Jennifer Costanza

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Jennifer Costanza
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

My interests lie at the intersection of landscape ecology and restoration ecology. I received my Master’s degree from Duke University in 2001, after which I worked as a GIS director for a county government for three years. When I returned to school for my PhD, I wanted to use my skills in spatial analysis to study ecological questions. While in school, I have been working on a collaborative restoration project in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). For the project, I have been creating spatial data to inform fire management of longleaf pine communities across the “Onslow Bight” landscape in eastern North Carolina. My dissertation will include a formal assessment of the restoration priorities of various public and private management agencies in that landscape, as well as a spatially-explicit plan for collaborative restoration based on their priorities. In addition, I will also develop a plan based on characteristics of longleaf pine communities that are important for restoration according to scientific literature. I will thus be able to compare two plans to determine how similar they are in terms of priority factors, as well as the plans. Therefore, the issue using knowledge from ecological studies to inform restoration in a changing world is of direct importance to my research. In general, ecological research should inform restoration targets by providing information on how we can expect ecological systems to behave under given conditions. However, we must keep in mind that human-induce changes such as habitat fragmentation, as well as future climate change, will likely interact to produce unforeseen conditions or variability.

I have had several opportunities to promote communication and education in ecology. First, I have helped organize three conferences which brought together managers from the Onslow Bight as well as ecologists doing research on restoration there. Both managers and ecologists have benefited from shared knowledge about restoration of longleaf pine communities. In addition, at school, I am currently Chair of the Ecology Curriculum’s seminar committee. I have brought ecologists from across the state and around the country to UNC-Chapel Hill to give talks and meet with students. This has provided a valuable extracurricular education opportunity for students. In the future, I would like to work for a non-profit conservation organization, where I can bridge the gap between scientists and conservation practitioners.

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