What does ecohydrology mean to you?
Ecohydrology is an invitation to think complexly about Earth as a whole system, without the confines of traditional disciplines. As so many other “Leafs” have discussed, there is an invitation in ecohydrology to consider processes from the single plant level photosynthetic chemistry all the way to global hydrology. With this breadth comes expertise in topics ranging from mycorrhizal and plant physiology to atmospheric turbulence to hard-core geology and fluid mechanics (not to mention so much more!). I also love how ecohydrology embraces how the “answers” we seek are likely to be complex, nonlinear, and potentially context dependent, which in turn motivates the use of many exciting methods which ecohydrologists are free to use, including field work, remote sensing, modeling, and more!
What are your undergraduate and graduate degrees in?
I got my B.S. in Environmental Science, Geology from the Jackson School of Geoscience at UT Austin. I am applying to U.S. PhD programs right now after COVID-19 messed up my plans to work with Sally Thompson in Perth, Australia.
How did you arrive at working in/thinking about ecohydrology?
For most of my pre-college life, I was heart set on being an astronomer. It wasn’t until I went to the Milton Mountain School, a small forestry and farming semester school in rural Vermont, that I was exposed to geoscience. One of our teachers was a self-described geologist, but instead of studying rocks (as I assumed all geologists did), she studied glaciers! This was my first taste of “Earth science.” This realization, coupled with an entire semester spent in the forest, changed my direction entirely. I came to UT ready to find my place in environmental science.
My first exposure to ecohydrology came during a course in my undergrad taught by Ashley Matheny. I loved basically everything about it, from the questions themselves to the field work and coding we employed to answer them. I have had the opportunity to continuously confirm that this field is a good fit for me during my research with Dr. Matheny, Dr. Daniella Rempe, and others since then. I am fully hooked on ecohydro and can’t wait to see what sorts of things I get involved with during my PhD!
What do you see as an important emerging area of ecohydrology?
I’m very early on in my scientific career, but my recent involvement with Daniella Rempe’s lab has convinced me that in order to better understand above-ground plant behavior, we need to better constrain uncertainty in the subsurface, especially with regards to water storage. I am definitely biased because of my excitement about our recent work on bedrock water storage and rock moisture as an important contribution to ET. However, there seems to be a consensus among many ecohydrologists that we need more data and a better understanding of the subsurface. I am excited about several aspects of this “subsurface” focus, and my recent fascinations include understanding how lithologic and soil properties interact with climate to mediate plant water access as well as how plants leverage their below-ground carbon allocation, rooting strategies, and fungal interactions to sustain ET during dry periods.
Do you have a favorite ecohydrology paper? Describe/explain.
“Beyond isohydricity: the role of environmental variability in determining plant drought response” by Xue Feng et al. is my favorite paper, in part because it was one of the first ecohydrology papers I ever read! This paper really kickstarted my ongoing fascination with the way that “categorizing” behaviors we think see in nature (like iso/anisohydricity) can be duped by uncertainties in the myriad environmental factors and the setting in which those behaviors manifest.
My hope is that the difficulty we have in nailing down plant drought response is secretly holding a wealth of information about subsurface and water storage dynamics that we can leverage for better understanding of the whole water and carbon cycle. This paper was my first taste of that way of thinking!
Feng, Xue, David D. Ackerly, Todd E. Dawson, Stefano Manzoni, Blair McLaughlin, Robert P. Skelton, Giulia Vico, Andrew P. Weitz, and Sally E. Thompson (2019). "Beyond isohydricity: the role of environmental variability in determining plant drought responses." Plant, cell & environment.
What do you do for fun (apart from ecohydrology)?
Like most ecohydrologists, I love to be outside whenever possible! I especially love to run, swim, cycle, and hike with my dog, Hamilton (though I will report that he much prefers hiking and swimming to running and biking)! During the pandemic, I took up triathlon training, which has been a wonderful distraction as well as a great real-world example of an activity being “about the journey” and not the result. I had the pleasure of running my first race a few months ago, and although I had a blast, it was nowhere near as fun as the daily training. When I’m forced to be indoors, I also like to play bluegrass and americana music and make pottery.