It means interdisciplinary. Apparently, ecohydrology is at the intersection of hydrology and ecology, leveraging science from both disciplines to protect/restore ecosystems. It should also be recognized that ecohydrology has evolved rapidly to encompass additional disciplines. To my own experience and interests, ecohydrology studies the sources and transfers of water and associated materials (e.g., nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment) and their effects on inland and coastal ecosystems (e.g., Chesapeake Bay).
What are your undergraduate and graduate degrees in?
I received my B.E. degree in Environmental Engineering from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. I received my M.S.E and Ph.D. degrees in Environmental Engineering from the Johns Hopkins University (JHU). I also obtained a M.S.E. degree in Applied Mathematics and Statistics from JHU, since statistics played an essential role in my dissertation research.
How did you arrive at working in/thinking about ecohydrology?
This journey started when I was a kid. Back then I lived in a small city in the northern China, where many streams and ponds had severe algal blooms due to industrialization. This has helped motivate me to dedicate myself to protect the environment and natural resources. For that reason, I chose to study Environmental Engineering at NTU for my bachelor’s degree. Upon graduation from NTU I was offered an opportunity by Prof. Bill Ball to join his team at JHU to conduct research on Chesapeake Bay. I had no hesitation and soon embarked on this incredible journey with the hope that my work with the Chesapeake will also benefit the restoration of rivers and estuaries elsewhere (including my hometown in China, of course). During my years at JHU, I have focused on applying statistical approaches to quantify nutrient and sediment loads and their temporal trends in the major tributaries to Chesapeake Bay. Shortly after my graduation at JHU I started my current position at UMCES. I always feel very blessed to have the opportunity to continue research on Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. With this position, I apply scientific principles and statistical approaches to the incredible amount of data sets from the Bay Program Partnership to explore the natural and anthropogenic-based causes behind the status and trends in the water quality of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, which is critical to defining the success of the Chesapeake Bay and watershed restoration efforts to date and to making science-based management decisions in the foreseeable future. Although I do not often label myself as a ecohydrologist, I have already worked in this field for over a decade!
What do you see as an important emerging area of ecohydrology?
Eutrophication and hypoxia have caused ecological degradation in many areas, primarily due to excessive nutrients from anthropogenic sources. I consider this an important topic of ecohydrology and expect it to further advance for several reasons. First, our conceptual model of the problem has been evolving over time (e.g., see Dr. Cloern’s review paper, https://dx.doi.org/10.3354/meps210223). Second, restoration efforts have been carried out in many areas, but not all are successful. In this regard, cross-ecosystem analysis and synthesis will help us understand why or why not we are working toward the right direction (e.g., see Dr. Boesch’s recent review paper, https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2019.00123). Third, the community will benefit from the increasing amounts of data in terms of spatial coverage, temporal resolution, and data types, which provide valuable information regarding ecosystem functioning and help generate plausible hypotheses on underlying drivers. Fourth, machine learning approaches are being increasingly adopted by the community, which complement with process-based models. As a community, we need actively leverage these resources (data and tools) to better understand the temporal and spatial patterns of eutrophication and the effects and interactions of stressors and translate our understanding to effective management strategies toward ecosystem restoration.
Do you have a favorite ecohydrology paper? Describe/explain.
It is difficult to pick one. I will go with the recent Science paper by Palmer and Ruhi, “Linkages between flow regime, biota, and ecosystem processes: Implications for river restoration.” In this review, the authors explain how restoration designs now attempt to mimic ecologically important aspects of natural flow regimes. They point out that in order to be successful, efforts must go beyond accounting for flood pulses to restore natural flow variability and achieve hydrological connectivity between a river and its surroundings.
What do you do for fun (apart from ecohydrology)?
I used to play soccer a lot when I was a student, spanning 20+ years from elementary school to graduate school. When I was at Johns Hopkins, I led the soccer team formed by Chinese students and scholars. Now, I have two boys (age 6 and 4), so less time is spent on soccer. During free time we like to bring the boys out to explore the beautiful nature, especially Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.