2018-19 Global Change Fellow
Ph.D. Student, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources
Advisor: Dr. Rob Scheller
Every year the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center funds a multi-disciplinary cohort of Global Change Fellows representing colleges across NC State University. Here are some highlights about 2018-19 Fellow, Tina Mozelewski, and the applied research she’s conducting.
What do you study?
At the 30,000 foot level, my research focuses on making static conservation strategies more dynamic and resilient in a changing climate. Specifically, I use a landscape forecast modeling framework called LANDIS-II and downscaled general circulation models to study how current habitat restoration projects will fare and inform where to site future projects under global change. I work in central North Carolina, including Ft. Bragg and in the Uwharrie National Forest, using this forecast modeling approach to anticipate compositional shifts and other challenges in current restoration projects and facilitate the careful, informed planning of future projects in these ecosystems across a suite of climate futures.
What influenced you to go into this field of study?
Before beginning work on my PhD I worked as a habitat biologist and restoration project manager in the desert Southwest. While there, I observed restoration projects being executed with little thought to how the climate has and will continue to change. Trees were planted in areas that needed to be irrigated in perpetuity while the desert Southwest was undergoing a severe drought. Water availability was unable to meet restoration project demands and projects had to be scaled back, with significant concerns over whether the trees planted would be able to survive and whether the restoration implemented would last. Even restoration practitioners who knew that climate change would impact their landscapes were unsure of how to incorporate this complicating factor into project design. This lack of future-focused planning, the failure to account for climate change, put these projects and the species found there in jeopardy and inspired my research concentration as a Ph.D. student.
What is the most exciting part of your research?
For me, the most exciting part of my research is trying to develop a framework that enables restoration project managers and other land managers to use their resources more efficiently, maximizing conservation action effectiveness and coverage. There are times as a restoration planner when you have to make a best guess about your project. Where should I site this restoration project on the landscape? Or, how should I restore for a specific goal? Or, what should I restore for? As a restoration planner, you have to use the best available science and local expertise, make a decision, and then go for it. It’s rare that test projects are conducted because that takes valuable time and resources away from projects that can actually do tangible conservation good. The framework that I am developing will allow this testing process to take place—testing various restoration strategies on the (simulated) landscape to inform restoration decision-making and hopefully lead to more robust, sustainable projects over time. More wisely used resources = more, longer lasting conservation actions that can do more good.
How has the SE CASC Global Change Fellows Program impacted you and your work?
The Global Change Fellows Program has impacted me and my work in two distinct ways. First, in participating in this fellowship with other students across a wide array of disciplines, the program has inspired and required me to think outside of my normal box….with considerable help from my other fellows. Social science concepts for relating to the public, engineering approaches to climate adaptation, factoring in socio-economics when looking at climate change vulnerability—my research and personal growth reflects all that the other fellows have taught me in these important fields and many others. I have grown as a scientist and a human being because of the people I have met through this program and what they have taught me. Secondly, the Global Change Fellows Program enabled me to visit Washington D.C. last year, meeting with Congressmen and women and their staff to educate them about my research and the work of the SE CASC as well as to learn about the funding process. This visit made a huge professional impact on me and made me much more aware of, and interested in, the role of the federal government in funding scientific research and CASCs across the country. It also helped me to better craft my 3-minute elevator pitch and practice tailoring it to each person we met, which is an incredibly important skill.
What advice would you give to a student who is interested in getting involved in your field?
My advice to those seeking to go into applied conservation work would be to jump at opportunities, even if they are out of your comfort zone. Make the move to a new place. Accept the job that teaches you new skills. Try working for different levels of government and NGOs to find what really feels like the right fit for you. My advice to anyone wanting to pursue a PhD is to find what you’re truly passionate about before embarking on a PhD-track graduate degree, and to find a lab that conducts research in that area. That motivation— studying something you truly love—will help you to push through the more difficult seasons of graduate student life.
What is your dream job?
My dream job is to be a professor of conservation biology and ecology at an R1 University while actively volunteering in college ministry.