My professional interests meet at the intersection of biodiversity, hydrology, and informatics. Biodiversity is one of the strongest indicators of ecosystem functioning. It plays a critical role in our understanding of how systems change in an increasingly disturbed world. Biodiversity modeling, like species distribution modeling, offers methods to test ecological theory and apply knowledge to conservation scenarios. Although biodiversity intrigues me generally, aquatic insects are especially remarkable to me for a variety of reasons. Though they carry out much of their life cycles in highly specialized habitats, they can be found across almost all aquatic ecosystems. At a broader scale, insects comprise the highest proportion of global biomass of all animals and are important indicators of ecosystem status. While they are not as charismatic as vertebrates (at least to some people), monitoring the diversity and abundance of insects can provide a sensitive and quantitative window into the health of our rapidly changing Earth. On a more personal level, I find the taxonomic, morphological, and functional diversity of insects fascinating, and I plan to investigate how diversity, habitat, and hydrologic factors interact to influence aquatic insect dispersal and density. While serving as a lab manager at my previous R2 institution, I discovered peculiar interactions between running waters and the insects that inhabit them. A species of stonefly was historically ubiquitous in the local area, but, over the last few decades, its range has diminished despite no apparent differences in water quality. I hypothesize that the answer to why this is happening lies within flow variability—how natural fluctuations in the flow of water differ from anthropogenically modified systems.
I am drawn to hydrology for several other reasons. From my environmental epidemiology research, I learned that water pollution kills 1.8 million people each year. Additionally, my hydrology and ecosystem ecology work showed me that the world is losing wetlands and other aquatic habitat faster than forests globally. These environments are crucial to both human wellbeing and biosphere integrity. These disciplines show that water management is crucial to maintaining balance between societal progression and ecological stability, and that balance becomes ever so complex given water scarcity estimates from climate change projections. I plan to address these hydrologic issues and their impact on aquatic biodiversity in my research. Another reason I’m interested in hydrology is because hydrologic networks are sensitive aggregators of ecological information. As waters converge from different sources, they carry hydrological and biogeochemical traces about the surface and subsurface environments they encounter. This integrative information has biotic and abiotic components that inform us about pollution, invasive species, and much more. Reading this complex signal is a form of ecological monitoring that helps us track ecosystem functioning and human wellbeing, especially as water resources diminish or become compromised due to global climate change. I plan to use ecological monitoring to identify critical habitats in need of conservation or restoration, thereby moving the scientific process beyond theory and into practice.
Data management, storage, analysis, and communication are critical to every scientific field, and ecological data are no exception. In fact, because of the nature of these fields, studies must be performed at simultaneously finer and larger spatiotemporal scales than those typical of other scientific disciplines. This is done so scientists, resource managers, and policy makers understand the mechanisms at play when complex circumstances arise. At the same time, the current era is seeing the largest amount of public environmental data ever, and it’s increasingly important that the science community uses and interprets these data with critical thought and proper methodology. To align myself with those sentiments, I plan to deepen my statistical and informatic backgrounds while promoting the best practices of data communication. I plan to develop software packages and web applications that allow others to display and communicate their data so that the public can understand and participate in the science being performed.