2015-2016 Sustainability Leadership Fellows
My research aims to understand how microbial communities in soil vary in their response to changes in temperature and what impact this has on global carbon modeling. Soil microorganisms play a critical role in ecosystems, breaking down leaf litter and converting nutrients into plant accessible forms. In the process of carrying out these ecosystem functions, microbes respire, producing an order of magnitude more CO2 than is released by human sources. Soils contain four times more carbon than the atmosphere; because respiration rates often increase with temperature, atmospheric carbon contributed by soil requires full inclusion in any climate change discussion.
My research examines the role that court structures play in shaping environmental outcomes. Specifically, I explore specialized environmental courts and tribunals (“ECTs”). ECTs are rapidly emerging in many developing countries on the premise that better environmental outcomes will result from judiciaries possessing procedures and personnel tailored to resolving complex environmental questions. In evaluating ECTs, my research will examine two related questions. First, I examine the causes and mechanisms for ECTs’ global proliferation. Second, I will undertake an initial exploration of ECT efficacy by developing a framework to compare environmental outcomes resulting from ECT orders to those issuing from generalist courts.
I study the psychological processes of individuals when thinking about social and environmental injustice (What makes people deny climate change? What makes people DO something about climate change?). Most of my research looks at barriers to people getting involved in environmental issues, including feelings such as guilt or fear, self-focused vs. other-focused moral values, beliefs about rights and entitlement, and being psychologically distant from the negative impacts of climate change. Having a women’s studies focus, I look at both how environmental issues are also gender issues, and how people’s thinking about sexism (or racism, classism, etc.) parallels their thinking about the environment.
Rice is essential for food security, providing income and food for half of the world’s population. Bacterial diseases are major constraints to rice yield worldwide. Planting resistant varieties is the most effective and sustainable way to control them. My research project is aimed at identifying regions in the rice genome that confer resistance against three devastating bacterial pathogens in Africa and Latin America. The rice varieties studied will facilitate the use of identified resistant sources in breeding programs. My project is a collaboration involving CSU, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
My research focuses on the interactions and feedbacks between ecological and social systems, specifically how people respond and adapt to environmental changes and how their responses impact or change ecosystems. I am currently investigating water management in the South Platte River Basin of Colorado and how water providers have adapted to droughts in the past. I hope it will lead to a better understanding of barriers and opportunities to adapt to future change and reduce vulnerabilities and help determine feasible options for adapting existing management strategies to adjust to varying water availability.
Severe, prolonged droughts are predicted to occur more frequently due to global climate change. Droughts cause a variety of economic, social and environmental stresses. My research uses an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates both meteorological and ecological data into a computer model to see how well this model can predict the impacts of drought on the productivity (plant growth) of grasslands and crops in the U.S. Great Plains. The effects of drought on plants and soils directly impact human and wildlife populations; therefore, the results from this study could be used by ranchers and farmers to help with future droughts.
The complexity of large- and small-scale processes controlling global climate makes predicting future trends extremely difficult. My research aims to better understand some of the small-scale processes involved in carbon cycling, a major factor in global climate change. I examine how iron interacts with organic carbon compounds created by the decomposition of plants, animals, and microbes. These interactions can contribute to carbon sequestration in soil and water and may be sensitive to temperature changes. Thus, it is important to understand the interactions between iron and carbon compounds and how these might contribute to the acceleration or deceleration of climate change.
For thousands of years, the endemic Island fox roamed the northern California Channel Islands free from predators, but in the 1990’s golden eagles became established and caused a 95% decline in the fox population. The causes of golden eagle establishment were multiple, ranging from local avian extinction due to DDT and human-aided establishment of invasive species. This decline initiated an Island fox recovery project consisting of captive fox breeding; golden eagle, pig and sheep removal; and bald eagle reintroduction. My research focuses on estimating the population trend of foxes following the removal of non-native vertebrates to determine their recovery status.
I am interested in understanding how current air pollution issues are impacting our country’s national parks. One project I am currently involved in is assessing the impacts of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on the air quality in national parks in the Bakken oil formation region in North Dakota and Montana. As an atmospheric chemist, I make measurements of different chemical compounds in the air and determine the sources of these air pollutants. These measurements can then be used to determine air quality impacts on human health and climate change.
My research involves quantitative sustainability analysis and lifecycle assessment, using ecosystem models to determine the best way to produce non-food crops for large-scale biofuel production. Perennial grasses such as switchgrass are promising low-impact feedstock crops, but there is no consensus about where they could best be integrated into existing agricultural landscapes or how they should be managed. My research involves conducting large numbers of landscape-scale DayCent ecosystem model simulations, and then determining optimal landscape designs that yield the greatest amount of biofuel feedstock material at lowest cost and lowest environmental impact.
