Research

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Mechanisms promoting population resilience in the face of change

Wildlife are experiencing widespread changes in response to increased human impacts on their habitat. I am most interested in identifying why these changes contribute to demographic shifts that result in declining ranges and population growth rates. We use natural and manipulative experiments to test how independent changes in an organism's environment alters their behaviors and therefore contributes to larger-scale effects. We hope that these studies will contribute to allowing coexistence between humans and wildlife.

Collaborators: Kevin Fouts (Sewanee)

Press: https://www.chattanoogan.com/2017/9/19/355219/Forest-Loss-Threatens-Unique-Wetlands.aspx

https://freshwater-science.org/news/in-drift-issue-36-winter-1920#Spotlight

Headwater stream community regulation

While biotic interactions have long been a focus of ecological study of headwater stream communities, little is understood about how these interactions vary with the environmental gradients found within stream networks. These questions are particularly troubling because these communities regulate stream function and represent a community highly sensitive to climate change. We pair field-based observations with mechanistic evaluations in ex-situ experiments on headwater invertebrates and vertebrates.

Collaborators: Josh Ennen (TNACI), Jon Davenport (App State), Shawna Mitchell (TNACI)

Press: https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2018/12/rising-temperatures-and-an-underwater-drama/ 

https://www.tnaqua.org/newsroom/entry/out-of-balance-new-aquarium-study-predicts-climate-shifts-may-upset-key-salamander-communities

https://www.tnaqua.org/blog/entry/study-shows-climate-change-could-lead-to-fatter-salamanders

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Ecology of amphibians and reptiles on the Cumberland Plateau

While the southern Cumberland Plateau is the southern portion of the contiguous Allegheny Plateau and the southern highlands, little is known about this ecoregion. With thin, sandy soils, water is only temporary and species that occur elsewhere have adjusted to a highly ephemeral landscape. This includes different communities and habitat selection behaviors. We seek to understand how amphibians and reptiles thrive in this unusual high-elevation habitat.

Collaborator: Kevin Fouts (Sewanee), Jon Evans (Sewanee)

Press: http://www.sewanee.edu/newstoday/top-stories-homepage/vernal-pool-publication.php

Ecology of diamondback terrapins on Kiawah Island

Diamondback terrapins are the only estuarine turtle found in the United States, and they were a frequently harvested species until studies recognized the rapid declines they have experienced. For 37 years, the Kiawah Terrapin Project has been sampling terrapins and documenting their declines and potential recovery. We are grateful to the over 400 researchers have been involved with the project, and all the local residents that love these turtles. Current questions involve understanding their population declines and investigating mitigating mechanisms. Find out more here.

Collaborators: Whit Gibbons (UGA), Jeff Lovich (USGS), Cris Hagen (TSC), Thomas Rainwater (Clemson), Leigh Anne Harden (Benedictine), Andrew Grosse (SC DNR), Tony Mills (Spring Island Nature Center, Coastal Kingdom), Meg Hoyle (Botany Island Ecotours), Kiawah Island Naturalists

Press: https://www.bluffton.com/discovering-diamondback-terrapins/

https://gardenandgun.com/articles/orphaned-baby-terrapins-get-an-unlikely-second-chance/

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Amphibian ecology in wastewater

New wastewater treatment solutions are needed to address pharmaceutical and personal care products that remain after conventional treatment. The Sewanee Constructed Wetland is a prototype of one potential solution, but the question remains - How do amphibians fare when they live and breed in these artificial wetlands? We ask questions about carryover effects, design choices, competition, ecology, and microbiomes. 

Collaborators: Deborah McGrath (Sewanee), Donny Walker (MTSU), Kevin Fouts (Sewanee)

Press: https://www.planetforward.org/idea/from-waste-to-wetlands-a-small-town-solution-to-water-scarcity

More Information: http://sewaneewetlands.org/

Developing inclusive cultures in STEM

At Sewanee and within broader professional groups, we seek to develop more inclusive practices that welcome engagement from all. My interests lie in two major arenas - the classroom and the undergraduate research lab. 


1) STEM courses tend to promote fixed mindsets in student abilities. Small changes in approaches and how we discuss challenges can promote a more inclusive classroom that facilitates the success of all. In particular, I am interested in approaches that minimize student anxiety towards math, writing, and speaking.

2) Undergraduate research remains a high impact practice for the retention of students in STEM yet requires a selective process for which the criteria for inclusion are unclear. Developing guidelines and best practices for attracting and facilitating the success of undergraduate researchers remains one of my priorities.

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