Graduate Research Assistant,
Sustainability Solutions Initiative
Ph.D. Student, Department of Wildlife
What problem/s are you working to solve?
I am studying the effects of different land-use and forest management practices on amphibian dispersal and migration, with the goal of understanding how these movement processes affect population dynamics and persistence. Using a variety of experimental and observational techniques, I am particularly interested in describing juvenile amphibian breeding dispersal – or the process of emigration from natal pool to eventual breeding pool – and using annual-cycle approaches to studies of individual movement in order to document the relative importance of upland environments for amphibian habitat-use.
My dissertation research is titled, “Amphibian movement in complex landscapes: Effects of Forestry and Urbanization on Juvenile Dispersal”.
What progress are you making toward solutions?
I am contributing to solutions in three areas:
1. Juvenile life stages. For many amphibian species, the juvenile life stage represents the primary driver of gene flow and population connectivity; however, there is a paucity of data on juvenile movement and emigration because direct tracking of this life stage is hampered by: 1) the relatively small size of juvenile metamorphs; and 2) uncertainty regarding upland habitat-use during periods of juvenile emigration. Thus, my research focuses primarily on juvenile life stages for wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) and spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum).
2. Complex landscapes (fragmented by forestry, urbanization, climate change). Recent work on amphibian movement ecology in our lab has focused on experimental landscapes (comprising both of different aged forest stands, as well as experimental arrays of clear-cut/contiguous forest arrangements). My research expands beyond these experimental landscapes, to include landscape settings associated with other types of forestry practices (partial harvests), land-uses, and urban environments (e.g., lawn, agricultural, urban settings).
3. Technological innovation. I am collaborating with engineers in the Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering to develop a miniaturized tracking technology (harmonic radar transponder tags), which will allow me to follow the fate and behavior of individually-marked amphibians across multiple life stages – with potentially far-reaching implications for tracking other small-bodied organisms.
How could your findings contribute to a more sustainable future in Maine and beyond?
My role as a SSI graduate student is to provide pertinent biophysical and ecological information to our interdisciplinary research team, as we endeavor to find ways to guide management policies that consider the socio-economic needs of Maine citizens while still conserving amphibian populations.
Generally speaking, I have interest in applied ecology and conservation biology – and my research to date has focused on bird dispersal patterns, movement ecology, and population connectivity throughout the annual cycle, with the intent of identifying key factors/drivers of population persistence in response to land-use change and habitat fragmentation. I am excited to pursue sustainability questions in the realm of vernal-pool ecology: 1) working to identify wetland-upland habitat linkages for the purpose of informing current vernal-pool conservation legislation, 2) advancing our understanding of the role of juvenile and breeding dispersal in shaping amphibian populations, and 3) collaborating with private landowners and stakeholders to promote conservation initiatives on private (or ‘working’) lands.
Why did you decide to join SSI?
I believe that interdisciplinary research is the way of the future in the field of conservation biology. The current and future drivers of landscape change – in Maine, North America, and globally – require ecologists to approach research in multidisciplinary ways (with economic and social scientists, alike) and at increasingly numerous and vast spatiotemporal scales. I sincerely believe that SSI’s “knowledge-through-action” framework provides the vital structure for investigating rigorous questions in conservation ecology – while requiring accountability and results through collaboration with other stakeholders, policy makers, and Maine citizens during subsequent development of viable natural resource plans.
Perhaps most importantly, however, I feel a connection to the regional ecology, people, livelihoods, and conservation issues in Maine. I believe that Maine’s identity is integrally connected to the health, function, structure, and beauty of its natural resources – and I want to help shape policy decisions in the region through science and community engagement.
What’s the best part about collaborating on SSI research projects?
My favorite part of collaborating on SSI research projects involves the people – more specifically, the innovation and curiosity that arises from interactions with fellow researchers and stakeholders, alike. While honing skills in my own discipline, I have also been exposed to a host of other research methods, lexicons, and ways of invoking and generating knowledge – it has truly transformed the way that I think about problems and solutions in applied ecology and conservation. SSI drives innovative ways of approaching commonplace problems.
Where’s your favorite place in Maine?
Although I have been on hiatus from my home state during the last half-decade (as well as the tenure of my MS degree), I feel a lifelong connection to the regional ecology, people, and the “quality of place” in Maine! Thus, I have a lot of favorite places in Maine – and this seems to be a tractable character in my mind.
However, if I was to identify one bio/ecoregion in the state, I particularly favor the western mountains – and the Evans Notch region along the Maine and New Hampshire border.
What’s your ultimate Maine experience?
Holding a Leach’s Storm-petrel on a seabird-nesting island off the Maine Coast; and cross-country skiing across frozen wetland or forested landscapes!
Mud season survival strategy?
Camouflage-patterned, neoprene-lined (e.g., warm!) muck boots – whether chasing after amphibians, collecting egg-masses… or dashing across campus. Oh – and warm cups of tea, bright colored knee-socks (to enliven the spirits) and kindred conversations with friends and colleagues.
What sustains you?
Birdwatching, knitting, trail-running, contradancing, Cape Breton fiddle, live music, and laughter.
Additional information on Britt and her SSI team
Protecting Natural Resources at the Community Scale