2016-2017 Global Change Fellow
Graduate Student, Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Program, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources
North Carolina State University
Statement of purpose: My research interests broadly involve the study of patterns of wildlife habitat use and community structure to refine the way we manage and restore wildlife habitat. In light of unprecedented rates of environmental change resulting from urbanization and climate change, this process of re-evaluation becomes increasingly important to ensure that limited management resources are used most effectively to meet both short- and long-term conservation objectives. To maximize the impact of my work, I engage multiple stakeholders, including private landowners, non-profit organizations, and state and federal government agencies, to identify and address key ecological problems. In the future, I hope to combine the scientifically rigorous research experience and diverse communication skills I have developed at North Carolina State University to lead a research program that incorporates perspectives from students, land managers, policy makers, and other researchers to address emerging ecological problems.
Description of research: Currently, I am working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers to identify the effects of sea level rise on rural, low-lying coastal areas. While the focus of sea level rise is typically on coastal cities that may be inundated in the distant future, rural areas are faced with more imminent threats. Because these areas tend to be closely tied to the natural environment through industries like agriculture, forestry, fishing, and nature-based tourism, even modest sea level rise will drastically affect the economies of these regions. For example, the landward movement of saltwater will likely have impacts on economic stability, food security, freshwater availability, biodiversity, and ecosystem health. Furthermore, land management decisions also could play an important role in shaping the future environment through interactions with climate change.
I plan to investigate how land management actions may facilitate landward migration of saltmarsh communities, which provide important habitat for a number of sensitive and declining wildlife species. Because these systems occur along a narrow range of environmental conditions, they are vulnerable to the projected rise in sea level associated with a warming global climate. By investigating the altered successional dynamics resulting from saltwater intrusion associated with sea level rise, I aim to evaluate the feasibility of using prescribed fire and climate suitable planting to facilitate upslope migration of marshes, which is likely essential for the persistence of these systems in the face of climate change. Furthermore, I will evaluate the suitability of both persisting and migrated marshes for marsh-associated birds such as black rail, king rail, seaside sparrow, and least bittern, which may serve as indicators of saltmarsh habitat quality. As such, this research addresses several tasks of Science Theme 5 by quantifying the underlying mechanisms of marsh migration, exploring the efficacy of novel management alternatives that consider interactions between these drivers and climate change, and assessing how vulnerable priority species may respond to these alternatives.
In addition to saltmarsh systems, sea level rise is affecting vegetation composition and structure over much broader gradients of environmental conditions in many low-lying coastal areas via saltwater intrusion. However, the animal response to these changes in vegetation remains poorly documented. By integrating long-term monitoring data with targeted field surveys, I aim to document the response of breeding bird communities to the changing vegetation conditions caused by sea level rise and then use these observed patterns to project the speed and spatial scale of future community shifts that may result from various sea level rise scenarios. Working on the front lines of climate change, my results will document emerging shifts in community structure to address the tasks of Science Theme 4. Specifically, this work will help to evaluate previous predictions of wildlife responses to climate change, inform long-term conservation priorities, and identify refuge areas for freshwater-dependent ecosystems.
See a video describing his research as a Global Change Fellow.