Research

Human activities across landscapes can have a variety of effects on native species. If we are to conserve this wildlife and native habitats effectively, we must have a solid understanding of these effects. My interests and experience in the field of conservation biology transcend taxonomic boundaries, and allow me to approach conservation in interdisciplinary and collaborative ways. I have studied human impacts on native species in temperate lakes, Hawaiian rainforests, headwater springs and native grasslands. My research interests are now broadly focused on understanding the diverse factors that contribute to species declines, and in applying ecological and behavioral studies to identify actions that can lead to restoration and recovery of rare organisms and threatened ecosystems.

The interdisciplinary nature of my conservation-oriented research program includes policy and historical investigation, GIS analyses, terrestrial and aquatic natural history observations, ecological field experiments, time-series modeling, hydrological and water quality analyses, animal behavior experiments and stable isotope biogeochemistry, which is rapidly becoming one of the most useful tools in organismal biology.

Click on the headers below to learn more about each research project.

TEXAS SALAMANDER CONSERVATION

Since 2005 I have studied the behavioral ecology of the endangered Barton Springs Salamander (Eurycea sosorum). My dissertation research on this species explored the sensory ecology of predator detection, food-web and foraging ecology and time-series modeling of salamander population dynamics. Effective conservation of this species also requires knowledge of native and introduced fish communities and of invertebrate prey distribution and abundance. My dissertation research forms the basis for a successful ‘proof of concept’ in using stable isotopes for conservation research. I am now eager to broaden the scope of this research from a single species in a single spring to the suite of threatened species in the Eurycea complex, and to develop improved methods for sampling stable isotopes from amphibians, which will greatly advance conservation research for these taxa.

 NUTRIENT POLLUTION IN HEADWATERS

My students and I are just beginning to explore the effects of anthropogenic nutrient pollution on headwater spring and stream food-webs. Headwaters are often hotspots of endemism but are afforded little legal protection under the Clean Water Act and, therefore, are of particular conservation concern. This research focuses on all members of headwater stream communities, from microbial decomposers to endemic invertebrates to top predators including fishes, reptiles and amphibians.

HAWAIIAN FOREST RESTORATION

During the summers of 2002 and 2003 I  participated in restoration research with Dr. Steve Goldsmith and fellow student Cole Weatherby at Austin College. We studied the distribution and abundance of the primary food item of a highly endangered Hawai’ian forest bird, ‘Akiapola’au (Hemignathus munroi), in mature forest and two different ages of restored forest tracts.

LAKE SEDIMENTS + DAPHNIA DISTRIBUTIONS

 In 2002 I collaborated with Dr. Peter Schulze and students Russ Womble and Alex Silen of Austin College to determine how suspended sediments from human activities in the landscape affect the distribution and abundance of Lake Texoma Daphnia.

BLACKLAND PRAIRIE RESTORATION 

In several courses at Austin College, and during summer research with Dr. Peter Schulze in 2002, I participated in restoration activities and research on native Blackland Prairie at the Sneed Environmental Research Area & Prairie Restoration Site.