Research Interests

I am actively searching for a post-doctoral research position. If you think that my interests and/or experience align with the aims of your lab, please contact me. I am happy to put in the legwork required to secure fellowship funding for the right project. 

Long-term perspectives on wetland restoration

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Aerial view of the South San Francisco Bay Salt Ponds Restoration Project, California.

Conservation typically aims to restore wetlands to a “reference condition” based on either the condition of similar ecosystems that are perceived to be unaltered, or, in some cases, on existing data that defines a fixed set of past conditions. Paleoecology and long-term monitoring offer opportunities to explore continuous ecological changes over multi-decadal timescales, allowing definitions of reference conditions to be refined. I am particularly interested in using paleoecology alongside long-term monitoring data to challenge the concept of stable/fixed reference conditions, exploring instead the notion that wetlands are naturally dynamic ecosystems. Should conservation targets aim to restore ecosystem structure or function? Perhaps a specific set of conditions that will support species reintroduction are more desirable (as demonstrated by Najas flexilis in my PhD research)? Is ecosystem resilience to future changes important? How do legacy effects impact the successional trajectories of restoring wetlands? How can these things be assessed and incorporated into quantitative and measurable restoration targets?

Landscape-scale ecology, biodiversity, and invasive species

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Mosaic of interconnected lake habitats on South Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

It has long been known that large numbers of small waterbodies make a greater collective contribution to regional biodiversity than a small number of large waterbodies. The connections between these habitats are also important, facilitating the spread of native species, invasive species, and pollutants across the landscape. During independent study at both Bachelor’s and Master’s level, I investigated how increasing the numbers of small ponds in the landscape presents a trade-off between increasing biodiversity and reducing barriers to the spread of aquatic invasive species. I am now interested in adding a temporal context to these ideas. How do changing environmental pressures influence the link between regional biodiversity and habitat connectivity? How does the trade-off described above change through time under different levels of global, regional, and local stress? In particular, I would like to further explore the influence of human activity on connected systems, from small, independent actions (e.g. building and maintaining garden ponds) to large-scale environmental drivers (e.g. climate change).

Improving paleoecological interpretations

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Diatoms encrusted onto caddis case, from sediment core taken at Loch of Craiglush, Scotland.

If paleoecology is to be used as an effective tool for informing evidence-based environmental management, the ways in which lake sediments are representative of true ecological conditions must be assessed. Recent insight into the use and abuse of transfer functions highlights the need for improved understanding about what the presence of individual species and assemblages in the fossil record truly reflects. In the past, it has largely been assumed that the fossil record represents physical and/or chemical forcing on species assemblages. I was forced to challenge this notion during my PhD research, when I attempted to reconstruct the history of a single species using macrofossils. Many questions arose that I feel deserve further attention. How are inter- and intra-specific interactions (e.g. competition, predation, succession) represented in the sediment record? How do these interact with the environmental pressures that we are trying to reconstruct? To what extent are natural fluctuations represented in sediment records over relatively short (<200 years) timescales? Are changes that occur over a short time window reliably presented based on the number of core subsamples? Are all species represented equally through time? Do different species remains (especially macrofossils) present in different spatial locations across a lake basin, and can this change naturally or as a result of external forcing? Once these questions have been answered, how can we best present the complexities of paleoecological data and the associated uncertainties to environmental managers and policymakers? I am very keen to pursue studies that link contemporary ecological observation with paleoecology in order to address some of these questions.

Aquatic plant (macrophyte) ecology and biogeography

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Apium inundatem (Lesser marshwort) at a lake in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

Aquatic plants are not only important primary producers in wetlands, but they have also been shown to have a vital role in structuring trophic food webs by providing habitat for zooplankton, invertebrates, and fish. Through photosynthesis, they also help to regulate carbon speciation and can act as a buffer against acidification. They are easily surveyed, and can also be investigated paleoecologically using macrofossil remains. I therefore have a soft spot for macrophytes, and love incorporating them into studies on ecosystem variability. I am especially interested in how local and regional environmental changes influence species distributions and assemblages, and in the use of macrophytes as environmental indicators.

 

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