Applied Spatial Ecology Laboratory
Statement of Research
The primary goal of my research is to apply the theories and concepts of landscape ecology to applied issues, such as invasive species biology and ecosystem management. Under this broad theme, I have conducted research in two distinct arenas. My Ph.D. research assessed the spatial structure and scaling of beetle and bird communities in the grasslands of Colorado and Kansas. The objective of this research was to understand changes in community-environment relationships between different taxonomic groups across a regional gradient. In contrast, my masters and postdoctoral research has focused on the potential distribution of aquatic invasive species. While conducting research at a regional extent, I have developed expertise in modeling, geographic information systems (GIS), database management, and geostatistical analysis and an appreciation for geology and human behavior. The breadth of my experiences has created interests ranging from predicting future distributions of invasive species to modeling the movement patterns of ground-dwelling beetles.
My current research interests are centered on predicting future distributions and impacts of invasive species. To address this issue, I draw heavily from the theoretical issues of dispersal, habitat suitability, and spatial scale. I am principally interested in three fundamental issues. First, with what probability will a species arrive at a particular destination? Second, given that a species has arrived, will it become established and have an impact? And third, how do the answers to these questions translate from local studies to regional or national predictions? To address the first of these questions, my research utilizes gravity models to predict the dispersal of organisms via human vectors. Gravity models predict movement based on the attractiveness of a destination and distance. These models have been successful in predicting human mediated movements of invasive species, but also have the potential for broader usage for modeling dispersal in general. The advent of new technologies and techniques (e.g. GIS, genetic algorithms, and remote sensing) has opened avenues for defining suitable habitat for species and making regional predictions. Quantifying impacts of invasive species has been a focus of my collaborations with economists. Because predicting dispersal, potential habitat and impacts frequently rely on local observations, translating from fine-scale knowledge to broad-scale predictions requires an appreciation of the theories of landscape ecology so that the appropriate data relating to scale and thresholds is collected.
Applying the conceptual framework of dispersal, habitat suitability and scale to the problem of invasive species requires sophisticated integration of theory and practice. Thus, much work remains to be done. My future research on invasive species will continue to be focused on aquatic nuisance species. Aquatic species provide a unique opportunity to model dispersal because of the network-like structure of lakes and streams, which requires the consideration of jump-dispersal and dispersal via streams. Aquatic systems are convenient models for the study of species spread, because potential habitat is also limited to bodies of water. Nevertheless, predicting other attributes of lakes and streams, such as water quality, requires the consideration of the regional heterogeneity of geology and land-use practices, thus integrating entire ecosystems. Finally, the processes that govern localized dispersal and habitat suitability may not be the same processes that determine the potential spread of an invasive species on a national level. I plan to develop local research projects to combine with my regional studies in order to bridge this gap in knowledge, which will lead to more accurate predictions about the future spread and impacts of invasive species.