To put it broadly, ecohydrology is the science that aims to describe the interactions between water and living components of ecosystems. I think a lot of people tend to think of this as plant/water interactions, but I think just about any relation between living organisms and water can be part of ecohydrology. For example, someone might want to study the way precipitation infiltrates and flows through preferential pathways (i.e., gopher holes) and that would be ecohydrology. Another example, someone might want to study the way algae grows in urban stormwater storage areas and affects those ecosystems, and that would be ecohydrology, too.
What are your undergraduate and graduate degrees in?
I am graduating in May with a B.S. in Rangeland Ecology & Watershed Management and Environment & Natural Resources. I intend to pursue an M.S. in Hydrology in the near future.
How did you arrive at working in/thinking about ecohydrology?
I was introduced to wildland hydrology in my coursework a few years ago, and I really fell in love with trying to understand how water moves through and behaves in ecosystems. I also realized I was quite good at both understanding the conceptual and technical aspects of the material, so I dived into the literature.
Hydrology offered me something I was not getting with the rangeland ecology components of my education: the idea that I can be myself. Most of my peers that I interact with do not come from very diverse backgrounds, whether that is cultural, ethnic, or ideological. As a queer transman often without community like me, I forced myself to be a cheap copy of [what I view as] the typical range student: white, male, listens to country music, and really likes cattle. I sacrificed a lot of who I was to put this façade on for others. There are a lot of great people in the range sciences, but I think that there are some significant barriers to participation and success as an underrepresented rangeland ecologist. When I found hydrology, I realized that I found a discipline that was more accepting of differences and that I could be my true self. I have gained so much confidence and self-respect since I started working in this field. This confidence has actually encouraged me to stay with the Society for Range Management and help the discipline develop a more inclusive culture so that people like me do not feel like they have to leave the discipline to be successful.
In 2018, I asked my wildland hydrology professor, Dr. Fabian Nippgen, what I could do to develop my skills as a hydrologist. That conversation turned into a 2-year undergraduate research position in his lab. I currently work on assessing riparian vegetation with a variety of methods, including traditional ground-based sampling and drone technology. It is the best job I have ever had, and I am so glad to be working with such a great team that really values what I have to offer and takes time to mentor me. That being said, my time with the lab is quickly coming to an end, and I am on the prowl for a new position that will allow me to further develop my skills and expertise as a snow and ecohydrologist!
What do you see as an important emerging area of ecohydrology?
Although maybe not necessarily emerging, I think being able to quantify water and energy budgets on rangelands and forested ecosystems is something that ecohydrologists are in a unique position to address. It seems that even though our ability to model these ecosystem processes is pretty good, our ability to actually observe and measure hydrological components of ecosystems, especially precipitation and evapotranspiration, is something we have room to improve upon.
Do you have a favorite ecohydrology paper? Describe/explain.
I have one favorite ecohydrology paper, only because I have needed to refer back to it so many times as a model for my work, called “Evaluation of a technique for measuring canopy volume of shrubs” by Mark S. Thorne, Quentin D. Skinner, Michael A. Smith, J. Daniel Rodgers, Wiliam Laycock, and Sule A. Cerecki (2002). Essentially, the paper describes a ground-based sampling method for quantifying shrub volume, which is a metric my research is attempting to quantify for willows (Salix spp.). I also have another favorite hydrology paper called “A philosophical basis for hydrological uncertainty” by Grey S. Nearing, Yudong Tian, Hoshin V. Gupta, Martyn P. Clark, Kenneth W. Harrison, and Steven V. Weijis (2016). I found this paper while attempting to write a paper on the epistemology of hydrology for a class focused on epistemology, pedagogy, and philosophy within natural resource sciences. This paper basically describes that the way hydrologists understand uncertainty can be different based on your assumptions about hydrology; basically, in order to really understand uncertainty in our science, we need to be on the same page about what our fundamental concepts and assumptions are. At the time I first read this paper, I had not taken calculus I and II, so when the authors discuss probability theory as an example, I really had no idea what they were talking about. That being said, I began to see art in math and hydrology where I could not understand the language (that language being calculus). I would have to say that a large reason why I love hydrology so much is because of this paper. It inspired me to learn the fundamentals and give myself the foundation for advanced understanding of hydrologic processes. In general, I prefer to learn advanced material first so I can ask questions about the way things work, then I build the foundation of my knowledge from those curiosities. Hydrology allowed me to do just that.
What do you do for fun (apart from ecohydrology)?
Apart from ecohydrology, I love to relax at home with my dog, Smokey. I also play guitar and listen to way too much Jimmy Eat World. In the summers I go driving and hiking in the mountains outside Laramie and nerd out at cool rocks I find. While I take classes, I really like applying my research skills to addressing both the impacts of water scarcity on Indigenous Nations and the impacts of climate change on snowpacks. I also enjoy learning about glaciers! Sleep is probably one of my favorite activities.