Ecohydrology is a collaborative, interdisciplinary science focused on understanding the interactions of water with ecosystems. More generally I think of it as: Where is the water, where is it going, and why? I think the most important and interesting part of the field is the consistent use of process-based hypotheses to explain natural phenomenon and the most beautiful part is the complexity of those processes. As a result, the science lies at the intersection of climate science, physics, ecology, physiology, and mathematics. There are infinite directions to expand research and so many opportunities to learn from fantastic people with diverse skills and perspectives.
What are your undergraduate and graduate degrees in?
I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from the University of Dayton and my PhD in Biology from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA.
How did you arrive at working in/thinking about ecohydrology?
I was incredibly blessed early in my research career. Ultimately, a lot of things just magically came together for me in a relatively brief period. As an undergraduate, I took a fantastic Ecology course taught by Dr. Ryan McEwan at the University of Dayton. His enthusiasm for plant science made me rethink my career goals and I volunteered to do research in his lab. I truly could not have asked for a better mentor. He set me up for success with my first project, ultimately resulting in a co-authored paper in Plant Ecology characterizing changes in the flowering times of native plants over a 30-year period. I was really smitten with the process of collecting and analyzing data, but I was eager to get out into the woods, so we started a project using tree rings to investigate historical climate, fire, and community dynamics in a nearby old growth forest. I absolutely loved this and it no doubt lit the metaphorical spark for my future plant anatomy and hydraulics research.
Around the same time, I was accepted to the River Stewards Program, in which undergrads worked to promote river awareness in the greater Dayton community, through the River’s Institute at UD. I really enjoyed paddling and was interested in ecology broadly, so this seemed a good fit. In retrospect, this was a somewhat lifechanging decision. Despite having lived in Dayton my whole life, I didn’t have a strong connection to the downtown area or the river. The community engagement and focus on interdisciplinary collaboration in that program completely changed my perspective on urban ecosystems and expanded my perception of ecosystem function.
The following year, Ryan encouraged me to apply to NSF REU programs. I was so excited to be accepted to the Biosphere 2 program at the University of Arizona. That experience was incredibly fun for a lot of reasons, principally, that I got to work with Dr. Shirley Papuga studying soil respiration in the Santa Catalina Mountains. I had certainly thought about watersheds throughout my life, but I would say this was my first experience properly studying ecohydrology. This was probably the first time I made the full connection between ground water and respiration and photosynthesis and saw the sensitivity of organisms to microclimatic variation. I loved (and still love) engaging with the complexity of these processes and, ultimately, focused my PhD research on urban plant water use and drought tolerance.
What do you see as an important emerging area of ecohydrology?
I think there are two really important areas emerging simultaneously and I believe they will continue to merge with time. One is the development of high throughput methods for collecting complex and dynamic data and the second is the development of more detailed, physiologically and biologically informed, mechanistic models for scaling plant water use predictions. The demand for accurate predictions of individual plant, species, community, and ecosystem water use and vulnerability to future climate scenarios is only increasing. I find work that integrates these themes across natural, urban, and agricultural ecosystems particularly exciting. There is so much potential there to inform policy decisions, protect at risk communities, and contribute to future food security. My hope is that our community will continue to increase its wonderful interdisciplinary nature to synthesize models of soil, roots, stems, leaves, and atmosphere across organs, individuals, communities, and ecosystems.
Do you have a favorite ecohydrology paper? Describe/explain.
I’ve always really enjoyed the Oren et al 1999 stomatal sensitivity paper in Plant Cell and Environment. I think it’s just a beautiful summary that clearly explains complex biology and physics. The math is very cleanly laid out, it’s very information and data rich, and it contrasts theoretical and observational responses. It’s very much a physiology heavy paper, but I feel it still falls under the ecohydrology umbrella. I love the parsing of atmospheric and soil drought which isn’t always well defined in scaling theory.
What do you do for fun (apart from ecohydrology)?
Lately, I’ve been pursuing a lot of hobbies from home. I’ve been enjoying gardening, riding my bicycle, playing table tennis, hiking with my dog, cooking good food and drinking good drinks. We’ve only recently moved to Gainesville and have been loving exploring the city, forests, and lakes. I also recently started an aquarium of freshwater shrimp which has been thoroughly entertaining thus far.