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I am an ecologist interested in human-dominated ecosystems and interactions between people and their environment.
I was trained as a plant community ecologist, and as such have spent a lot of time identifying plants and trying to understand different plants are found in different places. In my dissertation research at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I worked with Dr. Peter S. White, I investigated the effects of urban development and associated changes to environmental conditions and habitat connectivity influence which plant species are found in urban forest patches.
I found that warmer temperatures associated with urbanization appear to influence which plant species are found in urban forest patches, and may favor ornamental evergreen shrubs that have colonized urban forests. In addition, the patterns of species composition that I documented suggest that urban development impedes the movement of seeds between forest patches, particularly for species whose seeds are not carried by wind, water, or animals and are already most likely to be have limited ability to disperse across the landscape. These findings have direct implications for land management and land use planning in the study landscape, and point to the importance of individual landowner decision-making for ecological patterns and processes at broader scales.
I am also interested in identifying ways to manage urban green spaces, places like parks and community gardens, in ways that benefit people as well as the rest of the ecosystem. Urban green spaces can have many potential benefits, ranging from habitat for migrating birds to providing places where citizens experience nature to mitigating temperature and flooding. There may be tradeoffs between these different goals of urban green spaces, but more and more conservation organizations and city governments are trying to find ways to maximize benefits by identifying synergies between them.
At SESYNC, I am addressing this topic by exploring people's perceptions of and attitudes towards urban green spaces using social media data. Using sites like iNaturalist, Flickr, and Twitter, I am investigating where people make observations of urban nature and how people's comments on urban green spaces relate to the ecological attributes of those green spaces (i.e. their size, vegetation structure, and biodiversity). I am excited by the potential for social media and other user-generated data to provide ecological insights, especially those that can help inform sustainable urban design.