Tandra Fraser is the Executive Director of Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative based at the School. She is a soil molecular biologist interested in the response of soil microbes to anthropogenic-induced changes. Her research has focused on linking soil bacterial communities to metabolic functions for biochemical cycling of phosphorus in agricultural and grassland soils of the Northern Great Plains. Tandra has worked with researchers, community groups and farmers across Canada. After completing a M.Sc. in soil science at the University of Saskatchewan, she spent a year working with farmers in Honduras on a project to improve nutrient management on remote hillside farms. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Guelph in 2015.
Wildlife harvest is often thought of in terms of numbers lost, but harvest may have behavioral consequences that contribute to population status. African elephants have experienced a recent resurgence in ivory poaching directed toward older individuals for their larger tusks. The ability of young females to withstand the loss of older matriarchs, which serve as information centers, is unknown. Integrating demographic, movement, and social network approaches, I am investigating the behavioral strategies of females from disrupted families and the effects of behavior on survival and reproduction, with implications for less accessible populations and other long-lived species facing anthropogenic threat.
Climate change and human factors, such as land use and globalization, continue to facilitate the emergence of new viruses. I am interested in detecting new viruses before they become a global threat and the ecological factors that direct virus evolution. My research involves a combination of field work, laboratory experimentation, and computation biology. First, I am collecting human blood-fed mosquitoes to detect pathogens from remote areas in West Africa. In the lab, I am examining how different interactions of mosquitoes and birds can impact West Nile virus evolution and alter the outcome of infection.
It is well known that fish need water to survive. Fish also need food, habitat, and a suitable climate. I study how these factors jointly influence where fish species occur. A broader goal of my research is to understand which species are most sensitive to climate change and where they will be at greatest risk to increasing temperatures.
Agricultural intensification, primarily through heavy use of fertilizer and pesticides, has yielded substantial increases in food production, yet this has also come at an environmental cost, reducing biodiversity and increasing non-point source pollution. My dissertation work demonstrated that native warm-season grasses can be a sustainable alternative to exotic forages by reducing fertilizer inputs, increasing cattle gain, and providing more nesting opportunities for grassland birds. As a postdoctoral fellow I am examining landscape-scale responses of sage-grouse populations to grazing management on public lands, including interactions between the timing and intensity of grazing and precipitation.
My research focuses on improving our understanding of antibiotic resistance in livestock production, with the ultimate goal of protecting public health. We track antibiotic resistance throughout the food production system, trying to determine whether specific production practices (including use of antibiotics) foster or mitigate the development of antibiotic resistance. To this end, we have sampled cattle and their waste products in feedlots and slaughterhouses, and are currently expanding this work to swine and poultry. Using cutting-edge DNA sequencing methods on the collected samples, we hope to better understand how resistance is disseminated within and from these systems.
I study the atmospheric transport of nitrogen, which is harmful to alpine ecosystems, from the Colorado Front Range into Rocky Mountain National Park. In collaboration with a professor in atmospheric science, I developed an early warning system to mitigate nitrogen emissions from cattle feedlots in eastern Colorado. I am currently analyzing impacts from the early warning system while researching the social-ecological impacts of the early warning system on the management of feedlot operations.
My research focuses on using genetic data to understand evolutionary histories of organisms within a geographic context. I aim to elucidate origins and causes of biodiversity, and genetically characterize populations of threatened vertebrates to better inform conservation strategies. During my PhD and postdoctoral work, I have studied the evolutionary history of frogs on sky islands, the effect of drastic landscapes and climates on population connectivity of threatened frogs, the effect of different habitats types on local adaptation of endemic island birds, and the effect of the 2013 Colorado floods on the genetic connectivity and persistence of stream insects.
True food security extends beyond access to adequate food and includes supplying nutrition necessary for a healthy and active life. As such, food security is linked closely to human health and involves reducing chronic diseases associated with poor quality nutrition. My research addresses this problem by investigating ways that food affects gut microbiota and exploring roles gut microbiota play in disease prevention. By understanding these mechanisms, better access to crops that prevent disease can be developed. Ultimately, this research increases provision of food security through highly targeted nutrition, which enables disease prevention with available foods.
I conduct research on strategies for effectively integrating scientific information into natural resource planning and management. Specifically, I am interested in policies and administrative practices for public land management agencies that support relevant, cost effective, and scientifically credible ecological monitoring programs, and facilitate the integration of scientific information into planning and management decision making across local and regional scales. This requires careful attention to organizational structures and processes that support data collection, analysis, collaboration, and effective communication strategies.