our understanding of this ―puzzle piece‖, we can improve accuracy of climate prediction models and increase confidence in climate forecasts.
My research is focused on understanding the types of compounds in the atmosphere and their sources that contribute to ecosystem changes in our national parks. Specifically my research in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) has measured atmospheric nitrogen containing species that get deposited by precipitation and settling at more than 3 times the background level. This is particularly important in RMNP where the protected ecosystems are nitrogen limited. Nitrogen acts as a fertilizer and changes the plant types altering the function of the ecosystem. Our results have identified organic nitrogen as an important contributor to the increased nitrogen and we are now focusing on its potential sources.
The devastating "Dust Bowl" of the 1930's resulted from severe drought that lasted for multiple years in addition to poor land management practices. Recent climate models predict that extreme weather events, such as severe drought, will occur more frequently and intensely in the future than they have in the past. My research focuses on the ways shortgrass prairies respond to harsh drought conditions, specifically how the plants and soils respond. This research will provide crucial insight for the management of these ecosystems and the services they provide. It will also help prevent any potential future destructive occurrences, such as the ―Dust Bowl‖, given the predicted climate scenarios.
My research focuses on recreational fishery management. Recreational fisheries are managed in a number of ways, but in the United States, one of the most costly and widely used methods is fish stocking (i.e. raising fish and putting them into the water). 2.5 billion individual fish are stocked each year in the US, but the amount of fish stocked in any particular water body is more or less arbitrary, ignoring the costs and benefits of stocking. My research investigates optimal fish stocking (from an economic perspective) so that managers can save money and apply resources where they are needed most.
Natural ecosystems provide humans with innumerable services – clean drinking water, clean air, sufficient oxygen, high fish yields for consumption and sport fishing. As the human population grows from it‘s current size of 6 billion towards a projected 8 billion people over the next 40 years how will we ensure that these services are continuously provided to most if not all of the human population. My research helps us gain basic understanding of how elements are processed in the natural environment and in effect how ecosystem services are renewed and maintained. Defining these relationships will help us manage our ecosystem services under increasing anthropogenic demands.
Transportation systems are society‘s arteries, moving people, goods and services that support a high quality of life. However, roads often bisect wildlife habitats, resulting in animal-vehicle collisions; habitat fragmentation; habitat degradation due to light, water, air and noise pollution; and potential barriers to animal movements. As a ―road ecologist‖, I use applied sciences to understand and reduce conflicts between wildlife, transportation infrastructure and people. This work has important implications for driver safety and economic impacts related to animal-vehicle collisions, as well helping wildlife populations persist by allowing their movements through human-dominated landscapes to access resources necessary for survival and reproduction.
My PhD research is examining the impacts of climate change on alpine grasslands in Tibet, as well as how these changes could affect the traditional yak and sheep herders who depend on these ecosystems for their livelihoods. Understanding how Tibetan grasslands will respond to warmer temperatures and greater exposure to extreme weather events, such as severe snowstorms, will give insight into how government policies and local land management practices can be adapted to maintain the health of these rangelands while also sustaining their ability to support communities of livestock herders, as they have for millennia.
Willow communities are dying back in Rocky Mountain National Park and possibly throughout the West. With a demise of this critical plant community which many species of wildlife and birds depend on, the entire riverine ecosystem will change. My research investigates why this decline is happening and examines the many interacting factors contributing to the dieback, including elk and moose, beavers, birds, fungal infection and climate change. Results from my research will help park managers determine potential restoration options.
Katie is currently working as a Mendenhall Research Ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's office in Fort Collins. Her stint as a Sustainability Leadership Fellow occurred while she was pursuing a Ph.D. in the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology at CSU. Her research is broadly focused on understanding how populations respond to environmental variation - work that lies at the interface between evolution, ecology, and conservation. She is also very interested in science communication and spent the summer of 2014 as a AAAS Mass Media Fellow, working as a writer for the online news team at National Geographic. She continues to do freelance science writing on the side.
We study diseases in natural populations of wildlife across North America. Particularly, we study how urbanization impacts disease transmission among bobcats, mountain lions, and domestic cats. Our research provides insights into wildlife conservation, urban planning, and the transmission of diseases between wildlife, domestic animals, and people.
