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Travel Awards 2016

Anthony Cullen, Department of Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ. “Oak succession in a pioneer forest on an urban brownfield” & “Bridging across Earth Stewardship Initiative’s learning”

My research focuses on plant community ecology with an emphasis on urban ecological restoration (oak succession in a pioneer forest within a brownfield) and invasion ecology (distribution and dispersal of two non-native viburnums). My research is conducted across varying landscapes ranging from urban, suburban, exurban, to rural. This fits into the larger research goals of the Holzapfel lab, which focuses on how both plants, and animals function in a modern world through investigating novel communities in urban areas. Collectively our goal is to understand the formation, function, and biodiversity of these novel communities.

Currently, I am focused on understanding the mechanisms of spread of two relatively new invasive viburnum species: Viburnum dilatatum and Viburnum sieboldii. Specifically, I want to study whether these species are site, seed, or dispersal limited by investigating seed viability, germination success rates, dispersal mechanisms, and the distribution patterns of individuals throughout the landscape. My ultimate goal is to understand the primary means in which these Viburnum spp. spread and their invasive potential. More broadly, my mechanistic approach contributes to invasive theory through the lens of niche conservatism versus niche differentiation in competing congener species. This project will also inform land managers with best use techniques to control the spread of these invaders before they become a widespread problem.

 

Betsy A. Evans, Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL. “Dietary shifts of Wood Storks in response to human-induced landscape change ”

My overall career goal is to research and assist in the conservation of avian species. I am particularly interested in the response of avian species to human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC). I have focused on urban ecosystems and avian responses since I began my undergraduate degree in the Midwest researching vulture perch selection at communication towers. I continued on this path through my Master’s at Florida Gulf Coast University working with vultures at urban roosts. Currently I am working on my Ph.D. at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), researching Wood Stork use of roadway corridors. The South Florida area offers a unique opportunity to study Wood Storks in an urban environment due to elevated human populations, rapid urbanization, and the creation of novel environments. I aim to use this information to aid in the conservation of avian species, and to collect relevant information on how these species are adapting to novel anthropogenic landscapes. I am also excited for the opportunity to educate the public and undergraduate students during my time at FAU. I have had the opportunity to give public presentations, and have had over twenty undergraduate student volunteers on my urban ecology project. After graduating, I would like to continue research in urban wildlife ecology and avian responses to HIREC. While researching these topics, I hope to continue educating students and the general public on the effects of urbanization globally.

Amanda K. Suchy, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Temple, AZ. “Patterns of plant species diversity and sexual reproduction in extreme urban environments”

I am an urban and wetland ecologist who is interested in how urban water bodies (streams, wetlands, lakes) affect nitrogen cycling in cities. Cities face many unique ecological challenges, such as nutrient pollution, which may be mitigated by integrating ecological principles into urban design. I hope for my research to contribute to such solutions by gaining a better understanding of drivers of ecological processes in cities, which can ultimately inform the design, management, and incorporation of functional and resilient habitat patches into urban landscapes.

For my dissertation, I am investigating drivers of denitrification in a highly understudied ecosystem known as “accidental urban wetlands.” These accidental urban wetlands result from discharges of urban base- and storm flow that tend to have high nitrate concentrations, and are not managed for nitrogen removal. The storm drains supplying the water for the wetlands also discharge at different times and with different frequencies creating wetlands that range from being flooded all year to wetlands that flood only in response to storms. My dissertation examines how the dominant plant patches in these accidental urban wetlands and the different hydrologic regimes interact to affect spatial and temporal patterns of denitrification potentials. Further, I am investigating how plant traits affect denitrification potentials, and how plant patch diversity in wetlands affects nitrogen retention via plant uptake and denitrification.

Moving forward, I wish to move beyond studying urban wetlands individually and incorporate how the connectivity (or lack there of) among urban water bodies affects nitrogen cycling in cities. Expanding our ecological understanding of urban water bodies beyond streams (to include urban ponds and wetlands) will be key to gaining a better understanding of how urban ecosystems function.