Brian Halstead

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Brian Halstead

My dissertation research focuses on an important aspect of population ecology, particularly on the biotic interactions of organisms that interact with the environment on very different spatial scales. The system I am studying in the endangered Florida scrub habitat involves predation by wide-ranging snakes upon isolated local populations of the endemic Florida scrub lizard. In this system, a population of the Florida scrub lizard essentially acts as a dinner plate for the eastern coachwhip. Ultimately, I hope to develop models to explain how patch characteristics and the abundance of prey influence the movements of predators and also how the presence of predators affects the demography of prey at the local and metapopulation scales.

Ideally, knowledge gained from ecological studies should be used to inform local, regional, and national policy. Unfortunately, politicians and the much of the public in the United States do not understand science well enough to effectively implement ecological knowledge into policy. Therefore, it is incumbent upon ecologists to communicate their research clearly and concisely to the public. The greatest accomplishments in this regard will occur by introducing children to the outdoors, encouraging them to explore and question, and teaching them the skills required to critically evaluate the natural world. These actions would create a scientifically-literate and informed public that would provide the political pressure to effectively incorporate ecological knowledge into public policy.

I have shared my enthusiasm for ecology through my teaching and research, but it is my volunteer work that contributes most to enhancing communication, education, and diversity in the field of ecology. I volunteer at the Carl Sagan Academy (CSA), a charter school for young teenagers in a socioeconomically deprived, predominantly minority neighborhood in Tampa, Florida. Very few students at CSA have had the opportunity to experience natural ecosystems firsthand. Together with teachers and administrators at CSA, we have established a gardening class to teach students their dependence upon the natural world and also have taken the students on numerous educational trips, including a camping/canoeing trip in Ocala National Forest, kayaking trips among mangroves, and moonlight canoeing to observe nocturnal animals. Although the students are apprehensive at first, they soon embrace the natural world with curiosity and excitement. Educating our increasingly urban youth about their connection with the natural world is an essential step to ensure that the beauty, functionality, and diversity of life on this planet exist for future generations.

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