Mycobacterium bovis is a bacterium that causes Tuberculosis in most mammal species, including humans. We have developed genetic fingerprinting protocols to aid in tracking the disease in cattle and wildlife. There is a major financial burden to cattle farmers whose herds become infected due to federal regulations that require increased testing, culling of infected herds, and limits on transport of their cattle. This in turn can drive the cost of beef and dairy products up. There is also a financial impact on states in which deer hunting contributes to the tourism trade when Tuberculosis is endemic in their deer populations.
Rain-fed agriculture is an important source of food and income for the people in West Africa. Being able to accurately represent the West African Monsoon in weather and climate models will hopefully allow us to predict the onset of the monsoon, as well as seasonal rainfall totals. Also, if we can represent the monsoon in present climate simulations, we might be able to understand how the monsoon will change in a warming climate.
The majority of the Earth's human population now lives in cities. We are just beginning to scratch the surface in understanding how the urban and suburban built environment interacts with the natural environment and all the benefits it provides for humans for free. Human health and prosperity depends on environmental health and integrity. My research focuses on understanding this interaction between the natural and built environment so that we can plan, design, and manage our cities in a way that does not degrade or destroy the the natural environment and the benefits it provides for humans and other species.
I study the ecology of selenium in plants. Selenium is a naturally occurring element that is a required nutrient for many animals, including humans, but also toxic at high concentrations. The gap between toxicity and deficiency is narrow, and both are problems worldwide. Although plants do not require selenium, many plant species take up large quantities of selenium. Through increasing our understanding of how selenium in plants affects their ecological partners, such as herbivores and pollinators, we can increase our ability to help manage selenium rich agricultural and natural environments.
I use maps to study how human activities, such as development, recreation, and resource extraction, impact our natural resources. Specifically, I am interested in impacts to water because it is a very important resource and is so limited in the western US. My research matters because humans are using water at alarming rates and climate change projections suggest that the western US will become drier.
The goal of my work is to develop a modeling framework to yield a uniform assessment tool for wetland health. There is currently a wide range of metrics, or measurements, that can be used to assess conditions of wetlands, and ecological systems in general. By determining which of these metrics of wetland health are effective, we can increase the efficiency of future assessment and prediction, and establish management, protection, and restoration strategies. Lastly, by identifying key factors including human impacts that influence the ecological integrity of wetlands, we can use GIS data layers to predict the health of other wetlands without having to go to each site.
Organisms exhibit an incredible diversity of reproductive behavior, and a major goal of evolutionary ecology is to understand how factors such as food availability and predation risk have driven the evolution of this diversity. My research compares populations of Orange-crowned Warblers to ask how populations that experience different ecological conditions differ in their parental investment and behavior, particularly in the number of eggs they lay and the care they provide to nestlings. I am also working to understand how these populations respond to variation in food abundance between years, to predict how they will be affected by climate change.
Climate change will affect all of Earth‘s ecosystems and yet the responses of soils have been comparatively understudied, despite the importance that soils and their associated communities play in supporting all terrestrial ecosystems through services such as decomposition, cycling nutrients for use by plants, filtering water and providing food, fuel and fiber for humans. My work investigates how soil animal communities may respond to changes in precipitation patterns resulting form climate change, which I hope to be able to correlate to possible shifts in the services these organisms provide, as well as overall ecosystem functioning (both natural and cultivated systems).
Plant diseases have the potential to wipe out entire crops, which would not only effect farmers, but everyone who depends on that crop for either food or plant-derived products (such as cotton). It is important and necessary to understand how a plant disease behaves and what factors contribute to large-scale outbreaks in order find strategies to prevent or manage the disease.
Most of my research takes place in national parks. These protected areas are perhaps our most pristine, relatively untrammeled places on earth. However, escalating visitation and associated depreciative behaviors increase pressures upon the ecological and social aspects of our national treasures. My research explores educational methodologies that encourage environmental ethics, such as those prescribed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Positively influencing visitor behaviors ensures the overall sustainability of our national parks by sustaining or improving existing resource conditions.
Streams may not enter people‘s thoughts on a daily basis, but we depend on stream water in our daily lives for drinking water and food (e.g. crop irrigation, fish). Healthy streams support healthy communities. The fish and other animals living in streams also have a right to exist whether we benefit from them or not. We have modified our streams and, more importantly, the floods and erosion that create homes for animals and plants. Animals not adapted to this new environment are disappearing. My research looks at how we can balance our needs with that of fish.