Sometimes, I feel like ecohydrology could really be anything, because it encompasses water and ecosystems, and, as such, many studies could fall under the label of ‘ecohydrology’. This explains to me why ecohydrology spans across so many different disciplines. If I had to pick a definition of ecohydrology, however, I am fond of the first one that I read as a young student, which is given by Rodriguez-Iturbe in his WRR commentary in 2000: “Ecohydrology may be defined as the science which seeks to describe the hydrologic mechanisms that underlie ecologic patterns and processes.”
What are your undergraduate and graduate degrees in?
I studied in Italy when the university degrees were designed to be 5-year long (even though it took often longer than that to finish) and students were awarded a ‘laurea’, which is equivalent to a master’s degree. I have a ‘laurea’ in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Hydraulic Engineering, both from the Politecnico di Torino.
How did you arrive at working in/thinking about ecohydrology?
Having studied mechanical engineering, I did not know what hydrology was before starting my PhD. I did the thesis for my master’s degree in the department of civil engineering looking experimentally at near-wall turbulence in open channels. The decision to start a PhD came when the supervisors of my master’s thesis, Luca Ridolfi and Amilcare Porporato, offered me the opportunity to go to Princeton University and be supervised by Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe for one year. I like mathematics, and became absorbed by the theory of stochastic processes, which finds applications in rainfall and soil moisture dynamics modelling. So, my introduction to ecohydrology was really through stochastic processes and the elegant analytical solutions of some of the models used to describe soil moisture dynamics. During my post-doc I had some experience in the field, and after moving to Australia I started working more in the field. I now appreciate the complexity and difficulty of building up good and long dataset and look at the diversity of ecosystems not just in terms of different parameters. I found a balance between experimental and theoretical work, even though I still prefer the modelling side of things.
What do you see as an important emerging area of ecohydrology?
I think urban ecohydrology will keep us busy for a long time. The built environment adds a lot of complexity to ecosystems, generating interaction and feedback loops that need to be explored and likely discovered. There is space for studies at different scales, from individual street trees to large parks and natural reserves, these last ones rather common in Australian cities. The opportunity to design parts of urban ecosystems, for example by engineering natural areas for rainwater or stormwater harvesting, is also very intriguing. It is quite interesting to see people with very different backgrounds, such as ecologists, hydrologists, climatologists, architects and engineers, work together on problems related to urbanization and urban developments.
Do you have a favorite ecohydrology paper? Describe/explain.
I do not really have a single favorite paper, but I am attached to Rodriguez-Iturbe et al. (1999) "Probabilistic modeling of water balance at a point: The role of climate, soil and vegetation" and then the series of four papers by the same group in Advances in Water Resources. These papers represented my introduction to ecohydrology via stochastic processes, and they have been my ‘daily bread’ during my PhD.
What do you do for fun (apart from ecohydrology)?
I like spending my free time with Tiffani, my wife…whether it is going for walks, watch movies, cook, or whatever, it is always fun.