Professor and Director
Environmental Science Program
Department of Biological Sciences
My broad research interests are in avian ecology, wetland ecosystems, and restoration ecology. The main research questions being addressed in my lab focus on (1) mechanisms, both biotic and abiotic, by which fluctuating wetlands produce food for wading birds, (2) processes in coastal ecosystems that control populations of small herons, (3) behavioral and physiological responses of wading birds to prey limitations, (4) the effects of urbanization and non-native prey on wading bird productivity, and (5) predictive wading bird habitat models that are linked to water management regimes. Recent research thrusts have been toward developing new ideas of how wetland birds are responding to urbanization, and of the factors that limit populations of small herons in coastal ecosystems.
A common thread emerging among all these research questions is the response of wetland birds to human-induced rapid environmental change (HIREC; sensu Sih et al. 2011). The specific environmental changes that we study in South Florida are happening across the planet, making our research relevant and suitable for publication in top journals. Wetlands around the world are being transformed through releases of non-native aquatic animals and plants, while their coastal fringes are literally shifting due to rising sea levels and storm-driven events. Freshwater diversions and withdrawals continue to be a major global problem, as are the elevated levels of nutrients in runoff.
Another common thread across research projects is that it bears directly on the restoration or management of wetland ecosystems, usually the Everglades. In my view, the ultimate broad impact of our research is to have it used by managers and policy makers. Two decades of conducting research and conveying it to managers has shown me how much conservation can be enhanced when scientific knowledge is packaged into tools that translate easily to management outcomes.
The approaches my students and I use to address our research questions range from large-scale predictive models that incorporate data from long-term monitoring programs, to very focused in situ experiments. Because our research is organized around some fairly narrow themes it often integrates the work of multiple lab members. We place a high value on working as a team and doing synergistic work, which serves students well when they leave the lab.
My teaching interests lie in the domains of ecology, conservation, and restoration ecology. I have developed the graduate courses Conservation Biology and Emerging Topics in Avian Ecology and I teach large-enrollment undergraduate course Principles of Ecology. My lectures are generously sprinkled with personal experiences from a wide range of research projects and policy experiences, which can serve as case studies or as a way to liven up technical material. I draw from observed successes and failures of innovative simulation models, field experiments, ecological monitoring, and socioeconomic policies. Framing these examples broadly in the context of linkages between research and policy helps students understand the relevance of ecology and conservation to society, and how they might improve the conservation or scientific value of their own research.